Archive for May, 2010

In May of 1944, preparations were underway for the US Marine invasion of the island of Saipan. The planned invasion force for the first act of Operation Forager, the conquest of the Marianas, consisted of of two Marine Divisions, a US Army Division, and the required force and support units from an amphibious armada of nearly 600 ships and craft. Inherent in projecting a landing force of such size was the loading and preparation of the massive logistical effort to project and sustain the invasion force.

At the US Pacific Fleet base at Pearl Harbor, the LSTs that would support the initial landings and follow-on operations ashore were being crammed to the gunwales with every conceivable item of warfare. That list of items for such things includes munitions of all calibers and types, propellants, aviation gasoline, vehicle fuel, and a variety of other volatile cargoes. In West Loch, more than two dozen LSTs were tightly clustered while their hulls and decks filled with ammunition, supplies, and materiel.

On the afternoon of 21 May, 1944, while Army Ordnance troops loaded mortar ammunition on the fantail of LST-353, there was an explosion, followed by two more minutes later, that sprayed hot splinters into the highly flammable aviation drums on LST-480 and LST-39 nearby. Predictably, flaming gasoline and exploding ammunition soon began to take a frightful toll of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines loading and manning the ships. Fires and explosions drove back ships and craft engaged in firefighting efforts, but each time those vessels re-entered the inferno to contain the fires and keep the disaster from spreading to the rest of the Fleet anchorage.

The fires burned for more than 24 hours, finally being extinguished on the afternoon of 22 May. As the fires died away, the cost of the catastrophe was counted. One-hundred and sixty three men lost their lives, with another 400 injured, including several fighting the fires. Six LSTs were destroyed, two damaged beyond repair. Three LCTs, lashed to the decks of sunken LSTs, were also lost, as were a number of LVT’s parked nearby.

In examining the impact of the tragedy, there are interesting facts that stagger our concept of that war and the effort our nation put forth:

Despite the loss of virtually all of the cargo on eight LSTs and the ships themselves, the Saipan invasion force put to sea as scheduled on 5 June 1944, just as the largest invasion armada ever to sail was crossing the English Channel en route to the Normandy beaches.

Admiral Chester Nimitz, CINCPAC, was asked if the practice of “nesting” landing ships while loading such volatile cargo should be ended. Admiral Nimitz answered in the negative. The exigencies of war and the tempo demanded by the campaign in the Central Pacific required such “calculated risks”.

Neither of those occurrences is imaginable today. The loss of a single MPF ship, or a JLOTS vessel, and their respective cargoes, would likely have crippling effects on US power projection operations, even without a simultaneous and much larger effort halfway around the world. Our highly risk-averse senior military and civilian leadership would not countenance Admiral Nimitz’s willingness to assume such risk to maintain operational tempo.

We would do well to reflect on both of those points.

As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.

Via the North Face.

Without. Oxygen.

This is the fifth in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.

May 15, 2010


I have spent the last eight days staring at a wind and snow swept Chomolungma from Everest Base Camp (BC). High winds and severe cold have made a summit attempt impossible. That is about to change…

After studying the most recent weather forecasts for the Everest Region, my climbing partners and I have decided to leave BC on Sunday morning, May 16th to attempt our final assault on Mt. Everest. We will depart BC early and hike to Interim Camp (IC) at 18,000’. After an early breakfast on Monday morning, we will continue to hike up the East Rongbuk Glacier to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) at 21,000’. The plan is to spend two or three days at ABC before continuing our climb to The North Col/ Camp 1 at 23,500’ on Wednesday, May 19th or Thursday, May 20th.

Departing Camp 1 to Camp 2 represents our commitment to a summit attempt so we will be checking weather frequently after arriving to see how conditions are improving/ deteriorating at higher altitudes. Right now, although the weather looks good, it is still very unpredictable. Should we decide to continue, it will be an approximate 6- 8 hour hike to Camp 2 (25,250’) where we will spend the night prior to departing for Camp 3 at 27,000’.

During our 6 hour hike to Camp 3 the following day, we will cross into “The Death Zone,” the altitude where our bodies lose the ability to regenerate and slowly begin to die. Upon reaching Camp 3, we will eat and rest as much as possible for a few hours before departing for the summit of Mt. Everest at 29,028’ (approx Sunday, May 23rd).

After a successful summit, we will head as far back down the mountain as possible based on our own physical and mental condition, time and weather. Although the primary goal is to get back down out of The Death Zone, I would like to return as far as Camp 1 where I will spend the night prior to returning to ABC and BC.

I hope to be able to email you a photo from the top of the world in 8- 12 days. I can’t promise that I will be able to do so, but I do promise that I have prepared my body for the challenge I am about to subject it. Further, I promise that I will try my best…



As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.

Via the North Face.

Without. Oxygen.

This is the fourth in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.


I returned to Base Camp (BC) yesterday (Saturday) evening after 7 days on Mt. Everest. We departed last Saturday morning and hiked to Interim Camp (IC) at 18,000’. My acclimatization is apparently working as the 7 mile trip (3,000’ elevation gain) took me 3 hours and 25 minutes (almost an hour faster than the first time I attempted this hike). I arrived at IC and after getting settled in my tent, I went to the dining tent (we have separate, larger dinning tents at BC, IC and Advanced Base Camp (ABC)). Since arriving at IC, I had been patting myself on the back over the speed in which I arrived there. I went inside the dinning tent and met a trekking group that was hiking to ABC. One of the group’s members was a 110lb woman from France (Lawrence). Her friend happened to be speaking to another of the group’s members and mentioned that Lawrence had completed the same hike in 3 hours and 7 minutes. I congratulated Lawrence on the speed in which she completed the hike and she assured me that, “the second time you try the hike, you’ll be much faster too…”

It snowed all night and after breakfast we departed for ABC into a driving head wind and 10 inches of standing snow. After almost 2 ½ hours of hiking and approximately an hour from ABC, I needed to take a rest, get a drink of water and eat a Powerbar. I cleaned the snow off of a rock, pulled my coat/hood around me and sat down drinking and eating with frozen hands. We had left our winter, climbing boots at ABC so I sat there whining to myself about my light, La Sportiva trekking boots, medium weight Smartwool socks and my accompanying numb and frozen toes: picture me sitting on a rock, snow whipping around me entering every open crack in my clothing, talking out loud about how miserable I am and how frozen and painful my toes and fingers are. After five minutes of sitting and complaining, a Sherpa comes walking over the small hill to my left, whistling. The Sherpa was carrying a backpack three times the size of my own, had no gloves and was wearing a baseball cap and Salomon trail running sneakers with no socks… And I repeat, he was w- h- i- s- t- l- i- n- g, whistling!!!

It reminded me that a) toughness is a relative term and b) no matter how tough you think you are, be confident that there are at least 10 people (and 100 Sherpas) who are tougher…

Like my second hike to IC, I completed the hike to ABC (6 miles and 3,000’ elevation gain) almost an hour faster than my first attempt (of course, I was looking behind me the entire hike ensuring that I was kicking Lawrence’s butt)!

After four days at ABC, Diula, a climbing Sherpa and I departed ABC on Friday morning at 5AM and climbed the almost 3,000’ vertical feet to The North Col/ Camp 1 in 5 hours (See Attached Photo: Diula and I, North Col in Background). The climb was challenging and steep (See Attached Photo: Up and Higher), but within my physical and mountaineering capabilities. Admittedly, I did require more than one break during our ascent…(See Attached Photo: A Needed Rest). Further, Diula is like American Express: do not leave home without it… He is a foot shorter and weighs 50lbs less than me, but is just a monster in the mountains. I can only hope that eventually my mountaineering skills will resemble his own.

Shortly after arriving at Camp 1 (See Attached Photo: The North Col), I forced myself to eat two packets of noodle soup and stowed the gear that I will be using higher on the mountain during our summit push/climb. I was also able to shoot off a few emails (but when you only have connectivity by figuratively standing on one leg, sticking your bb up in the air and waving it around while at the same time having to bend over due to lack of oxygen- emails don’t seem very necessary). For dinner, I had another packet of soup and then went to sleep at 7PM. Other than a midnight bathroom visit, I slept through the night till 5AM Saturday morning. I had no altitude headaches and although my appetite was small, it was better than most when arriving at 24,000’. Typically, you would prefer to spend 2 nights at North Col/Camp 1 prior to your summit push, but with bad weather blowing in and no altitude sickness related symptoms, Diula and I returned to ABC on Saturday morning in approximately 2 hours. I then had a quick breakfast and continued the 13 mile hike back down to Base Camp.

I arrived back at Base Camp at approximately 4PM Saturday afternoon and after dinner and a long night’s rest, I awoke this morning and enjoyed my first shower in 10 days: a bucket of hot water and a bowl to scoop the water out of the bucket on to myself, soap/shampoo and then rinse with the remaining water… heaven!

In speaking with an Austrian team that is collocated with us at BC, it appears that there might be apossible weather window to attempt a summit bid on May 16th- 17th. If that is the case, we will be relaxing and recovering here at BC until Tuesday, May 11th or Wednesday, May 12th before beginning our ascent. Prior to starting our ascent of Chomolungma, I will send another dispatch to update everyone on our final plan for summiting Mt. Everest.

I hope everyone continues to be good team leaders and good teammates and prepares themselves everyday to fill either role.



“The proper function of man is to live… not to exist.” – Jack London

Third Dispatch – Nec Aspera Terrent

Second Dispatach – The Avalanche

First Dispatch – “One More!”

So Navy Times scribe Phil Ewing sat down with me the other day to discuss blogging, the ex-USS Iowa, naval history and blogging. The result was a Scoop Deck interview, entitled “Hanging’ with Dr. Hooper“. If you want to know why I do this–and why I’m retiring the old “Defense Springboard” alias, go pay Scoop Deck a visit.

In the interview, we discussed how blogging has become a means to for new defense policy/national security talent to emerge. Having the trillion-dollar defense industry tied to three or four oft-quoted defense commentators is not healthy. The community needs a more voices–whose views are not compromised by where they’re getting their paycheck.

In the interview, I threw down a marker for those big-league defense commentators:

“…what I’d like to sort of try and be is the anti-Loren Thompson. Loren is a great source, a smart person, but he’s become so ensnared in his competing interests, it’s difficult to take him credibly [a good example is here].”

Uh…can you hear us bloggers now, Loren? Or are you at the beach?

(To be honest, I’ve been Loren bashing a long time–back before it was cool to do so. Here’s some coverage of Loren contradicting himself on the LCS back in September 16, 2009 and Loren doing a ex-SECNAV Winter apologia from early 2008. In my mind, good, solid debate makes for better strategies and better weapons…but when paid flacks enter the public sphere they, more often than not, protect errors and work to sustain mistakes.)

In the interview I pushed back on the choke-hold Washington, DC holds on defense policy debates. That’s normal–DC is the center of gravity, where the decision-makers live. But over-centralization leads to group-think and limits input. So, in my mind, it’s good to build and maintain separate, independent centers of defense policy expertise.

Let’s put it this way. San Francisco isn’t exactly synonymous with defense expertise–but it’s growing–from scratch–a community of defense policy people:

“…doing it out here in San Francisco has been great. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for this. We’re starting to build a policy community where there wasn’t one. We’ve got Kyle Mizokami, he’s blogging about the Japanese navy and the Japanese self defense force; we have Christopher Albon [note: when he’s not off doing thesis research in Africa]. It’s neat to build a competing center to provide a little bit of a a reality check on the Beltway bloggers, so to speak.”

San Francisco doesn’t have a critical mass of defense policy expertise available–yet. But in a few years, who knows? Wait and see…

Finally, well, we discussed civil-military communication. Though the military has made enormous progress in engaging, it still has a way to go:

“…When the military loses its ability to communicate itself and its ideas in a patient way, that’s disturbing. That weakens the very fabric of our nation. It’s tremendously important for the military to learn how to engage and explain itself to its citizens. In this era of complex weapons, of projects, of complex strategies, it really needs to go the extra mile and tell its message. Anything I can do in that regard, I feel like, is time well spent…”

And time well spent it is….Go read the interview. And if you want more perspective on this interview–my politics and the like, go check out and read about it over there.

As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.

Via the North Face.

Without. Oxygen.

This is the third in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.

April 30, 2010

We have been in Base Camp (BC) for 3 days now and although living at 15,500′ is relatively pleasant (highlight “relatively”), I (we) did not come to Mt. Everest to look at it from 12 miles away. After looking at the weather reports for the next 5- 7 days, we have decided to leave tomorrow for the North Col/ Camp 1 where we will spend 2 nights (my plan last week before the avalanche made movement up to the North Col impossible).

We (Barry, Fernando, Jamie and I) will depart BC early Saturday morning and spend one night at Interim camp (18,000′), before moving to Advanced Base Camp (ABC- 21,000′) for two nights. We will depart ABC on Tuesday morning and move as a team up to the North Col/Camp 1 (23,000′) for two nights.

My teammates and I will then return to BC on Thursday morning. If the weather cooperates however and I continue to feel strong at the higher altitudes, I may begin my ascent to the summit alone with Kaji on Thursday morning. Kaji and I will spend one night at Camp 2 (25,000′), one short night at Camp 3 (27,000′) and then depart early Saturday morning (05/08/2010) for the summit (29,028′).

This would be an aggressive plan so early in the climbing season and weather (snow, high winds and extreme cold) may preclude us from doing so. If poor weather occurs, I will return to BC with the rest of our team on Thursday morning. We will then rest and recover for 2 or 3 days and then (weather dependent) make our summit attempt (with a tentative summit on May 18th or 19th).

Although it will be nice to summit next Saturday (and return home shortly thereafter), we will review all available weather reports/ information before making a decision that would allow me to do so. I would certainly like the opportunity, but not at the expense of frostbitten toes, fingers, nose (or worst). We shall see…


“Nec Aspera Terrent (Difficulties Be Damned)”

Second Dispatach – The Avalanche

First Dispatch – “One More!”

As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.

Via the North Face.

Without. Oxygen.

This is the second in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.

April 28, 2010

We just returned to Everest Base Camp (BC) after a very challenging 7 days above 21,000’. We left BC last Wednesday morning and hiked 6 hours covering approximately 7 miles to Interim Camp at approximately 18,000’. We awoke early Thursday morning and hiked for another 6 hours covering the final 5 miles to Advanced Base Camp (ABC) to 21,000’ (See Photo “Hike to Everest ABC”).

I felt strong throughout the hike, but arrived at ABC (like everyone else) with a raging altitude headache. As I sat in my tent shortly after arriving, I thought about all of the climbing photos in Patagonia or North Face catalogs. Photos are always of good looking, men and women smiling and shaking hands on the summit of mountains. Much more accurate would be photos of unwashed, exhausted, cold men and women sitting, bent over in full down pants and jacket with their heads being cradled in their hands trying to lessen the pain in their heads from too little oxygen…

We spent the next 5 days at ABC trying to acclimatize and taking day hikes in the surrounding area. At that altitude, everything takes 3- 5 times longer than what it would at sea level. As an example, just to go to the bathroom at night requires you to get fully dressed in down pants, down jacket, hats, gloves and boots. Then, on the way to the bathroom area (a designated rock), you will probably stop at least once or twice trying to catch your breath and give your brain and muscles enough oxygen to function. Going back to your tent requires the same functions to be performed in the opposite order. Further, at high altitudes, your appetite becomes non existent and you must force yourself to eat whatever you can just to give your body the energy it requires to survive and perform as effectively as possibly.

One of my teammates, Barry (South African, Diamond Merchant) was having a very challenging time acclimatizing and due to severe altitude headaches was sleeping only a few hours a night. After 4 nights, he decided to descend to BC for a few days to recover before returning to ABC. Fernando (Mexican, Doctor) was also struggling with acclimatizing and was limited in his ability to take hikes to higher altitudes. Fernando decided to stay at ABC, but not to climb higher. After 5 days at ABC, it was decided that I would move up higher alone with one climbing sherpa (Kaji- 27 years old) to the North Col/ Camp 1. Kaji and I would carry personal and team gear and equipment to the camp, acclimatize for two nights, return to ABC for a night and then hike all the way back to BC for a full recovery.

Monday was not a good day. I have spoken to some of you previously about climbing and the dangers of high altitude mountaineering. If we have had that conversation, there is a good possibility that you have heard me say that “mountains don’t kill people, bad decisions do… and I don’t make bad decisions.” I can’t say that any longer. I made one on Monday: Kaji and I awoke early, finished our packing and headed to the North Col. The North Col face begins approximately one hour climb above ABC. When we arrived, I looked at the face and thought to myself that it did not look good/safe. The route we would have to take up the face would bring us directly beneath not one, but numerous hanging seracs (a build up of overhanging snow). Further, Monday was the nicest day we had had at ABC and with no clouds in the sky the sun was already warming the snow on the route. There were climbers already on the face and Kaji and I decided to climb despite my uneasy feeling/ thoughts (to see what the North Col face looked like moments before our ascent of it, see attached photo “Everest North Col”).

Kaji and I decided that we could move quickly enough to get up and across the face fast enough that we would be ok. We ascended the face as temperatures continued to climb making the snow more unstable. Approximately 50 minutes into our ascent up the face, we heard a loud cracking sound above us and then the tell tale loud and thunderous rumbling sound of an avalanche. Kaji and I slammed our ice axes into the icy face and waited for the snow to rip us off the mountain. Thankfully, unbeknownst to both of us, there was a large crevasse (a long, big hole in the ice), that the avalanche fell into losing most of its power and resulting in Kaji and I being covered in only a harmless layer of snow. Unfortunately for two climbers just ahead of us (names and nationality intentionally left blank- at this time, I am not sure if the families have been notified), they were caught between the avalanche and the crevasse. The avalanche slammed into both climbers, sending them down the mountain and into the crevasse. One climber was hit by the full power of the avalanche. His climbing partner was hit, but not as violently. This climber, although injured, was able to ascend out of the crevasse after a short time. His partner who was in the middle of the avalanche when it hit them has still not been found.

Kaji and I rappelled down the face in case of further avalanches and waited at the foot of the face to see what, if anything, we could do. Jamie, our lead guide was following an hour behind us and saw the avalanche rip down the face and hit the two climbers. After making link- up at the foot of the face, the three of us waited for the injured climber to rappel down. We provided what little aid we could for him (i.e. gave him my down jacket and something to drink etc) as Jamie used our communication equipment to attempt to contact his climbing partner (to no avail). After an hour at the face, Kaji and I returned to ABC.

That night, the injured climber came to find us and had dinner with us. I believe he did so just to be surrounded by others who cared. Fernando looked over all of his injuries and provided great care and comfort. Despite the circumstances, watching someone do what they are passionate about at 21,000’ was impressive and made me realize yet again how fortunate I was to have Fernando as my teammate. After a very long night and bad weather blowing in, Fernando and I descended 12 miles in 7 hours into a stiff wind and snow back to BC to recover and prepare for our next assault on Everest (see attached photo “Return Hike to Base Camp”).

I am not sure how long we will be at BC, but I hope we will be climbing again soon (which means a quicker return home). I hope everyone is doing well.


“I don’t want my life to be fun… I want my life to be real.” – Quote from injured climber who survived an avalanche earlier in the day on 04/26/2010 that took the life of his climbing partner.

First Dispatch here

As we are about to harvest another crop of Junior Officers for the Navy and Marine Corps from the United States Naval Academy – over at Midrats my fellow USNI Blogger and co-host EagelOne an I are dedicating two shows to that essential institution.

For Part I last week in Episode 20: Growing the Seed Corn, we focused on those who help educate out Midshipmen with three Naval Academy Professors: Associate Professor Virginia Lunsford, History Department; Professor Steve Frantzich, Political Science Department; and Professor Bruce Fleming, English Department.

This week in Part II, Episode 21: Naval Academy Special, we are going to give voice to the end product. If you wonder why I don’t worry about the future of the Navy, then listen in and find out why.

We will have one recent and two soon to be graduates from USNA on as guests to discuss what bought them to Annapolis, what they took away from Annapolis, and what they see as young leaders going forward.

Our first guest will be Midshipman Jeff Withington, USN (Class of ’10) A future submariner from West Chester, PA, Jeff will be reporting in August to Nuclear Power School in Charleston, SC. At the Academy, he was an honors history major, with a focus on the ancient world and participated in activities from the philosophy club to intramural handball.

Our second guest will be Midshipman Justin North (Class ’10), USN. Born in Los Angeles California in 1984, graduated Arcadia High in 2003. Enlisted in the Marines and entered bootcamp in October 2003 earned rank of CPL in 2006 as an Aviation Ordnanceman. NAPS class 06. Majored in Political Science. Heading to Quantico after a TAD assignment at NAPS. Hopes to be an Infantry Officer.

Our third guest will be Donnie Horner, ENS USN (Ret.) (Class of ’08). Donnie was an Army brat of a career Army officer and West Point graduate, but decided to better his bloodline and head to the Navy. While at the Academy, he was a company commander, played four years of hockey, and one year of baseball. Graduating with a degree in Political Science, he service selected SWO, was the deck department’s 2nd DIVO on the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) before he was diagnosed with MS on Sept 11, 2009. He was medically retired from the Navy on April 30th of this year.

Presently, he is the executive aide, personal assistant to Mr. Alvin Brown, who is running for mayor of Jacksonville, FL. Donnie is looking to attend law school and run for office in the future.

The show will air live today, Sunday, 16 MAY at 5pm EST. Catch it live if you can and join the usual suspects in the chat room during the show where you can offer your own questions and observations to our guests. If you miss the show or want to catch up on the shows you missed – you can always reach the archives at blogtalkradio – or set yourself to get the podcast on iTunes.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Podcasts | No Comments

In April the Russia’s Admiral Panteleyev captured a group of Somali suspected of attacking a Russian oil tanker the day before:

“During the inspection, the crew found seven Kalashnikov guns, handguns of various brands, aluminum ladders for ascending aboard, navigation equipment, including the satellite one, reserve tanks with fuel, and a big amount of empty cartridge cases,” a Russian Defense Ministry source told the news agency.”

Now, a video has started circling the internet showing the boarding and destruction of the Somali vessel. Interestingly, the Russian Marines use English to speak to the Somalis, a practice previously seen the video of the Dutch operation.

[Apologies for my inability to embed the video]

As you read this, I am attempting to summit Everest.

Via the North Face.

Without. Oxygen.

This is the first in a series posts dispatched from the slopes of Mt. Everest, leading to his planned ascent on or about May 19th.

April 19, 2010:


Sorry for the delay in getting the first dispatch out, but we just got our internet working. We arrived at Everest Base Camp (Northside) on Friday morning. It had been a long 8 day trip from Kathmandu across Tibet and we are glad to be here. To say that transportation, lodging and food had been “poor” while in Tibet would be a gross understatement. The physical/ natural beauty of Tibet is truly awe inspiring, but infrastructure is nonexistent. We mostly slept in our sleeping bags and had been eating steamed cabbage, mushrooms and some type of meat…(I haven’t seen a cat since entering the country, but that is just an observation, of course…).

We arrived in Kathmandu (elevation 4,429’) on Thursday, April 8th and spent three days getting all of our climbing paperwork, permits and China (Tibet) visas squared away. We also did a day of mountain biking in the Himalayan foothills which was challenging, to say the least. Kathmandu is a typical 3rd world city: overcrowded, too many cars, too much smog, trash, poverty etc, but it still manages to have enough 1st world services that make it truly enjoyable to spend a few days exploring.

We left Kathmandu on Sunday and took a bus along the Friendship Highway to Kodari, Nepal where we passed through Nepalese customs, walked across The Friendship Bridge into China (Tibet) and spent the night in Zhangmu, on the Nepal- Tibet border (elevation 7,874’). We woke up the following day and drove to Nyalam, Tibet (elevation 12,303’). Due to the severe changes in elevation, we were forced to spend 2 days in Nyalam hiking the surrounding hills and allowing our bodies to acclimatize.

We awoke early Wednesday morning and drove to Tingri, Tibet (elevation 14,108’) crossing the main Himalayan range and driving over the Lalung La (elevation 16,896’) where the views of Cho Oyu (6thtallest mountain the world), Shishapangma (14th tallest mountain the world) and the Tibetan plateau were spectacular. An hour outside of Tingri, we saw Everest for the first time. Even though it is situated amongst the tallest mountains in the world, Everest still towers above. Unlike after the winning goal of an athletic contest when the athletes and fans scream, yell and cheer, we could only stare in silence at Chomolungma (Tibetan name for Mt. Everest meaning “Goddess Mother of the Earth”) and the sheer immense size of it.

After 2 days in Tingri, more cabbage, more day hikes and more acclimatization, we arrived early Friday afternoon into Base Camp (BC; elevation 16’896’). We have spent the last few days acclimatizing on the hills that surround base camp as well as doing a day hike to the Rongbuk Monastery (approx 4 miles away from BC). We will continue to acclimatize and then begin our initial ascent of the mountain.

Our current plan is to depart BC on Wednesday and hike to Advanced Base Camp (ABC- a 12 mile climb to 20,997’) where we will spend three- four days acclimatizing. We will then depart ABC and climb to the North Col/ Camp 1 (elevation 23,031’) where we will stay for at least three nights prior to returning to ABC for 1-2 more nights and then all the way back to BC. We will then eat, sleep and physically and mentally recover and then prepare for the first 5- 7 day window of good (read “good enough”) weather to make our summit attempt (anytime between the 2nd and 4th week of May, we hope).

I have attached a few photos of the trip so far, in case you were interested. I will send my next dispatch as time, climbing schedule and internet availability permits. I hope everyone is doing (1) well… and (2) “One More!”



“I will not spend my days in trying to prolong them… I will use my time.” – Jack London


Second Dispatach – The Avalanche

Third Dispatch – Nec Aspera Terrent

Fourth Dispatch – Toughness is a Relative Term

Fifth Dispatch – Preparing for the Final Assault

Sixth Dispatch – Reaching the Summit


“Joint Publication (JP) 1, Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United
States, serves as the capstone publication for all US joint doctrine.” An excerpt from Chapter V of JP1:

Unified action describes the broad scope of activities taking place within unified commands, subordinate unified commands,or JTFs under the overall direction of the commanders of those commands for the purpose of achieving unity of effort in mission accomplishment. Unified action requires the integration of effort across the command. This includes joint, single-Service, special, and supporting operations; as well as interagency, NGOs, PVOs, and multinational participants
into a unified effort in the theater or joint operations area. Military support of unified action is facilitated by operations under a single commander, in execution of a single plan, that encompass all assigned and supporting military and nonmilitary elements. Unified action within the military instrument of national power supports the national strategic unity of effort through close coordination with the other instruments of national power.
a. Unified action requires unified direction. The combatant command and theater strategies, including their derivative campaign and operation plans, provide that direction. The principles and considerations for unified action apply to US participation in multinational and interagency operations. Multinational operations may require unique command relationships that maintain unity of effort while not establishing a single multinational force commander.

Getting everyone to pull in the same direction, even if their motives and visions of the future may vary, is a leadership challenge. As seen at the photo nearby, the challenge is akin to that of tug of war – in the case of the photo, U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen end their first year tugging against each other – a metaphor, perhaps, of their future, when the tugs of budgets and all those other matters that can take away from the main effort of getting a unified effort to head in a unified direction – which is the question that underlay the entire conference as it wound to an end:

“How can we get all the players (the “joint, single-Service, special, and supporting operations; as well as interagency, NGOs, PVOs, and multinational participants”) pulling in the same direction – now and 5 years from now?”

To which has been added-

“In the times of austere budgets how can we and our allies join together to meet the defense needs of our alliances without loss of the current levels of excellence? Can we deliver nearly the same bang for less buck? When appropriate can we simplify, downgrade, and use lower cost solutions to problems we will face? Now that we have an experienced highly trained force, how can we retain the “warriors” and not allow a return of the bureaucrats who always seem to come to dominate between wars? How can we help our “strategic corporal? What decisions do we need to make today?”

For the final day, there were two key addresses, the first by General Craig McKinley, USAF, chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen Mckinley noted that “value-added” aspects of the Guard and Reserve – part-time soldiers who are substantially less expensive than the active duty force but who are competent and capable of taking on either front line assignments or providing “breathing space” for AC force to recover from operations. Noting that the Guard is dual-hatted with state governors having control of the units when not called to active duty service, the Guard has a split personality – be prepared for war and for emergency operations at home. With recent call ups, National Guard units have “paid in blood and treasure to become a full spectrum force.” Maintaining that edge in the future is a concern. The General noted that most Guardsmen and Reservists have prior service experience and that the country needs to retain that expertise – and not allow, as has happened in the past, the Guard and Reserve to be “put back in the can” after their wartime employments end.

Part of the issue is adequate training for the part-time force- which may be harder in times of austere budgets, but which may be helped by better use of computer training.

From my personal view, have been through a couple of recalls, the Reservists and Guard members are exactly the same people who were valued while serving in the active force and many have added to their military experience with lessons learned in civilian careers.

Most of the time getting them back up to speed involves making sure they are training on the same equipment as the active component and are given the opportunity to train alongside experienced active duty forces. General McKinley addressed these last points during his speech noting that some Guard squadrons are sharing first line equipment such as F-22 fighters as they train.

The key afternoon speech was an address by General Mattis, USMC, Commander Joint Forces Command, the details of which are mostly covered here. Going back to my “tug of war” analogy, General Mattis expressed it very well:

Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis told the assembled audience that an ability to create harmony among services, alliances, partnerships and civilian agencies is absolutely essential for commanders today and in the future.

“In this age, I don’t care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony – even vicious harmony – on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you really need to go home, because your leadership in today’s age is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines.”

In short, the key is getting everyone to pull in the same direction in the term while keeping an eye on the long term. Even more, General Mattis sees the value of decentralized command – a plan that often the corporal in the field may be able to articulate extremely well and learning to trust the junior NCOs and officers in their roles as the tactical and strategic spear point:

“I don’t think we have turned off a radio in the last eight years of active operations. What kind of officers are we creating? What kind of NCOs are we creating today if in fact we have this robust command and control that you’re never out of touch with higher headquarters? We congratulate ourselves on initiative, but how much initiative are we leaving to our subordinates in a world like this?”

General Mattis also spoke of “rewarding ferocity in battle” and maintaining a “warrior ethos” – which I understood be driven in part by “doing the right thing” and not necessarily just the “legal” thing. If al Qaeda is setting up situations where in order to get at AQ personnel innocent civilians might be harmed, the corporal in the field has to see the trap and not provide AQ a propaganda talking point even when it would be lawful act otherwise. This may involve “courageous restraint” and substantial risk, but the long-term payoff may be greater than a short term victory.

He encouraged juniors to “challenge the assumptions” citing a quote “The only thing worse than obsolete weapons is obsolete thinking.” Essentially saying that warfare is not a mathematics problem, General Mattis described the importance of critical thinking in young officers, who can grasp new realities as they present themselves and adopt new strategies to deal with them. These leaders must “operate under uncertainty” while being guided by the Commander’s Intent (which needs to be understood at the lowest levels). Leaders must avoid excessive worry over “lawfare” by applying ethics and legitimacy to their actions . In the right situation, “open fire legally and ethically.” “Everything we do should be okay to be visible . . .”

He also encouraged openness with the press especially since the enemy is seizing the initiative more than willing to do so and is thus sometimes “winning the battle of the narrative.” Don’t be afraid of being judged: “We are the good guys, not the perfect guys” but our narrative ought to be better than that of the enemy. As quoted here:

The general said coalition forces are winning the war in Afghanistan on the battlefield, but losing on another front.
“The enemy is winning at times in the press. We all know that,” said Mattis.
He also said the media too often uses a passive voice to describe terrorist attacks.
“How many of us have heard that? ‘A bomb went off in Baghdad today,'” Mattis asked. “No, a bomb didn’t just go off in Bhagdad today. Some murderous thugs who knew there were women and children in that market place intentionally blinded, burned and maimed people.”

When asked how the service can keep this quality of warrior and avoid a post war “putting them in a can” as described by General McKinley, General Mattis replied:

Train them. Educate them. Reward them. Promote them. Provide warrior training by letting experienced warriors do the training.

He also suggested that we need to take a look at the oddities of an antiquated personnel system and be consistent. Pointing out that the Air Force has only officer UAV pilots while the other services may have E-4s doing the same job, he sees a need for reform.

So, after 2.5 days. What’s the answer to the title question: “Combatant and Coalition Commanders: What will they need five years from now?”

1. Empowered “Strategic Corporals;”
2. A reformed personnel system that rewards warriors;
3. Reality checks on our thinking (e.g. A 2 billion dollar cruiser being used to take on some pirates in speed boat? Really?);
4. A willingness to accept the idea that “the way we’ve always done it” is not the only way to do it – a need to be open to the ideas and thoughts of allies and friends;
5. Unity of effort in our efforts. See Joint Publication Number 1 as cited above.

I wonder how it will look five years out.

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