army myths

Army Myths: Unhook your chest strap and you get 10% more inflation


Before a jump, paratroopers spend a lot of time waiting around. The airborne timeline is notorious for having you show up at 0300 for a 2359 time on target, and most of the time inbetween is spent bullshitting with the guys next to you.

Invariably, talk will turn to how much jumping sucks, and how to make it suck less.

A myth that I heard over and over from “senior” E4s and junior NCOs was that if you unhooked the chest buckle of the T-10D parachute during your descent, your canopy would get a little extra inflation. On more than one occasion I heard that it would give you 10% “more lift.”

I remember being skeptical upon hearing this at first. I understood the theory, that by unhooking the chest buckle it would theoretically allow the risers to expand out more, thus allowing the canopy to also expand, letting in more air and slowing the descent.

I dismissed their claims, and they dismissed my dismissals as naive.

The only way I’d know for sure, they said, was to try it out myself.

New paratroopers are unlikely to risk touching any of their equipment during descent out of fear – better to just ride it all in than to touch something you shouldn’t touch and risk a gory way to die.

After making a certain number of jumps and feeling confident that I kind of knew what I was doing, I decided to finally test the claim for myself. During a “hollywood” (no equipment, day time) jump on a pleasant day, I unhooked my chest strap during my descent to see if it would do anything.

It didn’t.

fell to Earth, at more or less the same speed as I was before I unhooked the buckle.




Army Buzzwords: “Setting Conditions”

I’m not sure the genesis of the phrase, but for the last few years I’ve been hearing the term “setting conditions” used often and in many different contexts. At the small unit, tactical level, I’ve heard it a lot in the context of fire and maneuver.

“You have to ensure that you set the conditions with your support by fire to allow the maneuver element to move.”

I’ve also heard it used in preparation for meetings and briefings.

“Delete that slide. We want to make sure we’re setting the conditions for this course of action.”

I’ve also heard it – ad nauseum – at the operational and strategic level.

“Right now, we’re setting the conditions for the Afghans/Iraqis to take charge of their own security.”

A cursory search for the term in Army doctrine picked up a couple of paragraphs in reference to Airborne and Air Assault operations in Appendix C of the old FM 3-90 (Tactics). Other than that, nothing (doctrine nerds, please let me know if it exists elsewhere, other than speeches and Army social media).

It’s often said in that buzz-wordy way that implies that by simply uttering, the meaning is revealed. That is, it’s said a little more slowly than other words in the sentence, and usually strongly and clearly enunciated for emphasis.

It’s not necessarily a bad phrase, and in the three contexts cited, the phrase works and makes sense, although the speaker doesn’t really elaborate on what the conditions are and how exactly they are going to be set.

And that’s the problem with jargon; they often only imply what needs to be done without stating so directly.

In the first context, setting conditions likely means effectively suppressing the enemy so that the maneuver element can move without being fired upon. While that is implied by saying “set the conditions,” it is only understood if the implication has already been ingrained. I remember being a young, aggressive fire team leader during a Platoon Live Fire exercise. I was part of the Squad that would “knock out the bunker” and throw the grenade. I was also charged with calling for the shift fire and lift fires signals. I was of the mind that we should attempt to “shock” the enemy bunker by rapidly maneuvering on it, so I called for shift and life very quickly – the Weapons Squad hardly got in a burst.

At the AAR, I was told that I needed to exercise some “tactical patience” and “let the battle develop” (more Army buzz terms, by the way). Today, I would probably have been told that I needed to properly “set the conditions” for the bunker squad to move.

In the second context – and as an officer, I think I hear “setting conditions” in this regard more frequently – setting conditions is a means of gentle manipulation. A particular outcome is desired, and through some basic social psychology (in this case, deleting a slide from a PowerPoint presentation), the conditions are being set to effect the end result. There is nothing particularly ominous about this – subordinate leaders have always conspired among themselves to present data and ideas in a certain style of get the outcome they want (although Army officers, it has been revealed, are pathological liars).

What is interesting, is the way one might say we have to “set the conditions” in the same way one might say to a subordinate that he needs “acquire” a piece of lost gear before close of business, or face a statement of charges. The phrase is a wink and a nod towards deviousness and trickery.

In the third context, setting conditions is a kind of catch-all phrase that encompasses the entirety of things that need to happen to get to the next step. If the goal is winning a war or getting everyone home, then the way to do so is simply to “set the conditions.”

Everyone in the room nods, approvingly.



video games

The Keepers of the FOB


The other day, as I exited my room, there was an older man in civilian clothes with a clipboard putting a fire extinguisher back into its wall-mounted cradle nearby. I nodded to the worker and he barely nodded back. A few days earlier, there was a small fire and all of the fire extinguishers were used and then seemed to dissapear.

And now, a few days later, they were recharged and back in their original place. No coordinations were made.

Something I’ve noticed more on this deployment than previous ones is the level of maintenance and upkeep that occurs on the FOB (Forward Operating Base). While some of it is done by military personnel, much of the day-to-day life functions are carried out by private contractors and local workers. It all kind of happens in the background, wrenches turning, equipment moving, fire extinguishers being replaced, all without anyone ever really noticing or even asking.

It reminded me of the Keepers on the Citadel (from Mass Effect). We’re warned early on not to mess with them; their origins are mysterious, but hey, they keep things running so why mess with a bad thing?


The Magic of the Power Coming Back On


There is a really fantastic article in The American Interest about life in Mosul under ISIS. It is long but well worth the read. There are number of things that jumped out at me, but one of them was on the status of power and utilities in the city:

Eight months of ISIS so far, as I sit to write, have taken their toll on every aspect of the city. Electricity and running water are available for two to four hours a week, but no one knows which hours in any given week.

During my first deployment to Iraq in 2003, whenever we would ask our platoon sergeant when we’d be going home, he would point to the Al Dora power plant in the distance, with its four smoke stacks poking the sky like needles, and say “When all four smoke stacks are pumping smoke, we’ll go home.”

Since the war in Iraq began utilities have been intermittent at best – even in Baghdad. It’s easy to sweep that aside as insignificant whining, like the ISIS soldier does in the article, but unless you have experienced the Iraqi heat in the summer, it’s hard to overstate the importance of having reliable electricity and running water.

The excerpt from the Mosul article about the power coming on at seemingly random times reminds me of so many moments at different places in Baghdad, where we would lounge in our own sweat, trying our best not to move to minimize our discomfort. If we were lucky, the power might come on at a random time which would be met with cheers and instant movement, bringing everyone back to life as the air conditioning kicked in. It’s a kind of happiness that you really don’t want to experience, because it’s only good because things were normally so bad.