The Secret Brilliance of “You go to war with the Army you have…”

“You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish you had at a later time.”

That infamous quote by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, absent of the context in which it was spoken, is actually brilliant in its simplicity and reflects the reality of modern combat, or really, modern combat logistics.

Secretary Rumsfeld, of course, was chided for making the comment, which was in response to a Specialist who asked why his unit has to rummage through trash heaps to find scrap metal to weld onto old humvees. The more palatable answer would have been to mumble something about resourcing the Greatest Army in the World and that the process takes time. Instead, Secretary Rumsfeld spoke the truth, which came out as insensitive. Context matters, and in this case, the Iraq War was wildly unpopular at the time, and Secretary Rumsfeld was under fire for (mis)managing the war. The quip came off as another one of his dodges in the same vein of his famously fiery press conferences.

It’s unfortunate, because the statement is both true and can be used on an almost daily basis in military life. It can hardly be said today, though, without a chuckle or raised eyebrow.

The truth is, as former Secretary Gates would say, the American public, and by extension, the American military, often has a “cartoonish” view of what our own military capabilities are. We can land a man on the moon, so of course, ipso facto, we can outfit an entire expeditionary Army with the correct armor to defeat a growing and adapting threat, right?

An interesting challenge for modern military leaders is the fact that we know that there are capabilities and resources out there that we would absolutley love to have on every mission. Someone can send me a picture with their iPhone of the exact part I need for one of my Strykers that’s sitting in a shed somewhere on the otherside of the world. It’s exactly what I need, but it’s still on the other side of the world. If the mission calls for me to roll out now, then I have to roll out right now.

Assets that may have been available for one mission or one conflict or one deployment might not be available for another, even though they are indeed “available” in the grand context of that meaning – they exist. If they exist, then to the modern military leader who is accustomed to being in the Greatest Army in the World, they should be available for use, at all times.

When I originally joined the Army, that myth existed pretty strongly in my imagination. I remember rolling my eyes (figuratively, not literally) at my Sergeants who were telling me that we would have to make sure we stow away our magazines when we change them under fire; we would not have the luxury of resupply. My thinking was, if I was in a firefight, screw trying to fiddle with stuffing a magainze in my cargo pocket, I’m concentrating on shooting, there would be more magazines in the supply office after the mission. That imagination was smashed by the reality of actual combat service, to include running out of food for a couple of days during the initial invasion of Iraq. I remember actually saying to my Squad Leader in the middle of the desert: “Out of food? This is America! This is 2003! How the hell do we run out of food?” Yet, we did.

We went to war with the Army we had.

All the gizmos and gadgets and assets that flood the modern battlefield are great. But if they’re not there (for whatever reason), then the assumption should not be that the mission should be scratched. Same for training.

Transportation got nixed? Walking is an option, you know.

Anyway, the point of all this is that it is actually hard to stand up in front of soldiers and say to them “you go to war with the Army you have,” probably because of Secretary Rumsfeld’s gaffe.

With that said, the Army I need includes a 900’ REAPER.




Remnants of an Army


I walk down the steps and outside, limping from the pins and needles in my legs from sitting too long. The cold air wraps around me and I look up, squinting, catching the dark, looming mountains of the Pashtun border behind a strand of concertina wire along the wall of the cantonment . Turning a corner to head back to my room, the white blimp sits in the air where it always does; black from its own shadow. A low-tech drone buzzes nearby like a lawn mower.

top search of the week

Combat Infantry Badge


Week ending December 7, 2014  

‘Combat Infantry Badge’ won the week as the most searched term that brought people to the blog. I’m not sure what accounts for the influx – although being deployed now (as opposed to earlier in the GWOT), getting a CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge) has become (for some), a labor of love and patience. Anxious junior infantrymen who want to be tested – and also want to return home with the rifle and wreath on their chest – are warned by senior infantrymen that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be, not worth the potential cost, and don’t worry, hang around long enough and you’ll get it anyway.

There is also a legal-esque approach to the CIB in a retrograding environment. Where blanket orders may have once rained down a unit, today there is often a “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” requirement for the award.

Anyway, I’ve written about the CIB in a few different contexts in the past, which is where the readers probably ended up. Below are the articles.

Why Deployment Experience Really Matters

EIB Week: “Expert” vs. “Combat” Infantryman Badge

EIB Week: Is the EIB the “mark” of the Infantryman?

CIB Ceremony (January 7, 2004)

How can I get my CIB if I lost my paperwork and my iPerms doesn’t have it?



video games

Game Review: Door Kickers

Since I’ve been in the Army, there has always been a special fascination with urban warfare, or Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). Infantrymen love doing MOUT. MOUT, as opposed to some other infanftry maneuvers, is aggressive, violent, and fun. There’s a science to it, involving lines and angles that you don’t find (as prominently) in other battle drills. I’ve always had a suspicion that part of the fun of MOUT is the fact that it’s usually not as physically exhausting as humping a rucksack in the woods for miles and shooting at shadows in the trees. But conduct a house-to-house clearing operation in any of the Army’s numerous “MOUT Villages” and I guarentee you will find panting, drenched-in-sweat, happy infantrymen at ENDEX. MOUT is a sprint; an explosion of adrenaline and muscle, whereas those other battle drills are more of a marathon, a slow, painful sapping of energy over time.

When I first came across the trailer for KillHouse Games’ Door Kickers, I was intrigued. The game, put simply, is Battle Drill 6 (Enter and Clear a Room/Building). It looked like a graphically enhanced version of what I’ve seen in infantry manuals for years – and fun!


I haven’t been a big PC gamer (or in this case, Mac) since I was in high school. It’s been too hard to keep up with the technology and I’ve always preferred consoles and handhelds. Door Kickers runs well on my old 2008 Macbook though. The game is pretty simple in design, putting you in charge of a growing squad of SWAT team characters whose task is to clear buildings and areas of enemies. The crux of the game is planning out just how you are going to enter and clear, given the level layout and a known number of enemy (although in unknown locations). This is accomplished by either pre-planning routes for your guys and then letting them execute or in real time, clicking and dragging them where you want (the enemy also moves when you move).

I haven’t spent much time with the game yet, but it is dangerously addictive. As someone who has done a good deal of MOUT both in training and deployed, it feels realistic and captures the challenges of getting the angles right, freezing in the “fatal funnel” and making the tough choice between the path of least resistance versus the immediate threat. At first go, I couldn’t help but think about how this could be used as a training tool for junior leaders, setting up a room or series of rooms and then asking them to demonstrate how they would go about clearing it – and being able to see the results in real time.

The game features a campaign mode and mission editor. There’s also a feature to replay the last level (as an observer) and to export the video. Unfortunately, that feature isn’t currently available for Mac, so you won’t be able to see my master room-clearing skills. The developers seem determined to keep the game fresh, having just released an update that includes a new campaign. The game features multiple weapons, different characters, and multiple scenarios (to include hostage rescue). It’s a simple premise that’s packed with detail. I’m enjoying it.

All that said, this game (for me) is an absolute must on mobile. Right now it is available for Mac/PC/Linux, but it is no-brainer port for iOS and Android. I’m actually a bit worried about how much time I am going to spend dumping into this once it gets an iOS port, because it is the perfect game to attack in the moments inbetween things, as missions can last as short as 15 seconds (if planned correctly).

It’s cool to see a game get some of the finer points of CQB down in a way that feels realistic and still fun, just like MOUT tends to be – in training, at least.