Week ending December 8, 2013
I suspect most folks who are searching for ‘infidel’ click on the image of the Major League Infidel banner in an image search and then land on Carrying the Gun. There was a couple of comments yesterday on Enough with the ‘infidel’. It is still my most popular post.
You can read about my infidel crusade here (Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff already. Seriously, stop.) and here (Infidel Redux). If you want to see it all, check here.
Recently, I sat talking with another officer about what a deployment to Afghanistan in 2014 might look like, especially in its historical context with the writing on the wall making it close to the end of the war, if not the end. What, I thought, is the driving force of a young soldier going to Afghanistan in 2014?
In 2001, it was revenge. In Iraq, 2003, it was pre-emptive defense (or so they said). In the years leading up to today, it was some form of chasing down the last remnants, battling out the long slog, “surging,” mopping up, “setting conditions” or some other conglomeration of words that hinted at elusive victory.
A deployment in 2014 will likely look very different than other deployments. The 2d Cavalry Regiment is currently rolling through a sleepy deployment where the most exciting thing in months can be *almost* getting to fire an illumination round. The – workout twice a day and evenings at Green Beans coffee – kind of deployment.
OBL is dead and whether we stay in Afghanistan past 2014 is up in the air.
What then, motivates a soldier to fight?
I started thinking that maybe it is the mechanical aspect of war, the fight itself. There is certainly a pull to it, especially for young men (and women) who want to prove themselves in battle. But sitting there in that conversation, mind buzzing with caffeine, I thought back to my own experience. Getting shot at was not fun – at all. I felt exposed and on the brink of destruction.
But afterwards! Afterwards was amazing. The feeling of escaping death. Looking it in the face and winning. Not wanting to do it again because it felt so close, but wondering if I could.
Back in my office, I said, “No, it’s not the mechanical fight, running a battle drill and surviving that provides the pull.”
We discussed what it must have been like for soldiers in ancient times, wielding sword and shield, fighting face to face. Slashing and hacking. No, while romantic in hind sight, having an extremely short life expectancy couldn’t have been very “fun.” While there were certainly some who relished the actual fighting (as there are now), we agreed that most ancient soldiers probably loathed it and feared it.
But, what they had that we don’t was the Virtue of the Conqueror.
That is, winning the battle and winning the war was virtuous in its own right. It was generally understood. Conquering was a virtue. Invading, advancing, reaping reward for your people – that was valued in and of itself.
For the modern American soldier, conquering is not a virtue. Outside of military bases, there are no banners hailing the conquering hero, or even welcoming them home. War, now, is an afterthought. Something “over there” that really needs to end soon so we can get this country back on track, or so they say.
Without the Virtue of the Conqueror, the whole notion of “why we fight” is so much trickier today. If this were ancient times and we served in an army of conquerors, it is doubtful that Vietnam vet turned Hollywood screenwriter William Broyles would have felt the need to pen “Why Men Love War” or British Iraq vet turned journalist would write “Iraq is always with you.” It was much easier to explain the whole thing when everyone just understood that you went to war to win and bring victory. That’s it.
So, as always, I offer nothing that brings us closer to understanding why, but I do posit that without the Virtue of the Conqueror, it is easier to understand why we have such a hard time reconciling it now. I like the thought of two ancient grizzled veterans getting drunk in a dank tavern, discussing the meta-physical elements of war, wondering “what it all means.” But I’m not sure they had to do that because they were too busy celebrating victory or dead.
Incidentally, Jill Sargent Russell posted ‘The Art of Victory‘ on Kings of War yesterday. It’s a good post that I think is talking about the same thing I am, but in a more academic way.
This is a guest post from friend of the blog Soren Sjogren, a Danish Army Officer who has led a mixed-gender infantry unit in combat.
Leading women in combat
Whether women are eligible to serve in combat units in the US is no longer a discussion. The first women have already passed basic infantry training and American junior officers will soon face the challenges of leading mixed units.
As a Danish army officer I have led mixed platoon-size combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is what I have learned about leading women in combat.
Do not focus on gender
Gender is not important. Ethnicity is not important either. What is important, however, is this simple question: Does this person deliver the results expected as a part of the team? The only standards to measure are the soldiers’ ability to do their job. Do not focus on anything else.
Measure your soldiers by the same standard
Make sure you measure your troops by the same standard. The idea that women have to prove themselves more worthy than the males by making tougher demands on them is just as wrong as the opposite – lessening standards in an attempt to stuff more women into the unit. Remember: It can never be an objective to have a specific number of women in a given unit. The objective is to train and maintain a fighting force able to carry out its tasks.
Protect your unit from attention
Along with arrival of the first women in your unit comes a lot of attention. Imagine the interest of the media in the first mixed unit deployed in combat. All sorts of commentators might have an interest in the women in your unit in order to use them to promote a specific cause. Higher command might have an interest in telling the success story of women in combat.
Say no, politely. Your job as a leader is to protect your unit and focus on the mission. The women in your unit are there for the same reasons as the men: to prove themselves and serve their country. They did not become soldiers to attract the attention of the press, commentators, or higher command because of their gender.
Never accept sexism
Words have the power to move and to transform us. Never use nor allow language that implies negativity related to gender. An innocent joke about women’s lack of ability to do something or implying that it is OK to use gender as an explanation is the first step down the wrong path.
Do not go there yourself, and strike down hard on any approach to sexism.
Allow women to be women
There is no such thing as a stereotypical infantry soldier. Dark, light, big or small – the only thing that matters is that you are able to do the job. You do not need to transform women and make them more ‘manly’ in order to serve.
Allow them to be women as long as they do their job. Just as you allow the rest of your soldiers to be the individuals they are.
A final word
In the Danish army women are still a minority, even more so in combat units. Few women make it into the infantry. The average woman certainly will not.
But neither would the average man. The point is that we are looking for people who can get the job done. Gender regardless.
Focus on the task. Focus on the standards of the field manuals. Focus on your unit’s ability to capture the objective or to hold the ground. That is all there is.
See, the conqu’ring hero comes!
Sound the trumpets, beat the drums.
Sports prepare, the laurel bring,
Songs of triumph to him sing.
-from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus
The process for going on leave was similar to going on R&R to Qatar. Your unit drops you off, takes your weapon and armor and bids you a jealous farewell. Then you’re on your own, temporarily assigned to some leisure unit whose mission is to get you home.
I spent a day or two at Baghdad Airport, alone, walking between the chow hall, the internet tent, and our sleep tent. Most of my time was spent lounging achingly on a rotting cot with its legs buried loosely into grey stones, thinking about all the things I would do in the land of plenty.
I made it to Kuwait and felt sick looking out the window of our bus over the vast emptiness that used to be TAA Champion – our war jamboree where almost a year earlier I trained from morning until night to kill. It was now empty and cold like a large lot after the festival packs up and leaves.
Kuwait was a similar routine to Baghdad airport, but with better amenities and more hate. Kuwait had restaurants and fast food and faster internet. In the internet cafe I imagined the person next to me was deployed here, calling home and telling his parents about the “war,” wondering if they knew the difference between where I was and where he was. It made me angry, but only because I think it was supposed to make me angry.
We were told that we’d fly to Germany and then to Baltimore. That is as far as the military’s dime would take us. From there I was on my own. My emails home from this time are jammed with different courses of action for how I should spend my precious two weeks of leave. I decided that I would fly home first to New York.
Three hour flight from Baghdad to Kuwait. Ten hour flight from Kuwait to Germany. Ten hour flight from Germany to Baltimore.
Back in America.
The terminals in Baltimore were quiet and cavernous. The carpet was immaculate and clean. That’s what I noticed first.
I was traveling during the week, and the airport was not very busy. I bought my ticket to New York and walked to the gate. I was wearing my cleanest Desert Combat Uniform (DCU). My boots still puffed out dust if I stepped too hard.
Exhausted, I went to the bathroom to make sure I was still presentable. I shaved in a bathroom stall with a battery powered electric razor. I looked tired and excited.
At my gate, I sat against the wall and watched people. There weren’t many travelers. I tried to place myself in the context of history – how unique was it that here I was, a real live war veteran, wearing a combat uniform in the airport? The wars have been going on for two years now, and the Iraq war was less than a year old. I also understood that I was “late” in going on mid-tour leave, which was still a relatively new program. Business travelers would probably already be adept at ignoring me. Leisure travelers might notice, though.
My eyes caught a nicely dressed blonde woman across from me reading a newspaper and sipping on hot Starbucks coffee. She was engrossed in her work and never looked up.
Our plane began boarding and my seat was all the way in the back – last seat on the right side of the plane. No one sat next to me or across from me. My row was quiet and alone. The plane was a puddle jumper – Baltimore to New York would be a short flight.
I think a couple of people may have muttered a ‘thank you’ as I boarded and I smiled and thanked them back.
Less than an hour and I would be home for the first time in nearly a year.
I drank some orange juice and then some ginger ale. The weather in the North East was nasty and the flight was bumpy. Lots of turbulence.
We approached New York and began our descent. I looked out the window over Queens for landmarks. Creedmoor is what I always wanted to see. The plane continued to bounce in the sky, my stomach going up and down inside of my body.
The pilot over the intercom: “There’s some traffic on the ground and we are currently number five for landing, so we’re going to go into a short holding pattern until we land.“
I swallowed weakly as I felt the frog poke its head up somewhere near the back of my tongue. I started to sweat lightly and my skin became clammy and cool.
The buzzing of the props got louder as I looked out the window to see the gritty world of New York pass by over and over, rushing past, speckles of rain hitting the window every so often. New York looked grey and cold and dismal. I closed my eyes tightly and tried my hardest to fight the urge to be sick.
Circles and circles and then we straightened out to land. Four days of travel from war and in the unforgiving minute, I lurched forward and threw up violently, straight down, trying to pass the vomit between my seat and the seat in front of me so that it would hit the ground.
I missed and the vomit splashed on my leather seat and it ran down between my legs, soaking into my pants.
The second heave came and I adjusted my aim, leaning further forward and missing the seat, vomit splashing on the floor and speckling my desert boots with tomato-colored grossness. I wondered what the person in front of me was thinking.
We landed and I felt the nausea wash away from my body and the shame settle in. The engines powered down and I waited for everyone to get off the plane before asking the flight attendant for some towels to clean up the mess. She said not to worry about it, but I insisted.
I cleaned the vomit off of the seat and ground the best I could and then got off the plane. I was the last one off.
I walked through LaGuardia Airport, home in New York, ready to see my parents. I walked proudly, fully knowing there was a giant wet spot on my butt that was vomit. I passed people who smiled at me because I was a soldier and I was home. I wondered if their heads followed my body as they passed, and if they saw the vomit. I never looked to check.
I met my parents at baggage and they beamed, seeing their son back from war. I told them about the vomit, but I don’t think they cared.
From an email dated December 1, 2003:
I’m in Germany right now on blazing fast internet. I am not going to be long because there are a million people on line.
From an email dated November 30, 2003:
I have a couple of minutes so I am going to give you a heads up on things I want to do while home on leave.
Eat out a lot.
Drink a lot of alcohol.
See a couple of movies.
See a Broadway show or two.
Go to a posh hotel for a night.
Go to a bar with the dad.
Do clothes shopping.
Do anything shopping.
Tell war stories.
Meet your friends.
Go to a club.
Drive my car around.
Not sleep for like two days straight ( because I chose to, not because I had to )
Week ending December 1, 2013
The top search was ‘ranger concierge transportation.’ Some poor soul is about to go to Ranger School and must have heard about the concierge service I wrote about last year. The service is a micro-business that operates during the 8 hour pass that Ranger students get after completing Darby phase and before heading to Mountain phase. The guy will pick you up and drop you off wherever you want, do your laundry, and make any purchases you need to have made while you presumably stuff your face with whatever it is suits your fancy.
Good luck. And may the odds be ever in your favor.
From an email dated November 30, 2003:
Everything is going along real smoothly so far. I left Baghdad this morning and I’m in Kuwait now. It’s weird actually. I’m at the same place I was when I first came in country. Well, close enough. Camp Champion and Camp Wolf. They are both right next to each other and Camp Champion was the 82nd and Camp Wolf was all of the support. Well now Camp champion is just a big empty dusty field. Camp Wolf is pogue heaven. I’m in a tent with females! It’s crazy. People can wear civilian clothes and shit. This is the same place I trained to kill for a month before going into Iraq. Wild. But I showered up, got to eat some Subway and I’m on the internet right now. It’s just kind of sad to see how the place is now. We don’t run it anymore.