French paratroopers earn their mustard stains in Mali


Lots of action going on in Mali. Here’s the story behind the jump.

The ‘combat jump device‘ is one of the rarest awards in the US military. Right place, right time. I almost got one (not really).

I’m not sure if there is an equivalent award for the French. If anyone knows if they get any special recognition for participating in a combat jump, I’d love to know about it.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

ROTC back at CUNY after more than 40 years

A young Colin Powell as an ROTC cadet at the City College of New York (1957)
A young Colin Powell as an ROTC cadet at the City College of New York (1957)

While doing some research for an earlier post, I learned that Army ROTC is headed back to the City University of New York (CUNY) and specifically the City College of New York (CCNY), my alma mater. I had heard through the grapevine that this was in the works, but nothing was officially official. It won’t start until the fall, but it looks like the cat’s out of the bag.

I know a lot of people were involved in making this happen, and maybe when ROTC officially opens at CCNY I’ll write a longer piece on how it all went down. For now, I’m just happy to know that it is actually happening. CUNY, CCNY, and the Army will all be better for it.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Biblical Proportions: ROTC, DADT, and women in combat

I had been meaning to write a blog piece on how both the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) and the return of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) to Ivy League schools were both met with scathing resistance and commentary before the changes were implemented, but once the changes actually took place, nothing terrible happened. Now, with the decision to eliminate the “combat exclusion” policy which theoretically was supposed to keep women out of the line of fire and which in practice kept them from the opportunity to try out for many of the combat arms branches (armor, field artillery, infantry etc.), it seems to me that those other two policy changes might suggest how this change might also be received.

In the repeal of DADT, the argument against repeal usually lingered around the idea that having openly serving gay soldiers in the military might undermine unit cohesion or morale, or that it might upset some soldiers’ religious or personal beliefs. There was also another fear of gay soldiers suddenly becoming “flamboyant” once they no longer had to hide who they were, and that this would undermine military professionalism. Both of these fears, of course, were completely unfounded and the repeal of DADT rolled out with barely anyone noticing.

In the case of ROTC returning to the Ivy League, there were a number of Op-Eds written for ROTC’s return and against, as well as town hall meetings that turned nasty as some students and faculty members made their case for keeping ROTC off campus. Interestingly, a major reason cited by those against ROTC was the military’s DADT policy. Beyond that, many believed (and still believe) that a college campus is not an appropriate place for the military to have a presence (militaries do carry out wars, after all) and that by having ROTC around, it could potentially “militarize” the campus (whatever that means). After much handwringing, ROTC was invited back to a host of Ivy League School (Columbia, Harvard, Yale) with little incident. Some argue this is because of the low-key rollout of the programs, but whatever.

The point is, both of these changes were met with heated debate that fizzled quickly once the deed was done. Maybe, as Americans, we’re so apathetic that we just shrug and move on when the we think there’s nothing we can do. Maybe we’re easily enraged by the pundits and media darlings that tell us what to think. Or maybe we just like to argue.

While I think integrating women into combat arms will face some unique hurdles that differentiates it from the repeal of DADT and bringing back ROTC, none of these hurdles are insurmountable – in fact they’re all pretty simple to address with a little common sense. People in the military are pretty good at following orders, and I would imagine that integrating women into the various combat arms positions (if that is indeed what happens) will happen methodically and with care – and probably with little commotion.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Ranger women


Today we learned that the Pentagon is officially lifting the ‘ban on women in combat’ which will open up positions in the military that were once open only to men – namely combat arms jobs like infantry. I’ve written about this a lot on this blog and it’s a move I support. There are a number of reasons why I feel this way, but I can’t articulate those reasons any better than COL (Ret) Ralph Puckett, one of the founders of the modern Rangers.

From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

Although there are many — particularly Rangers — who are vehemently opposed to opening the training to women, women will be permitted to attend. Rather than continuing to fight against the inevitable, the Army would do well to focus its attention on the steps to be taken to ensure that standards will not be lowered, and that the integration will be accomplished as smoothly, efficiently and fairly as can be.

If I were the commander (I’m not; it’s easy to say what one would do when he has no responsibility for the outcome), I would already have begun to plan for eliminating the prohibition on women attending Ranger School. I would be training and indoctrinating my staff. We would be preparing for the day when the first female student arrives.

I would make it clear (and I would continue to reiterate my position) that I have zero tolerance for harassment and fraternization.

If I had been in command for a couple of months, my soldiers would know that I mean what I say. There may be one or two violations of my policies. If there had been any doubt that I did not mean what I say, my swift, direct, strong actions would eliminate that doubt. I would expect little difficulty.

I would assign a couple of mature, experienced, respected female soldiers to my staff to advise my commanders, staff, and me. I would particularly want some senior female noncoms who fit the description.

I would make it clear to my commanders, staff and senior noncoms: “If you do not believe that you can give 100 percent effort to make this transition succeed, you need to request a transfer now.”

I would do everything in my power to make the transition from all-male to coed training go smoothly, and the integrity and value of Ranger training not be diminished. This transition affects the combat readiness of our Army and the security of our country. Significant diminution of combat effectiveness will occur if standards are not maintained.

I believe the biggest hurdle for women to overcome would be the skepticism of the men. On the other hand, it will be difficult for the females to accept being treated as equals with no deference being given to their sex.

Many — probably most — male soldiers may have difficulty in accepting the females as equals — as soldiers — and treating them in the same manner as the male soldiers. I do not believe most of the men will find that easy, especially those who have lived under the mores of the last few generations. I do not believe that the two sexes can ever look at each other without any inbred deference.

But we can do a lot better than we are doing. The most important factor in making this thing work is strong, sensitive commanders who put combat readiness first.

I believe the only step required to authorize females to attend Ranger School is for the combat exclusion rules to be eliminated. The Army would have to change the regulations governing qualification for admittance.

Standards must not be lowered. Establishing different criteria to enter or graduate would be the worst thing that could be done.

Unfortunately, I believe that the Army will lower standards. It has in the past. Take the Physical Training Test as an example. Females have to perform fewer repetitions and may run more slowly than men, yet get 100 points for the event. Females do not have to do chin-ups; they “hang.” Statistics show that women have more injuries (“stress fractures” is an example.) than men. If females undergo the same rigorous training as the men, the number of female injuries may rise to “unacceptable.” In my reading of studies and books examining what females can do and can’t do, there are examples of changing physical standards so women can meet the requirements. I strongly doubt that the Army can resist giving special consideration to females.

There could be benefits to the Army if women are accepted in Ranger School. But only if standards are maintained.

If standards are maintained and other problems minimized or eliminated, the Army will have added a pool of highly motivated, intelligent and physically outstanding individuals. They will be higher quality than some of the men who are being accepted. They will motivate the men to do their best — not to be outdone by women.

Among the biggest, if not the biggest, obstacles to making it work are those senior officers who don’t have the moral courage to refuse to knuckle under to superiors, politicians, and other influential people who may have in their minds only the advancement or protection of their personal careers.

Can it work? I think it can, if commanders and senior noncoms devote themselves to making it work. It won’t be easy.

Ralph Puckett, a Columbus resident and retired Army colonel with 22 years’ service, was honorary colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment from 1996-2008.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Assad’s Lionesses


This, from The Independent:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recruited a brigade of women to man checkpoints and carry out security  operations as he attempts to free up soldiers in his beleaguered army to fight the rebels.

Dressed in fatigues and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, the female recruits ‚Äď the ‚ÄúLionesses for National Defence‚ÄĚ ‚Äď are part of a new paramilitary force. They have already been deployed in Homs, where they have been spotted guarding areas where residents still largely support the regime. Videos from both opposition and pro-government sites purport to show members of the all-female unit in action.

A spokesperson from the Syrian opposition claims that placing weapons in the hands of women is simply a way to get the Free Syrian Army to kill women, which would then enflame opinions against the rebel cause.


Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.