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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Answering “The Question”: Did You Ever Kill Anyone?

There are a number of tropes involved with being a veteran. One of them says that if someone asks you if you ever killed someone, you are supposed to be offended. Like most veterans, when I was inevitably asked this question by some unsuspecting civilian, I indeed found myself offended, mostly because I thought I was supposed to be. As time has gone on, however, I’ve found that I’m less and less offended by the question and actually think it’s a pretty relevant one. The fact that we (veterans) berate others for asking it says more about our own self-righteousness than it does about the civilian population’s insensitivity or poor understanding of the military.

If you had to boil down to a single thing exactly what it is that makes the military unique, I think you would get past marching and rank and uniforms and eventually arrive at the fact that the military enjoys society’s most generous monopoly on violence. The fact that you can join the military and potentially be given carte blanche to kill is fascinating, considering that under most other circumstances, killing will likely see you killed in return or thrown in jail. It is not strange, therefore, that someone who upon learning that you served in the military – especially in the combat arms – would be curious to know if you ever killed someone. In my experience, that question usually comes after a couple of cursory questions like “where did you serve” and “were you overseas.” Then, in whispered tones, that person will ask if you ever killed someone. Sometimes they’ll even obscure the question a bit, saying something to the effect of “did you ever, you know, have to use your rifle?”

Thinking on it, I’ve never found myself truly offended by it, but being plugged into the veteran sphere, I know I am supposed to be.

No, instead I’ve always found the question more awkward than offensive, in the same vein of being asked about your sexual history. I don’t think I’ve ever demured from the question, instead rattling off a non-answer, speaking in generalities of things my unit had done or circumstances in which I fired my rifle.

Part of the awkwardness of responding to the question is the fact that by giving an answer you are destroying the mystery of your military service. A non-answer, as I like to to give, keeps the mystery alive. Answering in the affirmative and in detail may reveal the monster that some believe you to be. And to admit that you had not strips away that one thing that truly makes military service unique to other professions.

For most veterans, there is, in fact, a definitive answer to the question: no. Most service members will never fire a shot in anger while deployed, and of those who do, many of them will never know the result. Then, there are those who know that they did in fact kill. They may be eager to share and relish the opportunity to talk about it in living color and in great detail. Or, and as the trope begs us to do, there are those who will demure to the question because it is somehow inappropriate to talk about it. The act of killing is supposed to be deeply personal, regardless of how intimate or impersonal the actual act may have been. Whether the act excites your or repulses you, the only socially acceptable response is deflection.

I’m of the mind that as a group (veterans), we do a disservice to ourselves by closing ourselves off and telling people what they can and cannot say to or about us. That is exactly what we do, though. If everyone calls us heroes, we raise opposition and say no, not all of us are heroes. If the media paints us as rage-induced, PTSD-fueled ticking time bombs, we push back and say “not all veterans.” On the issue of “the question” we say it is innapropriate to ask. All of this policing of what is appropriate and what is not fuels the chasm called the civilian-military divide that we love to regurgitate into. My take on it is that the divide is an imagined structure that exists only in the military mind, because your average citizen does not spend much time in his den pontificating on how distant he feels from his military (nor should he).

All this, and the fact that it is only through “serious talk” that veterans truly come to terms with their service. Boozy reunions and war stories make for a good time, but do nothing for the psyche. If someone wants to ask if you ever killed someone, maybe we should just answer the question and let them deal with the consequences. By infusing that question – which is only a natural one to ask – with the power that we do robs us of our ability to think and act for ourselves, instead allowing our reaction to be guided by how we’re told we’re supposed to react. Let’s just get over it.

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