TYR Tactical

Archive for the ‘Profession of Arms’ Category

Sky Soldier Leaders Conduct Joint Mountain Training

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

PASSO DEL TONALE, Italy — Leaders from across the 173rd Airborne Brigade assembled here from Dec. 10-12 to experience rigorous professional development and build interoperability with Italian allies while summiting the 2,700 meters of snow covered Monte Tonale.

For exercise “Alpini Climb,” the brigade’s company commanders and first sergeants, as well as the battalion commanders and sergeants major teamed with Italy’s mountain warfare experts, the Alpini, for instruction in cold weather operations and field craft. The instruction was put to the test with a platoon sized patrol up to summit the mountain.

“It was an opportunity to bring the entire team of leaders together. We got to experience shared hardships with our Italian Allies and learn about how to live and operate in the cold which is all part of combat readiness,” said Col. Jay Bartholomees, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. “It was a great opportunity to practice our craft and use our equipment in the elements.”

The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army’s Contingency Response Force in Europe, providing rapidly deployable forces to the United States, Europe, Africa, and Central Command’s areas of responsibilities. Forward deployed across Italy and Germany, the brigade routinely trains alongside NATO allies and partners to build partnerships and strengthen the alliance.

As part of the training, the participants surrendered their ranks along with their mobile phones and became members of a temporary platoon. The process allowed these dedicated leaders of the companies of the brigade to focus, however briefly, on the tasks ahead of them which would be rigorous.

“I found myself as a squad leader of 7th squad,” said Cpt. Jesse Carter, Commander of Bastion Co., 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion. “It gives me a whole new respect of the requirements of a squad leader and how to disseminate information in a challenging environment. I’ve learned a ton.”

At the Alpini base camp, the Paratroopers received instruction on proper use of their arctic equipment, and techniques for trekking up the mountain. Additionally, they received instruction on how to build the “trunne,” Italian for a fox-hole in the snow, and what these intrepid Paratroopers would sleep in the following night.

After departing the base camp on Tuesday, the Paratroopers marched up the snow covered mountain, with guides from the Alpini Julia Brigade, a ruck on their back, and snow shoes on their feet.

“We all feel ourselves to be very physically fit, but traversing this mountain was a smoker,” said Cpt. Andrew Williams, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion. “Along the way we’ve had invaluable training opportunities in survival, how to sleep in the snow, things like layering of clothing and the critical value of not sweating,” continued Williams.

After reaching the stopping point for the first night, the Paratroopers dug their buddy-team trunna and got a few hours of much needed rest to prepare for their final climb of the mountain on Wednesday morning.

At the summit, the platoon was able to witness first-hand the view that their Italian and Austrian predecessors saw over a century ago when those two Armies met in these mountains as each nation vied for the dominance of northern Italy during World War I.

“Our fighting forefathers did this same event but with much older equipment and in far harsher conditions than we did,” said Williams. “It really brings a lot of perspective while we’re up here.”

In all, the exercise was a valuable experience for the participants. These paratroopers were challenged to perform and excel in an extreme environment. But more than that, they were able to do it as a team and with allies, which besides the training, was the whole point of the exercise.

“One of the things we’ve stressed is teamwork. It’s absolutely critical that we all work together as a team and ensure that everyone makes it up as a team,” said Williams.

After summiting the mountain, and reveling in the view, the Paratrooper leaders reformed and gingerly moved back to the base of the mountain.

While many of these troops may never again be subject to mountain warfare or operating in full kit at below zero temperatures, the experience proves that Sky Soldiers will always achieve their mission weather jumping from 1,000 feet, or climbing their way past that same height.

Story By MAJ Chris Bradley, Photos by SPC Henry Villarama

The Baldwin Files – The Fighting Load Continuum

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

In the mid-1980s, there was a great deal of re-emphasis on dismounted load planning and load discipline in the U.S. Army. Much of this effort fell under the rubric of the “Light Division” concept. It was a worthy endeavor to lighten a soldier’s load and improve tactical dismounted mobility; but ultimately the resulting initiatives had little enduring impact. Since then we have incrementally added a great deal to a soldier’s burden – essentially without removing a single ounce of legacy weight. Tactically useful items like body armor, individual radios and night vision devices have become standard issue for almost everyone in our combat formations. GPSs have supplanted analog maps and compasses. Likewise, all individual and crew served weapons now have some form of day and night optical systems; and, of course, all the new electronic tools need batteries. Lots and lots of batteries.

The net result is a considerable increase rather than any aspirational reduction of a soldier’s mission load in combat. On the plus side, all of this high-speed “light weight gear” gives the American military tactical and operational capabilities that are the envy of the world. Nevertheless, it was indeed fortuitous that operations in Afghanistan and Iraq quickly became almost exclusively vehicle-centric. Dismounted operations of any duration away from immediate vehicle support became a rare exception. In that sense, the increased soldier load was at least partially masked by the fact that vehicles have been readily available to carry the extra weight in theater. As a result, small unit leaders became pretty good at putting together sound vehicle load plans but did not have to spend much time addressing rucksack load planning. Not surprisingly, the art of dismounted load management atrophied rapidly after the first year or so of GWOT.

There is no leadership alchemy that can make 100 pounds of gear weigh any less than 100 pounds. Ultimately, the unit mission load weighs what it weighs. Leaders have to deal with that reality; it is an enduring problem that cannot be wished away or avoided. However, here are some bullet points that can help organize leaders’ thoughts and efforts to successfully manage soldiers’ individual combat loads.

Dismounted Load Management Principles

  1. Pre-mission planning should determine what a unit MUST carry to accomplish the assigned tactical task.
  2. Load discipline requires individual soldiers and leaders to work collectively to ensure the unit effectively carries what is required – no more and no less.
  3. The eternal conundrum: A leader must accept risk to keep individual loads as light as possible. Conversely, a leader cannot gamble with the mission – or with lives – just to lighten the load. Remember the Gilligan’s Island Rule; it is never safe to assume that any mission will only be a “Three Hour Tour.”
  4. Sound load planning and enforcement must always be based on mission dictates, NOT on achieving equal burden sharing or relative individual comfort.
  5. In other words, ensuring maximum probability of mission success and his soldiers’ survival must be a leader’s overarching priority; military necessity – not “fairness” – must be the focus.
  6. Nothing a soldier carries into combat belongs to him. In terms of load carriage, he is a self-actualized mobility platform transporting resources vital to completing his team’s mission.
  7. Every piece of equipment is expendable – if necessary – to accomplish the mission. I say again, ALL equipment is expendable!
  8. While lighter equipment alternatives are generally more desirable, a unit may often need to carry whatever item is most effective to support the mission – regardless of weight penalty.
  9. Likewise, if a piece of equipment or ordinance – no matter how heavy or bulky – is deemed mission essential the question is not IF it will be carried but rather HOW it will be carried.
  10. A good load plan is comprehensive, utilitarian, and flexible; it must also anticipate and designate deliberate load transition points to support the upcoming mission.
  11. Use pre-mission inspections and rehearsals to confirm if the load plan is correct, complete, and works as intended. Make adjustments as necessary.
  • Another factor that negatively influences the training of leaders in effective load management practices has been that the official terminology tends to be imprecise and even misleading. When ALICE was fielded in the mid-70s, the Army referred to only two load configurations: Fighting Load and Existence Load. The fighting load consisted of two full ammo pouches on the harness, first aid pouch, one canteen, the bayonet, and the etool. Nothing else. In temperate or hot climates, the ALICE medium rucksack – without frame – was supposed to be more than adequate to carry all of the other items needed to “exist in the field.” Which is a bizarre and inexplicable conclusion given how habitually overloaded solders had been in Vietnam. The fielding of MOLLE introduced three load configurations: The Light Fighting Load (FLC Vest only), The Assault Pack Load, and The Full Pack Load. Beyond identifying the standard load carriage items issued to soldiers, neither framework provides a very informative or useful construct for mission load planning.
  • I re-read parts of the 1990, FM 21-18, Foot Marches, for this article and I recommend it (or whatever newer version may be out there) as a good resource. Chapter 5, in particular, goes into a good deal of detail on soldier load planning considerations. It also explains additional concepts like “Approach March Load,” “Sustainment Load,” and “Contingency Load.” Unfortunately, the manual continues to perpetuate the notion that there is a distinct line between vest or harness only “fighting loads” and everything else. I vehemently disagree. Therefore, in the attached picture, I am outlining a more simplified, precise and functional way to think about planning, arranging, and distributing a soldier’s and a unit’s combat load. I call it “The Fighting Load Continuum.” The concept is simple. If moving on foot into combat then anything the unit deems essential enough to carry on soldiers’ backs is – by definition – a component of the individuals’ “fighting load.” Whether we are comfortable with that fact or not. Note: Items displayed in the picture are pieces of gear I had on hand and are presented only as visual aids to illustrate the concept.

    the-fighting-load-continuum2.jpg

    Starting from the left is the Minimum Fighting Load. In World War II, frogmen went into harm’s way with little more than a pair of UDT shorts and a Kabar knife. Tunnel Rats in Vietnam faced danger with only a 45 and a flashlight. It is also true that even today a good number of people on the battlefield have a sidearm as their only issued weapon. Obviously, that gives soldiers so marginally equipped a defensive capability but not an offensive capability. That is why the Minimum Fighting Load is highlighted in cautionary amber as clearly sub-optimum. Soldiers who have the primary mission of “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver” need considerably more than the minimum. Starting with the “Standard” Fighting Load displayed second from the left. I have put “standard” in quotations because what constitutes a standard fighting load has changed countless times over the years for the American Military – not to mention other Armies. Generally, the baseline “fighting load” has been built around the “basic load” of ammunition for a rifleman in a given timeframe. Therefore, since the current standard is 210 rounds, we will start there – with the caveat that mission specific load planning may raise or lower that number considerably.

    Of course, a solder going into battle likely needs a few more tools in addition to his rifle and ammunition. Today, a couple of fragmentation grenades, a first aid kit, helmet, body armor, and water are usually considered part of a standard fighting load. Leaders, grenadiers, automatic riflemen, and those manning crew served weapons will have duty position specific items as well. A radio for a leader for example. Still, the “standard” fighting load is almost never sufficient without at least some augmentation. Enter the “Enhanced Fighting Load” that adds a small backpack to the Standard Fighting Load configuration. This pack may be a Modular Assault Pack (MAP) as shown or something slightly larger. MAPs have been issued in SOF units for at least the last 12 years or so. A MAP is not common issue with MOLLE or FILBE; however, since units often buy “off the shelf” some non-SOF units probably issue these as well.

    The earliest MAPs I encountered were smaller than the sample I have on display. They had no shoulder straps and were designed to be mounted directly onto body armor via PALs. Other than the “modularity” of the design, they were not much different from the small hydration packs Camelbak produced as far back as the 80s. The newer, larger versions still have the PALs direct mounting option. However, it is more common to see them used as “day packs” or “go bags” with the detachable shoulder straps attached. That arrangement works better riding or getting into and out of vehicles and makes the pack’s contents more quickly accessible. This MAP is ~1200 cubic inches. By comparison, the Army issue Assault Pack is ~2000 cubic inches and the Marine Assault Pack is slightly larger at ~2300 cubic inches (neither shown). Those packs are not designed to be directly attached to individual armor, but rather can be buckled onto the top of the full sized rucksacks.

    Next over would be the Supplementary Fighting Load. That means a larger pack to carry more stuff. These packs represent an intermediate load-carriage solution. They are often called “3 Day Packs” and also date back to commercial versions popular with soldiers in the 80s. These packs tend to range in size from ~2000 cubic inches to ~3500 cubic inches. Indeed, the issue Army and Marine Assault Packs actually straddle the low end of this category of medium rucksacks. Likewise, there are numerous mission specific versions of packs in this size range currently being issued to medics, JTACs, EOD, as well as machinegun, mortar, and Anti-Tank crews. The aforementioned smaller assault packs are simple not of adequate size to carry the volume and weight that these specialists habitually need for their tactical mission. The example shown is the Army’s Medium Rucksack that has ~3000 cubic inches of space. I have a couple of extra pouches mounted as well as a beavertail so this one is probably in the ~3500 cubic inch range.

    Anything bigger than that falls into the Full Sized Rucksack class, a.k.a. the Maximum Fighting Load in the Fighting Load Continuum. For reference, the large ALICE is approximately ~3800 cubic inches. Both the MOLLE and the FILBE rucksacks are ~4000 alone and up too ~5000 cubic inches with only a pair of Sustainment Pouches added. In terms of volume, both of those two standard rucksacks, with sustainment pouches and issue assault packs attached are ~7000 cubic inches or more. In other words, almost equivalent to two Large ALICE packs. That explains why carrying a Maximum Fighting Load automatically moves a soldier’s burden from the lower-risk green range into the tactically riskier cautionary amber zone. To be clear, soldiers have to be able to fight with the full rucksack on their backs. It is not always tactically sound to drop rucks when the shooting starts. For example, when the situation is untenable and the unit has to break contact under pressure.

    Then there is the perpetual issue of the Overburden Load. Soldier overloading actually extends beyond the Fighting Load Continuum but remains inexorably linked and must always be considered in realistic load planning. The Overburden Load can be just about anything deemed mission essential but excessive to the Maximum Fighting Load. Red indicates that it represents undesirable high-risk but is nevertheless often unavoidable. As I mentioned in a previous article on Packboards, for extended operations in particular it may be expedient to deliberately put as much on the backs of some soldiers as they can carry. However, doing that makes those soldiers combat ineffective until they can dump that excessive load. Other, less burdened, troops will have to provide security for them because they – sometimes quite literally – have their hands full. Intentional overloading is actually quite common in one specific situation. That is when evacuating the wounded. As a rule, soldiers carrying a casualty are effectively out of the fight until they can at least drop off their injured teammate in some relatively safer location.

    In the end, leaders have to face the fact that for the majority of dismounted combat operations – even relatively short ones – it is all but impossible to avoid at least some overloading entirely. However, as indicated by the color-coded arrows, the goal of effective load management should be to keep as many of a unit’s soldiers as possible in the more combat effective green range – for as much of the time as possible – rather than the cautionary amber or high-risk red zones.

    To be continued in Part II.

    LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

    The Baldwin Files – Forgotten SWCS History

    Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

    I sent the following email just before I retired in 2011 to an old friend who had just taken a senior position at the Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) at Fort Bragg. During the time in question, 2000-01, I was commanding F Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group at Camp Mackall.  My company was responsible for two phases of the Special Forces Qualification Course or Q Course for short.  What was then called Phase II, focused on Land Navigation and Small Unit Tactics; and Phase IV, focused on Unconventional Warfare (UW), including the culminating Robin Sage Exercise. I am one of the few that had firsthand knowledge of this historical episode – since it was never made public – for reasons that will become obvious.  I thought it was past time to share it with a larger audience and save it for posterity.  I have edited what follows only to spell out contractions and the numerous acronyms for clarity.

    Believe it or not, this is a true story.  In 2000 and 2001 (before 9/11) a small group of senior Special Forces Officers at SWCS and some retired leaders – including one former Group Commander – were developing plans to radically “reinvent” or “reboot”  Special Forces (SF) for the new millennia. I am not going to mention names, but you know these men. They were convinced that the classic core SF mission of Unconventional Warfare (UW), aka Guerrilla Warfare, was as obsolete as the horse cavalry.  Moreover, if our Regiment did not significantly change we would risk becoming irrelevant in the 21st Century.  Therefore, they were determined to save SF…even if it meant discarding everything that makes us who we are.

    This cabal looked at our history and reached some firm (but fatally flawed) conclusions: First, they determined that if any U.S. President ever considered doing small scale UW again, it would be a covert or clandestine effort conducted by the CIA. If any Department of Defense (DoD) forces were involved, those troops would come from the “black” SOF and not the “white” SF Groups (God, how I hate those terms). Because the Vietnam War had been less than successful at the strategic level, they also believed that our national leaders would never again have the political will to conduct Counterinsurgency or Nation Building.  Of course, they had to willfully disregard the myriad of tactical and operational successes and the breadth of Special Operation Activities that SF accomplished during the conflict in SE Asia.  

    They looked at Desert Shield/Storm and concluded that the only mission SF conducted that conventional commanders were comfortable with – and praised – was the Coalition Support Team (CST) mission. The Special Reconnaissance (SR) missions (referred to as Strategic Reconnaissance in older manuals) executed by SF were only marginally successful and not very helpful at the operational level. Although I would argue that was because we were constrained from operating mounted a la the LRDG as 5th Group had detachments well trained to execute.  Instead, we inserted teams on foot in a fashion similar to conventional LRS units. Oddly enough, those “black” units tasked with “Scud Hunting” went in mounted, were more successful, and therefore had a more appropriate SOF operational impact. 

    They looked at other operations and contingencies (Panama, Somalia) and decided that the SF contribution to combat operations was, to their way of thinking, marginal. Instead, they liked what had been done with SF ODAs in Haiti and in Northern Iraq after Desert Storm. SF had received much praise from conventional Army leaders for effectively working with indigenous people in largely permissive environments for humanitarian purposes. The cabal concluded that utilizing ODAs as “super” CAT-As instead of “cowboy” warriors was non-threatening to Conventional Force commanders and therefore a “safe” mission to retain. 

    Based in part on the restraints placed on our adviser effort in El Salvador as well as constrained partner operations in Bosnia and Kosovo there was also a strong perception that Force Protection priorities (Risk Aversion) would preclude future SF advisory efforts from ever accompanying our counterparts on actual combat operations during Foreign Internal Defense (FID) activities.  Therefore, there was no need to prepare ODAs to conduct direct combat as an integral component of FID. Small scale and short duration Direct Action (DA) “surgical operations” would be the purview of those aforementioned “black” SOF units. Likewise, rapidly maturing technologies like drones and advanced reconnaissance satellites meant that SR as we had known it was also no longer a necessary or relevant skill set for SF soldiers.

    No UW, no DA, no SR and no “combat” FID. So what would SF soldiers and ODAs be trained, equipped and organized to do in support of National Strategic objectives?  The cabal’s verdict…Peacetime FID.  In fact, they went so far as to declare that there should be “no such thing” as an SF unilateral mission. The “by, with and through” methodology was actually meant to purposely constrain and limit SF utility so that we could not be “mis-utilized” in some direct role.  We would in effect “opt out” of being a Full Spectrum Special Operations Force. Clandestine and covert would not be in our vocabulary, and there would be no need for classified or advanced skills and no compartmented SF operations…ever. Infiltration techniques like HALO and SCUBA would only be applicable to the training of others and never for ODA independent insertions and extractions.

    We would still call ourselves “SF,” but in my opinion, we would have only been “Short Bus” Special.  I mentioned to one of the “true believers” of this radical concept that by confining ourselves to such a narrow mission set we would effectively self-select SF to be a Combat Support Function rather than a Combat Function. He seemed to take my not-at-all-subtle criticism in stride and told me that the train had already left the station and I had better get on board.

    This far reaching but poorly conceived initiative scared the living daylights out of me.  I do not know how far it would have gotten. At the time, the schemers were keeping it “on the down low” because I am sure there would have been an extreme backlash from the force once this proposed transformation was out in the open. However, in the late Fall of 2000, there was a “Grey Beard” Conference held at Camp MacKall and most of the retired SF Generals were in attendance.  I was not privy to the conference sessions but was told afterwards by my Battalion Commander (you know who that was) that the proposal was discussed and at least some of the Gray Beards were “OK with it.” Whether that is true or not, after the conference the cabal continued their preparations to implement the training shift “on order.”

    This was not all just theoretical discussion on their part. By the early Summer of 2001, initial steps were actively taken to phase out and eventually eliminate Robin Sage as a UW exercise in Pineland.  Instead, SWCS was preparing to shift to “FID Lane” training to be conducted entirely on the Fort Bragg reservation. The student ODAs would link up with their Host Nation (HN) counterparts (formerly known as Gs) and teach conventional small unit tactics and individual skills in a “secure HN area.”  The culminating event would be the ODA advising and assisting their counterparts through an actual Fort Bragg live fire maneuver range. Imagine that. The most complicated task we would demand in the Q Course of our SF soldiers and teams is that they can safely conduct a live fire range under peacetime rules. And, to add insult to injury, in combat we would relegate them to act as glorified liaison teams (CSTs) or surrogate CAT-As at best.

    Of course, 9/11 occurred and their plan and their premise became moot. All have since retired and/or faded into well-earned obscurity. That is a very good thing as far as I am concerned. I do not fault these gentlemen for not having precognition and foreseeing GWOT. I do fault them for cherry picking historical examples that supported their thesis and ignoring the rest. I fault them for being so timid that they would retreat from SF heritage – not under pressure from the Army or DoD – but out of fear. I fault them for not understanding that our success in FID is directly related to the fact that we are – first, foremost, and always – combat soldiers and combat units with a long history of skill and valor to prove it. But most of all, I fault them for not understanding what makes us Special Forces. It is not a beret, a tab, or a title.  It is in fact the UW Mission.

    UW is not just one more thing on our “to do” list alongside other potential tasks/missions of equal importance and priority. UW is the foundational mission that shapes our individual troopers and our teams. Training for it in the Q Course and the Groups teaches our people to operate effectively in any complex, uncertain and ambiguous situation or any challenging environment. It teaches them to be able to act alone or as part of a team sometimes without much in the way of outside support. It reinforces the individual and collective traits of self-reliance, adaptability and determination. UW teaches our operators that when all else fails they can always rely on their wits, their training and their teammates. No other mission set does that. UW makes us good at FID and just about anything else we might be asked to do. The opposite is not true.

    So, what is my point?  This is ancient history. It did not happen. Crisis averted.  But wait, as we draw down from the larger scale conflicts in Iraq and eventually Afghanistan we will again rightly reassess ourselves and look at ways we need to change to meet emerging threats and missions. I have already seen or heard public and private comments by well-meaning but sadly uninformed individuals (some wearing long tabs) that we (SF) “lost our way” to a certain extent over the last decade plus.  The argument goes that we became too enamored with DA missions and we have to “get back to our roots” as an “Indirect” force rather than a “Direct” force. 

    First, you and I both know that their premise is false. SF conducted almost all of our combat activities “by, with, through and alongside” our indigenous counterparts. Either we partnered with existing forces like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan or the Peshmurga in Northern Iraq – or we created surrogate forces where none existed. Ultimately building successful high-end HN Counterinsurgency and Counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Yet, U.S. SF teams also rightly retained the option and capability to conduct unilateral operations when appropriate.  It would be just as wrong for us to back away from our DA skills now, as it would have been in 2000-2001. Clearly, our DA skills remain a vital enabler that directly supports the UW and FID missions as well as enhances our ability to provide our own measure of credible force protection or independent offensive action under any circumstances.

    Some people still worry that we are the only SOF unit that does not fit into a well-defined niche. The rest generally specialize in narrower mission sets and they are very good at what they do. The concern is that we (SF) are trying to be “jacks of all (SOF) trades”…and therefore appear to outsiders as perhaps “unfocused” and “masters of none.” I would argue that there is great goodness in having a highly skilled force that is not a one trick pony. I think the incredible range of activities that SF soldiers and teams are successfully conducting around the world every day proves that. Moreover, in my opinion, we do have a clear focus because we spend our careers mastering the UW Mission and the UW Environment. In short, with UW as our foundational and defining task I believe we are on very firm footing.  And I do not see us going the way of the horse cavalry anytime soon.

    I am not trying to set myself up as the arbitrator of what SF should and should not be in the future. However, I have been around long enough and seen enough to know a little about what we are and what we are not. We are not Combat Support and we are not second string to the “black” side. We are unapologetic men of action and can justly call ourselves the best of the best. I am very pleased with where the Regiment is now and I have even greater expectations for the future. The schoolhouse is where we define ourselves. It is where we shape not only our entry-level operators but our senior leaders as well. Based on what I have just told you, I would just caution that not everyone who has a Special Forces Tab necessarily “gets it.”  Of course, you already knew that. On a personal level, I can tell you that I am very thankful that you are where you are right now. Moreover, I envy you the opportunity to directly shape that bright future.

    De Oppresso Liber.

    Terry                  

    LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

    The Baldwin Files – Old Soldiers vs Young Soldiers

    Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

    I have been thinking for some time about belatedly developing some kind of guiding philosophy or “mission statement” for these articles. Over time, I have ranged – more or less randomly – all over the place; from commentary on gear, pontificating on the Constitution, exploring a bit of what I deem relevant history, and preaching leadership above all. Leadership fascinates me precisely because it is universal and always central to all military actions whether in the past, the present, or in the foreseeable future. In large part I have been guided by my favorite Carl von Clausewitz quote, “War is no pastime; it is no mere joy in daring and winning, no place for irresponsible enthusiasts. It is a serious means to a serious end.

    Clausewitz could just as readily have been talking about military leadership when he made that observation. Likewise, Clausewitz’s insightful conceptions of the impacts of probability and chance as well as fog and friction are challenges just as true of leadership as they are of combat. That is one reason why his thoughts – as well as Sun Tzu’s and others – on the subject of leadership, war, strategy, and operational art, are still deemed relevant for professional soldiers to study even now. However, the small unit tactics of ancient China and the Napoleonic era are of very little professional interest to modern warfighters – and rightly so.

    With that in mind, I have also been considering the risk of being guilty of providing only antiquated information that is of little practical value today. Antiquated as defined by Webster’s is something that is “outmoded or discredited by reason of age: old and no longer useful, popular, or accepted.” It is true that tactics change constantly and can indeed become outmoded over time. Sometimes, if an enemy fields an effective countermeasure for example, a tactic can become obsolescent very quickly. However, sound military principles like those that Clausewitz is talking about above age much better and rarely go completely out of style.

    For example, the version of Major Roger’s Rules for Ranging that I learned decades ago had one rule that went something like this; “Let the enemy come till he’s almost close enough to touch. Then let him have it and jump out and finish him up with your hatchet.” Even when I was a young soldier, that was certainly not a tactic, technique, or procedure (TTP) that was in use by any modern military. If it were, hatchets would still be standard issue. Therefore, if taken literally, that “rule” would indeed be antiquated tactical advice. However, if considered instead in terms of more enduring principles like speed, surprise, and violence of action than that rule – I would respectfully submit – is just as applicable today as it was in 1757.

    By the way, just because a TTP is antiquated does not mean it no longer works. Moreover, just because the U.S. Military considers something too low tech, hopelessly outdated and no longer popular does not mean that our enemies have the luxury or inclination of thinking the same way. Just because the person shooting at you from the ridge is using a 303 Enfield rather than a more modern AK47 does not mean he is any less of a threat. Antique tools can still kill you and your friends just as dead as the newest high-tech precision ordinance. The same resource limitation applies to many of our Allies. They may not have any choice but to use “old school” and unsophisticated TTPs. That means – by military necessity – we have to be prepared to work within the limits of what they have and how they are constrained to operate.

    As I alluded to above, the mechanics of warfare change all the time, it is human nature that is enduring. Therefore, insight into fundamental human nature during war remains relevant across time and cultural boundaries. As we know, while a soldier may train constantly, he actually practices his profession only intermittently. Most of the soldiers that landed at Normandy in 1944 had never seen combat until that day – even though the war had been ongoing for years. Today, some soldiers may have multiple tours but on each rotation most are still experiencing combat for their first time. Even for those who have seen combat more than once, it is a very individual and in some sense narrow experience. Like all veterans, I can only say that I have personally experienced combat: in the rank I held at the time, at the specific level and intensity of warfare I was involved in prosecuting, only for relatively short periods of time, in particular geographic locations, and against contemporaneous enemy threats.

    I have visited the Normandy beaches and walked the ground of Pickett’s charge several times. Yet, despite my experience and training, I can still only make an educated guess about what it was like to land on those beachheads under fire or what Pickett’s men experienced at Gettysburg. Therefore, I cannot honestly claim that I have “mastered” the broader aspects of the “art of war” without diligently studying the experience and wisdom of others – and perhaps not even then. Investigating how those in the past have addressed the training of troops, used intelligence or out maneuvered a determined opponent helps provide additional and critical context. Historical figures like Vegetius still provides useful insight in some aspects of war; Saxe a different perspective; Sun Tzu a more strategic point of view; and Clausewitz and Jomini additional different thoughts and theories to consider.

    It is important to note that even though some may have first experienced war as young men, all wrote their thoughts down as older men. A long time ago a Major General told me that he learned everything he knows about leadership as a Second Lieutenant – but it took him 30 more years to understand what he had learned. Warfare is like that. Clausewitz and Saxe initially experienced war as teenagers, but it took years and additional life experiences for them to contextualize that information and form it into coherent theories or principles. I read many of these authors years ago and learned – even memorized – some of their words. Nevertheless, I understand their ideas far better today than I ever did as a younger soldier.

    Experiencing war for the first time has been likened to “seeing the elephant” since Hannibal’s campaigns, I suppose. However, there is another – even more ancient – pachyderm analogy that also aptly applies. That is the blind men and the elephant. One declares the tail of the animal is “like a rope” because that best describes the piece he can “see.” Whether he is aware or unaware that the portion that he has access to is just a small part of a larger beast does not in any way invalidate his observation. That particular blind man is absolutely “right” in his assertions, as are the others in their descriptions of different elements of the whole creature in question.The study and practice of war and combat has always been like that. Each “blind man” in turn describes warfare as he experienced it – or as he thinks it should be conducted – but, shaped and confined by his own experiences and biases, only had opportunity to “see” just a limited portion of the whole “truth” of combat. Today we only know as much as we think we know because we have access to the writings of ALL the “blind men” who have gone before us, “laid hands” on war, and then bothered to leave us their sincere impressions.

    I will use one example to illustrate the point. Consider the inherent danger of combat; in On War, Clausewitz gives a good description of the emotional impact on a novice as he approaches a notional battle. The danger of painful death and dismemberment is at first abstract and far away. As the new soldier moves closer to the actual fighting the abstract becomes very real and frightening – to the uninitiated even petrifying. Danger, i.e. realistic FEAR of violent death is not something most of us have to deal with on a daily basis – not even soldiers in peacetime. It is not something that can be simulated in training. In fact, military training is rigorously designed in such a way as to minimize even the possibility of death or serious injury. In combat, a leader must control his own dread, display confidence and inspire soldiers to overcome their natural fear in order to accomplish a mission.

    True enough, but so what? The caricatures in the attached picture are deliberate exaggerations of what a great many soldiers – retired and active – actually feel. Each is like the “blind men” above. An individual convinced that he has mastered the entire art of war by virtue of experiencing combat at least once. Of course, they are both equally wrong; it simply is not that easy. However, of the two, I am much more concerned about the younger guy – since he is still in the fight. He and his teammates are really the target audience I hope to ultimately reach. That does not mean that my minor contribution so far provided any appreciable value added either. Candidly, no one really needs me to repeat what Clausewitz said. His work is readily available and better authors than I have written whole books explaining him. So, that leads to the larger overarching question to be asked and answered. Why keep writing these articles at all? Is there any real need?

    I decided to see what else was available on the internet. The good news is there is a lot of sound stuff out there produced by numerous good, professional people. Many of whom are featured on this site from time to time. On the other hand, there is a lot of goofy – and frankly scary – misinformation out there as well. I will mention two YouTube videos in particular because they seemed to be representative of a lot of questionable content and, as a result, the most problematic to me. First, both videos had good production values, the presenters were articulate, and each gave the impression that they were subject matter experts. One young fellow was demonstrating how to assembly a Molle II rucksack. He was wearing a multicam combat shirt with no insignia. He claimed he was showing the audience “pro tips” and how to set up the pack the way “guys going to selection” do it. Then he proceeded to attach each element of the pack to the frame wrong – pack body, load lifters, and shoulder straps.

    By the end, when he mounted the waist belt upside down, he had dissuaded me of the notion that he knew anything about the subject at hand – or the military in general. Here is a real pro tip, if you do not have extensive experience with an item of kit, put it together the way the official instructions say it should be done. The other video was on assembling ALICE gear. The fellow on this was closer to my age I assume. I have to guess because only his hands were visible on screen. He did seem to be very familiar with the ALICE harness. He rigged his pouches with zip ties and 550 cord as was common in the early 80s and onward. I saw one major problem with his presentation. He was not just passionate about the subject, but rather came off instead as inexplicably angry.

    In fact, he made sure the audience understood that there was one way – and one way only – to properly assemble ALICE gear in order to survive in combat. His way. No variations authorized. If anyone dared to do it differently, they must be damn fool cherries with a death wish. Here is another pro tip from me. Anyone that says there is only a singular way to do something in combat is probably wrong. Sure, some specific TTP are more desirable than others because they are tactically sounder and, consequently, more likely to produce the desired outcome. However, there is almost never just “one way” to get the job done. Both the presentations I have highlighted were slick and professionally produced. An experienced soldier would spot the same issues I saw quickly enough, but a neophyte might be easily led down the wrong path.

    That sampling convinced me that there was indeed still some need for higher quality material out there. That said, I am not going to make it my mission to deal with all the disinformation in the tactical or quasi-tactical corners of the internet. I admit that task is far too large and daunting for me to take on. However, I can attempt to put out information that might be useful for some. More accurate – hopefully – than the young guy, and certainly a lot less angry than the older guy. That is good enough for me. I assure anyone that is reading this or anything else I have written, I do not make these comments or observations while astride some high horse. I have benefited from the guidance of outstanding leaders and excellent teachers. Still, being the hard head I am, I have learned many of these lessons the hardest way. That is, I have screwed it up royally – sometimes multiple times – before I figured it out. Still, there is no reason that others cannot learn from my mistakes without having to repeat them. Besides, I have the time and I am not ready to do the old soldier fade away just yet.

    LTC Terry Baldwin, US Army (Ret) served on active duty from 1975-2011 in various Infantry and Special Forces assignments. SSD is blessed to have him as both reader and contributor.

    Maybe the Toughest Man Alive

    Monday, December 17th, 2018

    He’s been called the toughest man alive. Being the only U.S. military member to complete SEAL training (Hell Week three times), Army Ranger School and Air Force tactical air controller training, he makes a compelling case. Even more astonishing is his drive to lose more than 100 pounds in only three months to enlist in the Navy.

    An Interview with retired Navy SEAL David Goggins

    David Goggins’ military background reads like a case of bad “stolen valor” — the retired Navy SEAL chief is believed to be the only member of the armed forces to complete the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/s) course (including going through Hell Week three times), U.S. Army Ranger School (where he graduated as honor man), and Air Force tactical air controller training.

    If that wasn’t enough, Goggins has also completed more than 60 ultra-marathons — many of them involving running more than 100 miles — and holds the Guinness world record for pull-ups, having completed 4,030 in 17 hours.

    Reading through his impressive resume, you would be correct in imagining him to be in excellent physical shape; at 43 years old, Goggins still regularly competes in ultra-marathons and runs anywhere from 8 to 30 miles every day. However, 18 years ago when he showed up at a Navy recruiting station looking to become a Navy SEAL, it was a different story.

    Goggins began his military career at age 19 in the Air Force, with aspirations of becoming a pararescuman. The training was difficult, Goggins said, and involved more swimming than he had expected.

    “I wasn’t real comfortable in the water — I hated it,” said Goggins.

    During training, military doctors told Goggins he had sickle cell anemia — a blood disease — and gave him the option to drop out.

    “It kind of gave me a way out,” admitted Goggins. “I didn’t want to go back in the water, so I pretty much just quit.”

    Instead, Goggins became a tactical air controller, serving the rest of his contract with the Air Force in that career field. Still, Goggins said, the reminder of having dropped out of pararescue school depressed him, and he gained more and more weight as he approached his exit from active duty service.

    Upon returning to civilian life, Goggins got a job spraying for cockroaches, and gained more weight, coming in at 297 pounds — more than he’d ever weighed in his life.

    That’s when he saw a documentary that would change his life.

    “I saw this show on the Discovery Channel, and it was just guys going through Hell Week. They were freezing, there was a lot of water, and it brought back memories of me going through pararescue training,” said Goggins.

    “So at 297 pounds, I decided to try to be a Navy SEAL.”

    Already older than a typical Navy SEAL candidate, and far from being within the weight standards to even join the Navy, Goggins began reaching out to recruiters.

    “When you tell a recruiter that you’re almost 300 pounds and you want to be a SEAL, it doesn’t go too well,” he said. “I got hung up on a lot.”

    After weeks of determination, he finally found a recruiter who was willing to give him a chance — as long as Goggins could lose enough weight to ship out within three months.

    “I had to lose 106 pounds in less than three months — that’s really where it became challenging for me,” said Goggins. “I knew that if I stopped training or became stagnant, there were no calories being burned; so I just basically trained all day long.”

    In just under three months, Goggins lost 106 pounds, and was ready to ship out to BUD/s.

    Because Goggins had already completed basic training in the Air Force, he was sent straight to BUD/s after a short indoctrination period at Recruit Training Command. While he had lost weight, he was not in ideal physical shape, however, and certainly not prepared for what is almost universally considered some of the toughest military training on the planet.

    “When you go from 297 pounds to 191 pounds in that time period, and you’re running, you’re starting to break yourself,” said Goggins. “So I broke myself before I even got into Navy SEAL training.”

    Goggins made it to “Hell Week” — an arduous crucible of physical and metal challenges designed to separate candidates who aren’t ready to become SEALs — but failed the course due to stress fractures and pneumonia. Since he didn’t voluntarily quit, he was instead rolled back to day one, week one of BUD/s.

    Not wanting to give up, Goggins pushed through training, but fractured his kneecap before reaching Hell Week. In an attempt to avoid being sent back a second time, he pushed through Hell Week with his fractured kneecap and passed.

    Unfortunately, Goggins’ injury kept him from being able to keep up with his class, so two weeks after Hell Week, he was rolled back to day one, week one of BUD/s anyway.

    “I just had to find different ways to stay in the fight,” he said, explaining why he didn’t give up. “And while staying in the fight, it got me tougher and tougher and tougher.”

    His third attempt was a success; Goggins made it through Hell Week with BUD/s Class 235, and earned his Navy SEAL trident on Aug. 10, 2001.

    Less than a month later, the terror attacks of 9/11 occurred, and the SEAL teams were mobilized for combat. Goggins deployed to Iraq with SEAL Team Five, and served as a training instructor for other SEALs.

    In 2005, during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan, 12 Navy SEALs were killed, and more were injured in brutal fighting. Goggins personally knew every SEAL involved in the mission. He had been through Hell Week with Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell, Lt. Michael Murphy and Petty Officer Danny Dietz, and had trained Petty Officer Matthew Axelson. Goggins was devastated by the news.

    “I wanted to find a way that I could raise money for their families,” said Goggins.

    He learned of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which pays for the college tuition of children whose parents were special operators killed in combat. He realized the best way to raise money was to run races, and learned there was an upcoming race called the Badwater 135.

    Goggins, who at this point was 250 pounds and enjoyed weight lifting, had no idea what the race was. He had run approximately 20 miles in the entire year, and had never attempted long-distance running.

    Goggins didn’t realize that the Badwater 135 is considered by many to be the most challenging race on the planet — a 135-mile continuous run across three mountain ranges in extreme heat. Competitors cannot simply sign up for the race either; they have to qualify for it by proving they can run 100 miles in 24 hours or less.

    “I was like, is that even possible?” said Goggins.

    Fortunately, Goggins discovered there was a 100-mile race near his home in San Diego in three days, giving him no time to prepare. Somehow, he still managed to run 101 miles in 19 hours and 6 minutes.

    “By mile 70, I was destroyed — I was dizzy, lightheaded, peeing blood,” said Goggins. “But I was able to draw on my experiences from BUD/s; I was able to draw on being calm.”

    Goggins went on to complete the Badwater 135, finishing the 135-mile race in 30 hours and 18 minutes — fifth overall. Since then, he has completed more than 60 ultra-marathons, and, at 43 years old, has no plans to quit anytime soon.

    “Back in the day, what motivated me was overcoming myself,” said Goggins. “Now I believe in being a leader. I’ve done it all — I’m good. Now, it’s about setting an example for others to follow. I can’t just talk it — I have to live it.”

    When asked what he missed about being an active-duty Navy SEAL, Goggins had a surprising answer.

    “Nothing,” he said. “I was that guy who left it all out there. Everything I did in the military, I gave 100 percent, no matter what I was doing. So at 21 years, I was good with it. I did it all, and lived every day like it was day one, week one of BUD/s.”

    In fact, he advises current Sailors to do the same.

    “Go back to Boot Camp in your mind,” said Goggins. “Boot Camp sucks — SEAL training sucks — but you know what? That’s what makes you good.

    “It’s like a muscle — if you stop going to the gym or stop running, you get weak. The military teaches you these great values, but we don’t keep up the discipline on our own and we lose it. So wherever you go, keep that discipline up.”

    Originally published in the US Navy’s All Hands Magazine.

    US Army Creates ESPORTS Team

    Saturday, December 15th, 2018

    Here’s another opportunity for Soldiers to excel. US Army Recruiting Command has established an ESPORTS team.

    According to MG Frank Muth, commanding general for USAREC the idea is to connect with potential recruits stating, “If we are going to be successful in recruiting, then we need to be where young people are — and they are operating in the digital world. There are already thousands of current Soldiers who are competitive online gamers. Now we are giving them a chance to use their talents to help us relate to and connect with other young gamers. They will have the ability to start a dialogue about what it is like to serve in our Army and see if they are interested in joining.”

    Soldiers selected to the team will be assigned to the Marketing and Engagement Brigade at Fort Knox for three years and will involve constant competitive training, recruiting engagements and interaction with the public on a daily basis but will not become recruiters.

    The team is expected to begin competing on behalf of the U.S. Army by summer 2019

    All active-duty and Army Reserve Soldiers are eligible to apply. Interested Soldiers should visit recruiting.army.mil/army_esports to learn how to compete for a spot on the team.

    Good Morning SSD!

    Monday, November 26th, 2018

    It was a long weekend. Let’s hit the ground running!

    US Army Establishing Warrior Fitness Team

    Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

    We are always on the lookout for interesting assignment opportunities. One of the latest for Soldiers is a 10-member Warrior Fitness Team being established under USAREC’s Marketing Engagement Brigade at Fort Knox.

    The team will represent the Army at fitness competitions and health expositions that help bring awareness to the Army and the recruiters that will be at those events. The initiative is being led by 1SG Glenn Grabs, a certified functional fitness coach, who is also certified in functional fitness gymnastics, power lifting and sport specific training. He has been doing functional fitness for six years and coaching for four years.

    Soldiers interested in applying should visit the U.S. Army Warrior Fitness webpage at recruiting.army.mil/functional_fitness. The deadline for applications is December 14th.

    Based on the applications received, Soldiers identified as the most competitive will visit Fort Knox for a fitness evaluation and formal interview by the selection committee. Soldiers selected to the team will be stationed at Fort Knox for three years and, in addition to fitness competitions, will participate in outreach engagements and will regularly interact with the public as an Army ambassador.

    The team is expected to begin competing on behalf of the Army by March 2019.