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GUEST COMMENTARY: Retired Flag Officers Conference Mulls Modular Brigade Concept, Fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan

Posted by kinchendavid on July 22, 2006


By  A Navy Rear Admiral (2-star) Retiree

 

Earlier this week a retired general and flag officer conference at FortCarson, hosted by MGen Bob Mixon, the 7th Infantry Division Commander whichcalls the Fort its home.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fort Carson, it is a huge installation located to the south of Colorado Springs;its in the process of becoming one of the larger Army installations in thecountry (26,000 soldiers); and it is the test location for the new modularbrigade concept that will reflect the Army of tomorrow by 2008.  It is also the home post of the largest number of troopers who have served multipletours in Afghanistan and Iraq and, regrettably, the largest number oftroopers who have died in combat there over the past three years. There areFort Carson units going to and returning from the combat area virtually on amonthly basis. The conference was primarily organized to explain the modular brigadeconcept, and it featured a panel of officers who had either very recentlyreturned from commands in the combat zone or were about to deploy there inthe next two months. Three of the recent returnees were Colonel H.R.McMaster, Colonel Rick S., and Captain Walter Szpak.  McMaster is thecommander of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, the unit that, through veryinnovative and population-friendly tactics, rid the city of Tal Afar ofinsurgents. The mayor of Tal Afar came back to Carson two weeks ago to thankthe troopers and their families personally for freeing his people. (You sayyou didn’t hear about that in the mainstream media?)  McMaster is considered the foremost U.S. expert on modern insurgent warfare, has written a book onthe subject which is widely circulated at the war colleges and staffcolleges, and he was asked to testify before Congress when he returned fromthe 3rd ACR combat deployment. He is obviously one of the great combatleaders that has emerged from the war and is highly respected(some would say revered) by his troopers and his superiors alike. Colonel S. is assigned to the 10th Special Forces Brigade and he headed upall of the 31 special forces A-teams that are integrated with the populaceand the Iraqi Army and national police throughout the country. Many of theseare the guys that you see occasionally on the news that have beards, dressin native regalia, usually speak Arabic and don’t like to have theiridentities revealed for fear of retribution on their families (thus theColonel S.) Captain Szpak was the head of all the Army explosive ordnanceteams in Iraq. He and his troops had the job of disarming all the improvisedexplosive devices (IEDs) and explosive formed projectiles (EFPs) that were discovered beforethey were detonated. They also traveled around the country training thecombat forces in recognizing and avoiding these devices in time to preventdeath and injury. IEDs and EFPs are responsible for the vast majority ofcasualties experienced by our forces. Despite the objective of the conference (i.e., the modular brigade concept),it quickly devolved into a 3-hour question and answer period between thepanel and the 54 retired generals and admirals who attended:  I wish I had avideo of the whole session to share with you because the insights wereespecially eye opening and encouraging. I’ll try to summarize the highpoints as best I can. All returnees agreed that we are clearly winning the fight against theinsurgents but we are losing the public relations battle both in the warzone and in the States. (I’ll go into more detail on each topic below.) All agreed that it will be necessary for us to have forces in Iraq for atleast ten more years, though by no means in the numbers that are there now. They opined that 80% to 90% of the Iraqi people want to have us thereand do not want us to leave before the job is done. The morale and combat capability of the troops is the highest that thesenior officers have ever seen in the 20-30 years that each has served. The Iraqi armed forces and police are probably better trained right now thanthey were under Saddam, but our standards are much higher and they lackofficer leadership. They don’t need more troops in the combat zone but they need considerablymore Arab linguists and civil affairs experts. The IEDs and EFPs continue to be the principal  problem that they face andthey are becoming more sophisticated as time passes.  Public Affairs: We are losing the public affairs battle for a variety ofreasons. First, in Iraq, the terrorists provide Al Jazeera with footage oftheir more spectacular attacks and they are on TV to the whole Arab worldwithin minutes of the event. By contrast it takes four to six days for astory generated by Army Public Affairs to gain clearance by Combined ForcesCommand, two or three more days to get Pentagon clearance, and after allthat, the public media may or may not run the story. Second, the U.S. mainstream media (MSM) who send reporters to the combatzone do not like to have their people embedded with our troops.  They claimthat the reporters get less objective when they live with the soldiers andmarines they come to see the world through the eyes of the troops. As aconsequence, a majority of the reporters stay in hotels in the Green Zoneand send out native stringers to call in stories to them by cell phone whichthey later write up and file. No effort is made to verify any of thesestories or the credibility of the stringers. The recent serious injuries toBob Woodruff of ABC and Kimberly Dozier of CBS makes the likelihood of theuse of local stringers even higher. Third, the stories that are filed by reporters in the field very seldomreach the American public as written. An anecdote from Col. McMasterillustrates this dramatically. TIME magazine recently sent a reporter tospend six weeks with the 3rd ACR as they were in the battle of Tal Afar.When the battle was over, the reporter filed his story and also includedclose to 100 pictures that the accompanying photographer took.  TIME published a cover story on the battle a week later, allegedly using thestory sent in by their reporter. When the issue came out, the guts had beenedited out of their reporter’s story and none of the pictures he submittedwere used. Instead they showed a weeping child on the cover, taken fromstock photos. When the reporter questioned why his story was eviscerated,his editors in New York responded that the story and pictures were tooheroic. McMaster had read both and told me that the editors had completelychanged the thrust and context of the material their reporter had submitted. As a sidebar on the public affairs situation, Colonel Bob McRee, who wasalso on the panel and is bringing a Military Police Battalion to Iraq nextmonth, invited the Colorado Springs Gazette to send a reporter with thebattalion for six weeks to two months. He assured the Gazette, in writingone month ago, that he would provide full time bodyguards for the reporter,taking the manpower out of his own hide.  The Gazette has yet to respond tohis offer. Ten More Years: The idea that we will have troops in Iraq for ten more yearssounds rather grim, even though by contrast, President Clinton sent troopsto Bosnia and Kosovo nearly ten years ago. And they’re still there with noend in sight. While Iraq is clearly a different situation right now, thepanelists believe that within a few years at the most, it will become verymuch the same a peacekeeping, nation-building function among factions thathave hated one another for centuries. There is factionalism and there wasbitter fighting in the Balkans before NATO! intervened and with peacekeepers, the panelists believe that Iraq will be a parallel situation. This,by the way, is why they all believe that linguists and civil affairsmilitary personnel are so necessary for the future. Colonel S. went out on a limb by suggesting that if most of the troops inIraq were deployed home tomorrow he could have the entire country pacifiedand the terrorist situation brought under control with just one brigade ofspecial forces. Since these guys are linguists, civil affairs experts, amongmany other skills and talents, he may not be too far wrong. Iraqi Attitudes: The panelists agreed that the public affairs problemmanifests itself most significantly in the American public belief that thepeople of Iraq want us out of their country which we are occupying. Theyhave served in different parts of the country but each agreed that we arewanted and needed there. I refer you to the anecdote from Col. McMaster andthe thousands of pictures available on the Internet of the U.S. forces shownin very cordial relations with the locals. Of course, our media’s obsess ionwith Abu Ghraib and, if the initial reports regarding the small group ofMarines at Haditha prove to be true, then those attitudes will changesomewhat. But as one of the panelists pointed out, the atrocities sufferedunder Saddam were much worse and much more common. Morale and Capabilities: Two weeks ago, the local TV channels showed a 3rdACR re-enlistment ceremony held at Ft. Carson and officiated by ColonelMcMaster. Mind you, this unit has just returned from a one-year combat tourof hard and bloody fighting in Iraq and will likely return there again ineight to ten months. Of the 670 soldiers eligible for re-enlistment, 654 ofthem held up their right hands and signed on for another four years.Incredible! The Army goal for re-enlistments for fiscal year 2006 was for40,000 soldiers to extend their active duty commitments. With four monthsremaining in the fiscal year, they have already exceeded their goal of40,000 and may have to go back to Congress for authorization to exceed theirforce structure manning limitations. Since Congress has been pontificatingfor the past couple of years that the Army is woefully under strength, thatshould not pose any difficulty. Iraqi Forces: Every one of the returning commanders had experience in jointoperations with the Iraqi soldiers and in the case of some of them, with thelocal and national police. They are all are supportive of the quality of theforces, but culturally, they believe that we may be expecting too much fromthem as a pre-condition for handing over greater responsibility for areacontrol. McMaster said that he worked with the army and the police at TalAfar and was not the least bit reluctant to assign major responsibilities tothem in the operations that were conducted. Col. S.’s Green Berets, on the other hand, caught a national policelieutenant who was directing the emplacement of an IED by cell phone inorder to disrupt a convoy immediately after the lieutenant had been briefedon the convoys route. The good news in this situation was that they wereable to reroute the convoy, safely, and track the lieutenants entire networkthrough the use of the speed dial on his phone. Having terroristinfiltrators in both the army and the police force remains a problem. But byno means does that detract from the courage and determination of those whoare loyal to the new Iraq. Explosive Devices: The combined command in Iraq is becoming increasinglyeffective in countering the significant threat posed by the IEDs and EFPs.The frequency of attacks has decreased in large part through training torecognize the threat, the new technology (UAVs unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, for example) which help todiscover where the devices are emplaced, the infiltration of some of theterrorist cells, etc. However, the technology being used by the terroristsare also improving measurably. In the past six weeks, two bomb making siteswere found, raided and the bad guys arrested. In both cases, the head bombmakers were masters degree graduates (one in chemistry and one in physics)from American universities. That’s a lot of brain power to bring into thefight, but we also have some pretty talented people in the military,industry and academia who are doing their best to even the odds. Conclusion: This is more than I had intended to write on the subject sowhat’s new a lot of you might say but it is a subject that doesn’t get theproper balance from other sources, in my judgment at least. I trust theinformation that we received far more than anything that I have heard orseen in our usual news sources. The most disturbing thing that I heard wasthat our MSM is changing the stories filed by their own people on the scenebecause they sound too heroic. The overriding opinion that I came away from the conference with is that wehave incredibly talented and professional leaders who are facing up to thechallenges and are making inexorable progress toward the goals of ournation. We’re fortunate to have courageous and valorous people on the combatfront, even though there seems to be a serious dearth of these same types ofpeople in Congress and the mainstream media. 

 

Earlier this week a retired general and flag officer conference at Fort
Carson, hosted by MGen Bob Mixon, the 7th Infantry Division Commander which
calls the Fort its home.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Fort Carson, it is a huge installation located to the south of Colorado Springs;
its in the process of becoming one of the larger Army installations in the
country (26,000 soldiers); and it is the test location for the new modular
brigade concept that will reflect the Army of tomorrow by 2008.

It is also the home post of the largest number of troopers who have served multiple
tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and, regrettably, the largest number of
troopers who have died in combat there over the past three years. There are
Fort Carson units going to and returning from the combat area virtually on a
monthly basis.

The conference was primarily organized to explain the modular brigade
concept, and it featured a panel of officers who had either very recently
returned from commands in the combat zone or were about to deploy there in
the next two months. Three of the recent returnees were Colonel H.R.
McMaster, Colonel Rick S., and Captain Walter Szpak.  McMaster is the
commander of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, the unit that, through very
innovative and population-friendly tactics, rid the city of Tal Afar of
insurgents. The mayor of Tal Afar came back to Carson two weeks ago to thank
the troopers and their families personally for freeing his people. (You say
you didn't hear about that in the mainstream media?)

McMaster is considered the foremost U.S. expert on modern insurgent warfare, has written a book on
the subject which is widely circulated at the war colleges and staff
colleges, and he was asked to testify before Congress when he returned from
the 3rd ACR combat deployment. He is obviously one of the great combat
leaders that has emerged from the war and is highly respected
(some would say revered) by his troopers and his superiors alike.

Colonel S. is assigned to the 10th Special Forces Brigade and he headed up
all of the 31 special forces A-teams that are integrated with the populace
and the Iraqi Army and national police throughout the country. Many of these
are the guys that you see occasionally on the news that have beards, dress
in native regalia, usually speak Arabic and don't like to have their
identities revealed for fear of retribution on their families (thus the
Colonel S.) Captain Szpak was the head of all the Army explosive ordnance
teams in Iraq. He and his troops had the job of disarming all the improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) and explosive formed projectiles (EFPs) that were discovered before
they were detonated. They also traveled around the country training the
combat forces in recognizing and avoiding these devices in time to prevent
death and injury. IEDs and EFPs are responsible for the vast majority of
casualties experienced by our forces.

Despite the objective of the conference (i.e., the modular brigade concept),
it quickly devolved into a 3-hour question and answer period between the
panel and the 54 retired generals and admirals who attended:  I wish I had a
video of the whole session to share with you because the insights were
especially eye opening and encouraging. I'll try to summarize the high
points as best I can.

All returnees agreed that we are clearly winning the fight against the
insurgents but we are losing the public relations battle both in the war
zone and in the States. (I'll go into more detail on each topic below.)

All agreed that it will be necessary for us to have forces in Iraq for at
least ten more years, though by no means in the numbers that are there now.
They opined that 80% to 90% of the Iraqi people want to have us there
and do not want us to leave before the job is done.

The morale and combat capability of the troops is the highest that the
senior officers have ever seen in the 20-30 years that each has served.

The Iraqi armed forces and police are probably better trained right now than
they were under Saddam, but our standards are much higher and they lack
officer leadership.

They don't need more troops in the combat zone but they need considerably
more Arab linguists and civil affairs experts.

The IEDs and EFPs continue to be the principal  problem that they face and
they are becoming more sophisticated as time passes.


Public Affairs: We are losing the public affairs battle for a variety of
reasons. First, in Iraq, the terrorists provide Al Jazeera with footage of
their more spectacular attacks and they are on TV to the whole Arab world
within minutes of the event. By contrast it takes four to six days for a
story generated by Army Public Affairs to gain clearance by Combined Forces
Command, two or three more days to get Pentagon clearance, and after all
that, the public media may or may not run the story.

Second, the U.S. mainstream media (MSM) who send reporters to the combat
zone do not like to have their people embedded with our troops.  They claim
that the reporters get less objective when they live with the soldiers and
marines they come to see the world through the eyes of the troops. As a
consequence, a majority of the reporters stay in hotels in the Green Zone
and send out native stringers to call in stories to them by cell phone which
they later write up and file. No effort is made to verify any of these
stories or the credibility of the stringers. The recent serious injuries to
Bob Woodruff of ABC and Kimberly Dozier of CBS makes the likelihood of the
use of local stringers even higher.

Third, the stories that are filed by reporters in the field very seldom
reach the American public as written. An anecdote from Col. McMaster
illustrates this dramatically. TIME magazine recently sent a reporter to
spend six weeks with the 3rd ACR as they were in the battle of Tal Afar.
When the battle was over, the reporter filed his story and also included
close to 100 pictures that the accompanying photographer took.

TIME published a cover story on the battle a week later, allegedly using the
story sent in by their reporter. When the issue came out, the guts had been
edited out of their reporter’s story and none of the pictures he submitted
were used. Instead they showed a weeping child on the cover, taken from
stock photos. When the reporter questioned why his story was eviscerated,
his editors in New York responded that the story and pictures were too
heroic. McMaster had read both and told me that the editors had completely
changed the thrust and context of the material their reporter had submitted.

As a sidebar on the public affairs situation, Colonel Bob McRee, who was
also on the panel and is bringing a Military Police Battalion to Iraq next
month, invited the Colorado Springs Gazette to send a reporter with the
battalion for six weeks to two months. He assured the Gazette, in writing
one month ago, that he would provide full time bodyguards for the reporter,
taking the manpower out of his own hide.  The Gazette has yet to respond to
his offer.

Ten More Years: The idea that we will have troops in Iraq for ten more years
sounds rather grim, even though by contrast, President Clinton sent troops
to Bosnia and Kosovo nearly ten years ago. And they're still there with no
end in sight. While Iraq is clearly a different situation right now, the
panelists believe that within a few years at the most, it will become very
much the same a peacekeeping, nation-building function among factions that
have hated one another for centuries. There is factionalism and there was
bitter fighting in the Balkans before NATO! intervened and with peace
keepers, the panelists believe that Iraq will be a parallel situation. This,
by the way, is why they all believe that linguists and civil affairs
military personnel are so necessary for the future.

Colonel S. went out on a limb by suggesting that if most of the troops in
Iraq were deployed home tomorrow he could have the entire country pacified
and the terrorist situation brought under control with just one brigade of
special forces. Since these guys are linguists, civil affairs experts, among
many other skills and talents, he may not be too far wrong.

Iraqi Attitudes: The panelists agreed that the public affairs problem
manifests itself most significantly in the American public belief that the
people of Iraq want us out of their country which we are occupying. They
have served in different parts of the country but each agreed that we are
wanted and needed there. I refer you to the anecdote from Col. McMaster and
the thousands of pictures available on the Internet of the U.S. forces shown
in very cordial relations with the locals. Of course, our media's obsess ion
with Abu Ghraib and, if the initial reports regarding the small group of
Marines at Haditha prove to be true, then those attitudes will change
somewhat. But as one of the panelists pointed out, the atrocities suffered
under Saddam were much worse and much more common.

Morale and Capabilities: Two weeks ago, the local TV channels showed a 3rd
ACR re-enlistment ceremony held at Ft. Carson and officiated by Colonel
McMaster. Mind you, this unit has just returned from a one-year combat tour
of hard and bloody fighting in Iraq and will likely return there again in
eight to ten months. Of the 670 soldiers eligible for re-enlistment, 654 of
them held up their right hands and signed on for another four years.
Incredible!

The Army goal for re-enlistments for fiscal year 2006 was for
40,000 soldiers to extend their active duty commitments. With four months
remaining in the fiscal year, they have already exceeded their goal of
40,000 and may have to go back to Congress for authorization to exceed their
force structure manning limitations. Since Congress has been pontificating
for the past couple of years that the Army is woefully under strength, that
should not pose any difficulty.
 
Iraqi Forces: Every one of the returning commanders had experience in joint
operations with the Iraqi soldiers and in the case of some of them, with the
local and national police. They are all are supportive of the quality of the
forces, but culturally, they believe that we may be expecting too much from
them as a pre-condition for handing over greater responsibility for area
control. McMaster said that he worked with the army and the police at Tal
Afar and was not the least bit reluctant to assign major responsibilities to
them in the operations that were conducted.

Col. S.’s Green Berets, on the other hand, caught a national police
lieutenant who was directing the emplacement of an IED by cell phone in
order to disrupt a convoy immediately after the lieutenant had been briefed
on the convoys route. The good news in this situation was that they were
able to reroute the convoy, safely, and track the lieutenants entire network
through the use of the speed dial on his phone. Having terrorist
infiltrators in both the army and the police force remains a problem. But by
no means does that detract from the courage and determination of those who
are loyal to the new Iraq.

Explosive Devices: The combined command in Iraq is becoming increasingly
effective in countering the significant threat posed by the IEDs and EFPs.
The frequency of attacks has decreased in large part through training to
recognize the threat, the new technology (UAVs unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, for example) which help to
discover where the devices are emplaced, the infiltration of some of the
terrorist cells, etc. However, the technology being used by the terrorists
are also improving measurably. In the past six weeks, two bomb making sites
were found, raided and the bad guys arrested. In both cases, the head bomb
makers were masters degree graduates (one in chemistry and one in physics)
from American universities. That's a lot of brain power to bring into the
fight, but we also have some pretty talented people in the military,
industry and academia who are doing their best to even the odds.

Conclusion: This is more than I had intended to write on the subject so
what's new a lot of you might say but it is a subject that doesn't get the
proper balance from other sources, in my judgment at least. I trust the
information that we received far more than anything that I have heard or
seen in our usual news sources. The most disturbing thing that I heard was
that our MSM is changing the stories filed by their own people on the scene
because they sound too heroic.

The overriding opinion that I came away from the conference with is that we
have incredibly talented and professional leaders who are facing up to the
challenges and are making inexorable progress toward the goals of our
nation. We’re fortunate to have courageous and valorous people on the combat
front, even though there seems to be a serious dearth of these same types of
people in Congress and the mainstream media.

 


 

 

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