Thursday, December 21, 2006
Oversight and Over-Legislation (Part Two)
Government bureaucracy waddles resplendently, with numerous examples of oversight for the sake of little more than demonstration of “public concern” or “protection of public safety.”
For better or worse, I have consulted most regularly in recent years within State Government. I have seen the many historical layers of multiple bureaucracies, and have grown adept at seeing the layers much as an archaeologist sees the demarcations between stratum deposits.
At the most ancient layers, one sees the remnants and artifacts of FDR’s New Deal, such as Social Security and Central Bank, financial institution, and stock market-related regulatory constructs. World War Two and the hotter portions of the Cold War generated many national security, Intelligence, and military related government components.
Within more recent layers, one can find the origins of the Great Society: primarily evidenced by great expansion of social services and public welfare, health and other human service organizations, but likewise adding significant apparatus for the protection, enhancement, and preservation of Civil Rights. A subsequent generation of Government Activism against Activism pared some of these accretions, but far less than intended or supposed. Even the widely admired Welfare Reform generated as much government process and procedure as it purported to eliminate, and added its own legislation or regulatory debris within government organizations.
Do you think I exaggerate? Talk to any knowledgeable IT department manager with decades of experience in Federal and State Government. If they’re honest and forthright, they could regale you for hours with stories of adding yet one more PC to a bureaucrat’s desktop, the result of an initiative that wanted a new system but refused to integrate with or adapt the already existing ones. That’s just a PC-based symptom of what happens with entire agencies, where “task forces” become Executive Branch working groups, become Authorities or Offices, or if they’re really well endowed, Agencies.
With no explicit or implicit obligation to work with, fix, or adapt what already exists, each new initiative creates its own structure, tools, and processes. Earlier versions most often remain intact, and a certain amount of redundancy and overlap is built in by design. Constituencies develop around the bureaucracies, both if terms of the special interests served, but also by civil service legions, and the political opportunists who view each new initiative as their ticket up and onward.
The Military itself can be at times a paragon of bureaucratic bloat and accretion, when not challenged and confronted by grenade throwers like recently departed Secretary Rumsfeld. I often noted how each new field grade command needed to completely reverse or fundamentally change some process or command structure. If decentralized, the push was to centralize. If centralized, then one could expect decentralization. Some elder leader way back when told me, such reorganizations were undertaken to justify the Legion of Merit as an End of Tour Award for certain field grades. I couldn’t say, as I never saw such citations, but I saw the repetitive cycles enough to see them coming, with each iteration entirely predicted by whatever would reverse or undo whatever had been before.
Civilian Governmental bureaucracies are somewhat different, if for no other reason than their finances are so much less constrained by the reality of war, which from time to time brings sanity to the military. Blowing stuff up and killing people tends to bring reality into sharp focus, for losses must be replaced, and often explained. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and even though lives are often at stake, the very process by which combat is waged is an excellent means of generating feedback, revealing strengths, and exposing vulnerabilities. Civilian Government bureaucracies rarely experience such revelation.
That Government might at times be chastened by the requirements of war, is perhaps the best justification for insisting on a Government-wide wartime posture in times of, well, war. I think that helped us immeasurably in WWII, in constraining the activist impulse, or over-husbanding the bacon.
But for some time now, the Politician must show action and accomplishment, achievement and influence. It doesn’t matter that the last really necessary change in law happened in the 1960’s with Civil Rights legislation, and even that merely echoed laws that were on the books, but ignored. (An aside: One could even make the argument that the Constitution and original Bill of Rights ought to have set sufficient precedent for everything that was to follow, but over-interpretation of those documents suggests we may never see an end to new “rights” and privileges from an activist government.)
Politicians by temperament and political necessity seek brand new “opportunities” for Government attention and operation. If these same opportunities carry companion indulgences for political cronies, contributors, fellow travelers, rogues and thieves, well all the better!
Eventually, even the most bloat-happy of pork-meisters run out of ideas for new departments and mechanisms of public service. This happens particularly and peculiarly when the two political parties, in effect, pretty much share the same views on substantive public policy issues -- if not publicly, privately. In this instance, the adept Politician must find the issue for which he or she may become the Champion.
Politicians strenuously avoid irrelevancy by latching on to current events, and thereby generate government process out of whole cloth.
Entire Agencies and Departments of Federal and State governments created in response to perceived emergencies and issues, with no real purpose, no ability to fundamentally affect the issue or its component causes, or are otherwise completely redundant to already in place processes, that would deal adequately with the issue under scrutiny.
There exist no sunset provisions on bureaucracy, though they should. No law should be allowed to take effect without an automatic retirement provision (with or without review).
In the example of hate crime legislation: declaring certain crimes “extra bad,” making “extra punishments,” or creating the potential for what could otherwise be construed as double jeopardy, for things that are already criminalized behavior.
Senator Chuck Schumer smells an issue with sensational media reports about E Coli at Taco Bell, and immediately he wants to call for special tracking of all wholesale produce. No matter that the FDA already handles food inspection, let’s have another Agency! More patronage jobs for our Party Friends! More regulations, as if businesses weren’t already being slowly strangled. This, despite a starkly aggressive tort litigation industry that must already be shilling for volunteers for the “Got Sick, Now Get Paid” gravy train of litigation against Taco Bell’s owners.
Notice that these same politicos calling for more oversight, extra layers of “Defense” against “corporate wrongdoing” don’t have the same stomach for regulating trial lawyers or class action extortionists. No doubt, that couldn’t have anything to do with big contributions from Trial Lawyers, Class Action Law Firms, etc.
Funny how Big Government can never be so big or intrusive enough in squatting on top of the people who really create wealth and economic prosperity – corporations – while never seeing a legal abuse they’re willing to curtail. Businesses create jobs. Lawsuits do create a small number of jobs, for attorneys, surely, a multitude more paralegals. But Businesses create many orders of magnitude more.
That surely must explain why one Party in America is preferred by Business, while the other Party is preferred by Lawyers. If we came down on both with equal rigor, I might not find it so unfair. But as it stands, I’d vote with Shakespeare, “First, kill all the lawyers.”
However true may or may not be that characterization, I do not mean this to be an indictment of one Party and deference to the other, as I would echo Shakespeare also in this: “A pox on both your houses.” Both stand convicted of misplaced attention and misguided action.
“Petition to the King” ‘twas ever thus, and we’ve merely traded the elaborate ornamentation of the Regent’s palace for the K Street tramplings of the modern political lobbyist. That does not mean we are necessarily condemned to suffer these fools in perpetuity.
Are they inevitable? Certainly with the current two party system, absence of meaningful term limitation, and no structural requirement to eliminate or replace more bureaucracy for every newly proposed construct. Voters are lazy, their elected representatives lazier still. They vote what they perceive as their pocketbook, but the money never makes its way back to the vast majority of them, but rather only to those who pose in their place and pocket their benefits.
My experience as a soldier in Iraq taught me many things of lasting value. In fact, my deployment for OIF III was the mechanism by which God taught me how to define value itself: for me, my soldiers, my family, my community, my nation, and the world we all inhabit.
Life is precious, but short, and we none of us know the day or time that our fleeting time here on earth will be at an end. There is much, much more that could be done, than ever we attempt. We all too often pay most attention to the wrong things; and when we take action, we do so too frequently in error, confounding our expectations. It should surprise us not at all if our Government acts the same way, although we wish they had more foresight, and took a more principled responsibility for policy outcomes.
Rather than despair, I think this gives us reason to pause and consider. We need to revisit the objects of our attention, focus or refocus as required, and consider what end results we really wish to see. Only then, can we properly evaluate potential courses of action and their effectiveness, anticipate likely outcomes and unintended consequences, and then, discuss amongst ourselves.
Sounds like a lot of work. We better get busy.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Oversight and Over-Legislation
People always worry about the wrong things. In worrying about the wrong things, they invariably feel compelled to do something about those things.
Call me a curmudgeon. (C’mon, that would be a new one for me, and score one more attempt to revive a Perfectly Useful but Out of Favor word from yesteryear.)
Recent elections and the elevation of a Party more prone to Activist Government has predictably led to suggestions of this or that new program, or matters of Urgent Importance to Public Safety and Wellbeing.
In so doing, such Do-Gooders prepare themselves to make whatever matters they address, worse. This has less to do with the weakness or ineffectiveness of their proposed solutions, than the illogical foundation of their misplaced attention. Do-Gooders then compound these attention deficits with an over-abundance of response. You can’t do good, without doing something, after all.
I call myself a Conservative, but I find less and less common ground with much of what gets said on both sides of the Political Isle. (Indulge me, I refer to that overstuffed spit of land without a State, the
So out of these reflections comes a two-part, largely Libertarian manifesto on misplaced attention and misguided action. As the song goes about another famous Isle, “…put in your pipe and smoke that in.”)
Part One: Oversight
Whenever management types suggest some kind of monitoring, oversight, and gathering of metrics, it is always wise to ask the question, “to what end?” As a Project Manager with experience in many aspects of Information Technology (IT) and system operations management, I frequently ask that question. If you had all the information you think you want in the way you think you want it, how will you use it?
But in many important respects, that’s really the last question in a series that need to be asked. It isn’t always easy to identify the information that you actually need. You may have preconceptions, or prejudices, or even habits of mind that precondition you to look in certain places for certain things. Experience often proves us wrong on base assumptions.
Further, even if you can roughly identify the where and what for consideration, how that information gets captured, compiled, analyzed, manipulated, and packaged for distribution (with or without a rotational motion sometimes called “spin”), may intractably determine your interpretation or reaction to the information gathered. Indeed, that’s often by design. Mainstream media reporting on global warming,
There are multiple digressions even within this theoretical pursuit. In physics, there is a fanciful concept that, under certain circumstances, the very act of observation can affect data under observation. This is a very common occurrence in the “social” sciences, while far too frequently unacknowledged. There are conditions under which the tools of hard science can detect subtle changes in experimental data based on whether one observes certain interactions, or not. That discussion is almost metaphysical, and can await another day’s dialog.
The information known is often not the right information to generate the desired decision.
A decision may not address the root causes of a particular problem to be resolved, and what is perceived as the important problem may be the wrong one. Information is likely incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise flawed in some way. What’s not known is possibly more critically important than what is known.
If information known is correct, if it is the right information, if it answers the right questions, will an action be taken? Will the response be likely to be effective in resolving the problem as intended? Will there likely be unintended consequences?
Rather than despair, the considerations above should produce rather a sober acknowledgement that understanding is always imperfect, consequences are never fully understood, and one must always act, if one must act, with imperfect understanding. Sound judgment and good logic will help bridge the gap, but there are few guarantees, and none when it comes to human understanding.
Of course, oversight that remains a spectator sport is a waste of time, effort, and attention, hence the compulsion to act.
For a further contemplation on Over-Legislation and Government Bloat, stay tuned for Part Two.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Profile: The MILBLOGGERS
All of my previous profiles have dealt with National Guard soldiers who deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or their families. This profile is a little different, written as a tribute to my good friends, comrades in arms and words, my brothers and sisters of the world wide web, the MILBLOGGERS. Not pajama clad, but camouflaged!
I previously attempted this profile of my fellow MILBLOGGERS. Earlier, I ended up writing about the significance of stories to soldiers, stories about their experiences, humorous anecdotes, remembrances, just stories, before I was very far into it at all. Best now to read that earlier post as preface to this profile of the MILBLOGGERS.
In Soldier Stories, I described concentric circles of shared experience, the strongest and tightest of all, the connection within a unit, and of shared command.
That’s how I think about MILBLOGGERS. Like the fellow soldiers of my unit, we’ve shared a mission. We fought together, in a very real sense, against media misrepresentations and the sometime indifference of our own nation or its leaders. We boosted each other up, we encouraged and sustained, we motivated. We worked through events together, covering scandal or history in the making, found perspective, described context, in short, told stories. Our stories, and our story telling, became the strongest bond of all.
My compatriot MILBLOGGERS may not wear the uniform anymore, and surely they write as private citizens, not soldiers or airmen or sailors or marines, but their identities are forever imprinted with their military service. For some, they are more Marine or Soldier, than they are anything else. Some are warriors and leaders. Some consider themselves technicians, planners, specialists, or trades people in their craft, the “Yeomen” and “Yeowomen” of their military profession. All are servants of their country.
The MILBLOGGER carries his or her military service as a badge of honor, and carry within their work as deep appreciation of the debt they owe either their respective services, or at least their fellow service folk.
But they share more than service, in writing the military story, they all share a mission. Quite possibly, they are engaged in the truest form of history writing, perhaps the first generation of soldiers and airmen and sailors and marines who so immediately, near real time, create the core fibers and crude fabric from which the tapestry of history will be woven.
I always think most of all of the most Veteran MILBLOGGERS, and what the landscape must have looked like back in the early days, before so many MILBLOGGERS joined them in the fight. They had a vision of what could be, which they translated into tasking, and what must have been a plan as detailed as any Operations Order (OPORD).
You see the sense of mission and dedication from the Greyhawks at Mudville Gazette. Foremost, in the initial creation of the MILBLOG Ring, the foundation of so much to follow. Then the Open Posts, and Mrs. Greyhawk’s Dawn Patrol. Eventually, the establishment of our group Blog, MILBLOGS.
Unless you’re a new MILBLOGGER just starting out, struggling for readership, links, and some attention, it’s perhaps difficult to fully appreciate what the Greyhawks gave to us, how much they labored, how much of what they did each and every day, was motivated by the simple desire to give other military voices a chance to be heard.
I can still remember, as “non-technical” as I am, sending emails back and forth to Mrs. G, trying to figure out the HTML enough to make the MILBLOG Ring image display and link back to Mudville. I was some 3 hours ahead of their time zone in Germany, and adopted a blogging schedule in Iraq to take maximum advantage of the timing of Mudville’s Open Post, or to time my posts so that I could send link to the Mrs. for Dawn Patrol.
Greyhawk and Mrs. G. also moderated the online portion of our first ever 2006 MILBLOG Conference earlier this year. When I think of it, that’s what the Greyhawks have done all along: gave all of our voices a place, and a good jolt of amplification every now and then, to help them be heard.
Blackfive charts a different course, but accomplishes much the same result. Ever the entrepreneur, Matthew Burden has single-handedly built a fine Group Blog in its own right, replete with Enforcers like Jimbo, and deep thinkers like Grim, Subsunk, Froggy (also of Froggy Ruminations), and Mr. Grim, to name but a few. He’s the driving force that brought The Blog of War into being, and keeps up the alarm over Department of Defense (DoD) policies and practices that restrict and may threaten the demise of the MILBLOG.
No doubt inspired by the Greyhawks – or was it the other way ‘round? -- Smash and the most beautiful (alongside Mrs. Manly, of course) Mrs. Smash formed a great blogging team with their Military Outpost, and otherwise blogging as LT Smash, Citizen Smash and Mrs. Smash, over at the Indepundit. Smash serves a valuable public service, exposing the venal (and ignorant) sides of “anti-war” protests and protesters, routinely in San Diego, and for a time, in Washington D.C. in and around Walter Reed.
SGT Hook, after being one of the first and more well-renowned MILBLOGGERS, retreated into silence, no doubt due to operational blackout requirements, and recently re-emerged with a new mission and new purpose in blogging, with a series of Leader profiles.
When I first started reading MILBLOGS, before I ever stepped up to do any myself, one of the first blogs I read routinely was Jason Von Steenwyk’s Countercolumn. I remember he wrote several posts on leadership, and I even clipped and included a few in a unit newsletter (before I learned to proper etiquette for attribution and crediting sources).
Andi of Andi’s World has helped launch a new companion to MILBLOGS, SpouseBUZZ. There and at their home blogs, Andi and her fellow MILSPOUSES wax poetic on the trials, tribulations, joy and transcendence of close association with a loved one in military service. (Not to mention the same range of experiences just being in close association as a Spouse, military or otherwise.)
This may surprise some, but surely not the MILBLOGGERS, when I say there are real live journalists among us: Michael Yon, Bill Roggio, and Michael Fumento . These fine war correspondents represent the epitome (and among the few practitioners of a new journalistic tradecraft
While not technically a MILBLOGGER, in my view Jules Crittenden is quickly earning a place as an honorary MILBLOG. As both City Editor and Columnist for the Boston Herald and blogger, Jules is that rare breed of writer proficient and conversant with both old media, and new. That, and he’s rock solid behind the US Military and our mission against Global Terror.
While more analysts than reporters, I would also include Austin Bay and Josh Manchester in this category, as their military analysis of ongoing operations surpasses anything written elsewhere in media.
I will inevitably slight any MILBLOGGER who I don’t mention specifically, but I would certainly be remiss without a mention of The Donovan of Castle Argghhh! John and his Castle Denizens serve admirably and with a fair amount of fun and humor, with armament and equipment puzzlers (can you name this explosive device), daily HRI Fires, and of course, news of Fuzzybear Lioness and Captain Z’s inspired Project Valour-IT.
Two other group MILBLOGS deserve special mention as well, The Gentlemen at OPFOR, and Papa Ray and the Old War Dogs. OPFOR has often charged to the forefront of controversies and military issues of the day with energy and enthusiasm, quickly earning the respect and admiration of their fellow MILBLOGGERS. Papa Ray started his blogging career as a frequent commenter (at Dadmanly and elsewhere), and now with his fellow Old War Dogs, keeps nipping at the heels of those who would bring discredit upon the uniformed services.
My regular readers – what few remain – no doubt noticed that I have had to severely curtail my blogging. My family has recently experienced tragedy in the loss of a beloved one. I also found myself taking far too many liberties with my time and attention in the compulsion of blogging.
After I’d been back stateside from OIF III for a few weeks, I found myself at a crossroad. Home, I lacked the luxury of free time and excusal from day to day concerns of family, marriage, parenthood, and even work, that I experienced in Iraq.
No cracks please. In Iraq, we worked 7 days a week, but our duty day lasted about 10-12 hours, pretty much coincident with the departure, return, and recovery of our logistics convoys. With no distractions from nightlife, alcohol, games of chance, or any number of others, the rest of the time between sleep and sleep were available for blogs and blogging. Being back home meant I had to go back to work, reconnect, and share my time with the people and things that truly make life worth living, but after all expect something more in return, such as my time and attention.
When I came to that crossroad, at first I thought I would give up blogging altogether. I remember discussing this briefly with an old on-line colleague, Mustang 23 at Assumption of Command. When last we conversed, he wasn’t sure he’d return to blogging, and unless I’ve missed a new venue, he hasn’t.
At some point, I tipped towards one last fling at it. Politics, the situation in Iraq, and all the usual blog introspection, where blogs talk about other blogs, talking about blogging.
It was fun for a while. I scored a couple of very modest Instalaunches, I reconnected with old online friends, and made some new ones. I had a chance to do some TV interviews, even a never-to-be-seen piece for Katie Couric’s freeSpeech. But it was taking me away from more important things, and getting in the way of higher priorities.
I remember a blogger announcing her retirement saying she started blogging to help get herself to write. When blogging kept her from serious writing, it was time to give it up.
So I’ve come to the end of one mission, awaiting reassignment for another. My fingers are limbered up, I have plots and themes in pocket, and Higher Guidance in view.
There will be missions, just maybe not what I would have chosen, myself, in the selfish, unreachable place where Everything Happens Just as We Would Wish It.
There is still very much to say, and very much to do.
Which brings me around full circle, in what might as well be a tribute to my days as an active MILBLOGGER, and to my MILBLOGGER comrades. We had quite a time, didn’t we?
As Papa Ray says, “Continue the Mission.”
Monday, December 11, 2006
I visit a Vet Center from time to time, and in one of our group sessions, I remarked that I felt guilty that I hadn’t done more for my troops as a First Sergeant, mobilized, training, and then during deployment to Iraq. Oh, I did what I needed to do, I watched what I needed to watch, disciplined who I needed to discipline, stocked what I needed to stock and fixed what was broke. I did the duty, took some pictures, got a medal way too easily earned, would have got the T shirt, if we’d bothered to make one.
But somehow, I took care of my psyche, my emotional and spiritual needs my own way, almost in isolation. My faith was central, but MILBLOGGING was my emotional lifeline, as important to my strength and morale as the frequent phone calls and IM and emails with my wife and family. Every troop needs some kind of emotional contact, and I hadn’t been that as much as I could have been for my troops. I kept pretty close to home, so to speak.
One of the young men at the Vet Center, struggling with his own demons with post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) since combat, challenged me to turn my guilt into action. He said that I wouldn’t be in that room, saying what I was saying, if it were really the case that I wasn’t ready to help my men and women when they needed me most. He said, “Top, they need you now. You’re a First Sergeant, you need to remember what it’s like and advocate for your troops. You need to make sure they get taken care of, that they get what they deserve.” I added to that thought, thinking that they need to get what they deserve from the Nation that owes them more than can be repaid.
I often think about the guys at the Vet Center. Some of them are angry, some are hurting, and all have been affected by their time in combat. We all of us share concentric circles of connection, we who serve.
At the outer layer, any Vet feels a connection with any other, you joined (or were taken), you did your time, you served. It’s that shared knowledge and experience that those who haven’t, may not be able to understand or appreciate. The lack of that common experience is what makes all too many Americans oblivious to military service as a civic duty, or a responsibility to the Nation and its preservation.
At another layer, somehow closer to the heart, is the branch of service. It goes beyond the stereotypic service rivalry: grunts or ground-pounders, squids or swabbies, flyboys or birdmen, jarheads; the slang merely marks the common ground and labels the Others. Some of us get carried away, but really it’s just another layer of describing a shared experience.
Another layer even closer in, is a particular mission or posting, a deployment, a war or battle or campaign, maybe even a particular post or base or location of assignment. “Remember when? We were there together.” A tie in time and place that said we all went through something memorable together. They could be hard times, could be pain and suffering, or only aggravation, or they could be the best times of our lives. (Or even any combination of the above.)
At the closest layer I think, the one outsiders may never penetrate, understand, or even have revealed to them, is when military people share a common mission within a bigger history, that otherwise may exist only in myth.
It’s like an imprint, the real life counterpart to what a certain phony describes as being seared in one’s memory. For ten months, a group of men and women shared a single set of experiences that only this group lived through. Hundreds of thousands of troops have rotated through Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), but each unit, each group of soldiers, have their own unique set of experiences, no two sets alike.
Who saw action, how much, how tough, who got hurt, who was lost. How much they saw of the countryside, how much they were on the road, whether they trained Iraqi Police or Army, or dealt with or got to know any Iraqis in their areas.
Their Convoy AARs might sound similar, but they could never be the same.
Personalities are always different, however archetypical they may be. Some soldiers will always dominate the content of any story they figure in. They’re either the catalyst for the anecdote, or the story itself forms the definition of their personality. Like the motor section’s chronic bad luck with women, most often self-sustained. Or the would be Romeo’s disciplinary travels through the enlisted ranks -- being reckless and aggressive aren’t the only traits required of a Romeo, fortunately for them, but unfortunately for him. Or the Motor Sergeant’s infamous tendency to tirade.
Yet other soldiers remain nearly invisible. Some wanted to stay that way, others became everybody’s favorite anecdote, just so they wouldn’t be quite so invisible anymore.
Soldiers tell the stories we tell to create the bonds we need to survive, overcome, and put all those combat experiences in some kind of perspective. We can’t all be nuts, if we all laugh at the same stupid s***, and get angry at the same stupid s***, and for that matter, even wanting to tell the same stories over and over again. This must have been how the families and neighbors and friends and fellow citizens felt, when our Parents and Grandparents came home after World War Two, and wanted to tell the same old stories over and over again.
Soldiers tell stories, that’s what they do, aside from bitch. MILBLOGGERS share some of their stories online.
When any two soldiers can share more than 50% of the same stories, they’re pretty tightly bound by shared experiences. The closer they get to 100%, the tighter the tie that binds. Stories that get swapped a lot become like the secret handshakes of old, they’re a cherished legacy. If you know the story, and can repeat it well yourself, you’re in. The blank stare or disinterest or losing the point of the story means, you’re that much on the outside from the rest.
My Intel Analysts must have had that kind of bond with the other Analysts on the same shift, and maybe a similar kind of connection – sometimes competition – with their counterpart off shift. The stories they tell are far more often about quirks of character, duplicity or intrigue.
Some tell stories about the Big Story. During the Cold War, the Big Story would have been being the first Analyst to identify some new threat, equipment, capability, world changing event, or development. Intermediate range ballistic missiles, a Trade Union movement that would topple an empire.
Before Saddam crawled out of that Spider Hole, it would have been traces of Saddam. During our tour, the Big Story was anything that tipped us off to Al Qaeda plots in our area, or human intelligence (HUMINT) and targeting efforts that allowed us to pull one strand of captured terrorist and roll up the fabric of entire cells. Unfortunately, the best of these stories can be told only in secure compartmented intelligence facilities (SCIF).
The Motor Pool tells some great stories, most of which I could never repeat in print or pixels, and many of which require me to seek God’s forgiveness for finding them as entertaining as I find them. Before deployment, during mobilization, they told stories that invited the rest of us into the world of motor mechanics, motor pools, and maintenance and repair shops. Allowed us to get to know each of them in a more meaningful way, hearing the signature story for each of these characters.
During and after deployment, they added in their stories of fights, scandals and other extracurricular activities, mayhem and hi-jinks, and especially, all those high speed convoys through Tikrit. Maintenance soldiers completed missions as Driver, Truck Commander (TC), or Gunner on more convoys than any of our soldiers, (maybe) other than the Supply guys. They sure relished their convoys more than anybody, and took great care with the stories they told after each one. Forget AARs, what they spoke of was the stuff of legends-to-be. Part of the legacy. The time they took a wrong turn for the back gate, and ended up doing a K turn across both sidewalks and doing who knows what other collateral damage. The scrape against the HUMVEE hood that absolutely was the ricochet from an AK-47 round: “I heard the whistle as it went by my head.”
The guys and gals in the TOC tell different kinds of stories altogether. Stories out of the Battalion Commander (BC) storybook. The nightly Battle Update Assessments (BUA) and a certain Intel Sergeant’s “nothing significant to report,” night after night. Executive Officer (XO) hilarity, usually involving some completely unbelievable misunderstanding on his part, about some standard issue item or procedure, of which he had never heard. The BC’s emphasis on chock blocks and drip pans. Stories about the Command Sergeant Major (CSM), his monthly health and welfare inspections, or speculation on how he could go through as many cigars as he did, and where he got them. Clerk fascination with scandals and intrigues, of interest or comprehension only to them .
C (“Charlie”) Company, versus those of us in HHC, consisted of a very small platoon, really a couple of squads of radio, radar, and other systems technicians. They had their own billets in a little shop building, but they did have a roof, which they weren’t supposed to use for safety reasons, as there was clear line of sight with several adjacent, off post Iraqi apartment buildings. They used to get what seemed like close calls, a mortar or two nearby, and they were the closest to a vehicle born improvised explosive device (VBIED) attack at the Special Forces compound just outside the wire. We had car debris and hunks of shrapnel fall on the HHC billets from that one. That was the attack that blew open the stall door, with the Charlie acting First Sergeant shaken but still sitting “on the pot” in the latrine trailer.
I don’t think they had much equipment to maintain, or it mostly just worked as intended, because they racked up more card table time, and the least post details, than any soldiers on the FOB, which suited them just fine.
The Romeos were assigned to Charlie Company, but they were always part of us in HHC, by mutual acknowledgement on both sides. They spent the first part of our tour in misery, assigned as personal security detachment for the BC and CSM as they made their “command visits” around local FOBs.
They sustained a pair of IED attacks right off, one caused some vehicle damage, the other some spoiled desert camouflage uniforms (DCU) from a certain truck commander who confused the proper response to IED (regroup and assess damage and threat, call the Sheriff) with a response more suited to a hasty ambush (drive away, like a bat out of h***). That of course left him and his vehicle on the wrong side of the IED, away from the rest of his convoy. Luckily, one fine NCOIC was able to take charge and get everybody home safely.
After that, the Romeos successfully petitioned Division command to be reassigned with the Long Range Surveillance Detachment (LRSD) and some scouts at a series of remote sites, at which they actually got to deploy their battlefield sensors and do real time exploitation. They also got to go along on raids. You knew they were going to have to be invited, or they’d come along without invitation at some point.
They were called in as quick reaction force (QRF) on a complex attack, a coordinated ambush that saw the HUMVEE ahead of them completely obliterated, killing all 4 occupants. They had conflicts, a major behavior problem, had to run interference between conflicting command levels, and deal with all manner of hardship. They loved most every minute of their combat time, as much as it exhausted them. They were the tightest squad I ever saw, and will always represent the best of what soldiers can be.
All of us at HHC, the Clerks, Supply Sergeants, the LT, the Captain, the First Sergeant, we all had our shared experiences, too. More often, way more mundane. Scheduling convoys, preparing convoy worksheets for approval, preparing the HHC Commander’s input for the BC’s BUA, scheduling soldiers for post details, running Charge of Quarters, changing Radio sets, running 4-5 convoy logistic or command convoys a week. Running Convoy briefs, or after action reviews (AAR).
Dealing with the Motor Pool, the Analysis and Control Element (ACE), BN Staff, the cooks, the Motor Pool. Keeping the LT from chewing the heads off of unsuspecting (and sometimes negligent) NCOs. Running through 100% inventory of personnel and sensitive items every time a mortar or rocket landed near any of the billets.
At the nearest level of common experience, sat two people probably more tightly coupled than even the BC and the CSM, which after all was a match necessitated by command assignment, and certainly not by choice, for either of them.
My Captain and I. My Commanding Officer. The CO, and I was his First Sergeant. The integrated command of the basic command level, of the Company.
We had the many difficult conversations, about concerns and dangers. Soldier capabilities and weaknesses. Non-judicial punishments for disciplinary problems. Shortcomings, in each other, and in our troops.
He used to say that he was always way ahead of us, seeing things before they appeared, hearing things only whispered, “I have my ways,” he’d say. A distinguished State Trooper in civilian life, frequently assigned to high visibility roles or as VIP escorts, he knew his troops, us all, better maybe than many knew themselves.
He changed me. He gave me confidence I would not have had. I changed him too, maybe through the several heated discussions when I tried to open or inform his thinking about some impact to his troops. Driven and determined, he asked much of us all. Sometimes too much, or more than necessary, but never without some result. He made us all more than we would have been, and prepared us beyond what we expected, but more than enough for what we feared. He lifted us to meet the challenge of the unknown.
By keeping an eye on the troops, by being our conscience when necessary, I’d like to think I made it possible for him to likewise strengthen our hearts and minds, morale, along with the bodies that did the work he asked. To persevere, to do our best, to do more than survive, but to overcome.
I described concentric circles of shared experience, these last two the tightest and near in of all, of the unit, and of shared command. These bonds are the strongest of all.
Which is how I started thinking about MILBLOGGERS. Like the fellow soldiers of my unit, we’ve shared a mission. We fought together, in a very real sense, against media misrepresentations and the sometime indifference of our own nation or its leaders. We boosted each other up, we encouraged and sustained, we motivated. We worked through events together, covering scandal or history in the making, found perspective, described context, in short, told stories. Our stories, and our story telling, became the strongest bond of all.
More in the upcoming Profile. Stay tuned.
Think I exaggerate? Kofi Annan blasts the US as his parting gesture, and NPR looks to do a piece evaluating his stint at the UN on Morning Edition. Who do they reach for to conduct their interview? Why, James Traub, author of completely authorized and ridiculously laudatory biography of Annan.
I just about spit my coffee all over the dashboard as Traub astonishingly dismisses the rampant corruption at the UN as “unfair” or not to be believed, because after all, Kofi Annan is a superlative diplomat with the “best intentions.” He goes on to gush about how wildly successful Annan was, when working with equally admired by NPR Bill Clinton. Only when that nasty George Bush became President, that the UN suffered setbacks that unfairly diminish Annan’s stature as the greatest of all UN Secretary Generals. (Perhaps I exaggerate Traub’s tone, but if so, only ever so slightly.)
Of course, the recess appointment of John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UN is viewed by Traub as direct effrontery to his revered Annan. Any such talk of corruption or rot at the UN, whether in the notorious Oil for Food, or UN run sex rings, or UN peacekeeper brutalities against “protected” populations, why those are spiteful and completely unfounded criticisms, beneath the dignity of this quiet and graceful international Man of PeaceTM. Someone should warn Claudia Rosett that she’s after the wrong kleptocrat.
Why do I even bother to listen to NPR? Sure, it’s the only daytime news on radio. But one might have thought that the NPR apparatchiks might have felt some compulsion to seek a somewhat balanced view of Annan and his tenure, rather than air a big fat sloppy kiss of a caress piece.
Glenn Reynolds links to Ed Morrissey, who notes Kofi Annan’s op-ed column in today's Washington Post, about which Morrisey remarks:
If his rule hadn't resulted in such worldwide misery and despair, it would be one of the funniest pieces of opinion journalism so far this year.Read it, if you can stomach it, and chase it with Ed’s dissection.
Being lectured about accountability by Kofi Annan is like being lectured by Saddam Hussein on democracy and justice. Come to think on it, the two worked in tandem for many years. It’s no small wonder they share such a rich sense of irony.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Free Speech Unspoken
As many of those who contributed segments were to find out, the ninety or so second FreeSpeech segments became more advocacy than opinion. Ratings for Katie’s new vehicle slid within the first week on air, and the FreeSpeech segments withstood a fair amount of criticism from audiences, as well as internal news staff, who objected to a precious 90 seconds of airtime of a 24 minute news program given over to amateurs.
As part of an effort to revive the moribund Couric Evening News, CBS has reduced the FreeSpeech segment to a minimalist once every week or two appearance, and limited the segments to those that can be “hooked” to some current event or news. Producers explain that already taped segments – such as mine -- will almost certainly never air. At least I had the consolation of seeing Wade Zirkle of Vets for Freedom make it on air.
Ah, my potential 90 seconds of fame evaporates before I can even enjoy it.
The process by which this piece was written and edited, and how it transformed in the process of taping, is an interesting story in and of itself.
Before I explain, please let me say up front that any editorial changes were made in the interest of time and the demands of on air television, and moreover, were made with my consent. I had a great time working with all the CBS producers, and the largest amount of edits were done in a fashion I can only describe as collaborative, between the Senior Producer and I. Having never participated in such an effort, I was very impressed with his ability to discern the heart of the piece, capture what he described as its “ambivalence,” heighten it’s emotional power, and yet preserve the essential character of the piece, all while chopping out nearly a minute of elapsed time, to meet the 90 second requirement. (And even with that, we thought we might be 10 seconds too long.)
When I arrived at CBS News studios to tape the segment, we had to cut an additional 15 seconds or so, and again, it was a collaborative effort. They had me run through the piece about ten times against a black backdrop, then again another dozen times or so across the street in the newsroom of cbsnews.com.
Mrs. Manly accompanied me to New York, and we thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the City, and even squeezed in a quick visit to our favorite restaurant in Chinatown for some Peking Duck. While at CBS, Mrs. Manly filled in as hair stylist, makeup consultant, and even on-screen copy editor when we needed to recreate the on-air edits of the piece in the teleprompter software when we switched locations. She watched me run through the piece some two dozen times, and insists that I’m a natural. Just like her – she probably could have gotten both of us jobs that day, if that’s what we were about.
For the enjoyment of loyal readers, I wanted to share all three versions of the piece. If you’d like, you can let me know which you prefer in comments. I think this whole exercise underscores my belief that bloggers need good editors more than anything. Okay, just me. But still.
ORIGINAL TEXT AS SUBMITTED
I mobilized with the 642 Military Intelligence Battalion, 42nd Infantry Division, New York Army National Guard, trained for 8 months, and served 10 months in Tikrit, Iraq. We returned home in November 2005, and left nobody behind. That’s a part of the story.
I’m asked all the time if I saw any combat. I answer, it depends what you mean.
We convoyed 600 miles from Kuwait to our forward operating base (or FOB). We traveled mostly at night; in daylight surrounded by an alien, all brown landscape. Smoke, flares, and at times a heavy silt in the air. Rumors of war, but little else. Little sleep.
We experienced mortars, rockets, and vehicle born improvised explosive devices (or VBIEDs), sporadic and largely ineffective. A mortar landed in our motor pool the morning of our arrival, and missed us by 30 minutes. A barrage on the dining facility parking lot at noontime injured several; one stray mortar landed in a designated smoking area, gravely injuring a Navy Sailor attached to our unit.
Sometimes it was funny, crazy, absurd. The VBIED in town, close enough to break windows and drop a rough rain of car parts, caused our Supply Sergeant to dash out of the shower sans towel. Other booms and blasts brought us – recklessly but with great confidence – onto the roof or into the street to see where the blast was. Speculate on what, where, and against whom. On or off the FOB?
Our headquarters ran over 100 convoys. Some tense moments in town or on the highway, but again, no injuries or accidents.
We all had missions. A few involved danger, some frustrating, some desperately dull. Dull is good, we say, boring is good. Every single one was important. We all watched as the Iraqis had two successful, safe elections. We saw the joy, the purple fingers.
Still, some soldiers grew disgusted that there wasn’t any “action.” Some breezed through their deployments. Some soldiers seemed to develop difficulties with the start and stop, on and off again vigilance, even the simple after-effects of basic, low level stress.
It really had nothing to do with whether you got shot at, or rode through an IED, or witnessed first hand a mortar or rocket strike. It had most to do with what was inside of you, what made you tick, how you coped, how you pushed both the crazy mundane, and the hopped up combat rush out of your mind, just to do the next necessary thing.
It turned out the same for our spouses, and children. They feared the worst, pushed it out of their minds as hard as possible. Longed for the phone call or email through the week. Relieved when off the phone, because contact somehow made it difficult. Saw the changes, at home, with their Soldier, in themselves. More courage and strength than many of us managed, away.
Because war really does bring a man or woman to a point of clarity, and maybe refinement, as in the way precious metals are refined by fire, the “refiner’s fire,” as scripture reminds us.
The average soldier returning from Vietnam felt abandoned by his country and shunned by his fellow citizens. Many felt deep guilt that they survived while buddies didn’t make it out alive. Today’s veterans are often overwhelmed by the support and encouragement of our fellow citizens, family, neighbors, friends and co-workers.
“I’m no hero,” most of us say. “I never saw any action,” or even, “I never really thought I was in any danger.” Boredom and tedium, and more American style services and amenities than any prior generation of soldiers could dare to imagine. For most, but obviously not all. Like a lottery in reverse, where only the very unlucky lost.
The rest of us won, I guess. Of course. But there’s always a price, always a missing piece. What you do with that missing piece, how you fill that emptiness, makes all the difference. For me, it’s my faith in God, and the Rock of my Salvation, Jesus. For many, it’s faith in America, in our principles and ideals. Good or bad, whatever the result, the country called, and we responded. We served.
Like they say, some gave all. All gave some. Missing pieces.
Home can’t ever feel like Iraq, thank God, but home doesn’t feel like home anymore, either.
FINAL TEXT AS EDITED PRE-TAPING
I’m a veteran of Iraq.
I’m asked all the time if I saw any combat. I answer, it depends what you mean.
We saw mortars and rockets. Two mortar attacks (out of a hundred or more) caused injuries. We ran past improvised explosive devices (or IEDs), but we were lucky, no injuries even from those that went off. Booms and blasts grew familiar, though remote.
Some jobs involved danger, some desperately dull. Boring was good. We watched as the Iraqis had three successful, safe elections. We saw the joy, the purple fingers, freedom.
Some soldiers grew disgusted there wasn’t any “action.” Some breezed through their deployments. Some developed difficulties with the on and off again vigilance, and after-effects of constant, low level stress.
It had nothing to do with whether you got shot at, or rode through an IED, or witnessed a mortar or rocket strike. It had most to do with what was inside, how you coped, how you pushed both the crazy mundane, and the hopped up combat rush out of your mind, just to do the next necessary thing.
It turned out the same for our spouses and children. They feared the worst, pushed it out of their minds. They longed for the phone call or email, were relieved when off the phone, because contact made it more difficult. They saw the changes in their Soldier, in themselves. More courage and strength than many of us managed.
The average soldier returning from Vietnam felt abandoned by country and shunned by fellow citizens. Today, we’re overwhelmed by the support of our family, neighbors, and friends. “I’m no hero,” most of us say. “I never saw any action.” Boredom and tedium. For most, but obviously not all. Like a lottery in reverse, where only the very unlucky lost.
The rest of us won…I guess.
FINAL VERSION AS TAPED
I’m asked all the time if I saw any combat. I answer, it depends what you mean.
We saw mortars and rockets. Ran into improvised explosive devices (or IEDs), but no injuries even from those that went off. Booms and blasts grew familiar, though remote.
Some jobs involved danger, some desperately dull. Boring was good. We watched as the Iraqis had three successful, safe elections. We saw the joy, the purple fingers, freedom.
Some soldiers grew disgusted there wasn’t any “action.” Some breezed through their deployments. Some developed difficulties with the on and off again vigilance, and after-effects of constant, low level stress.
It had nothing to do with whether you got shot at. It had most to do with how you coped, how you pushed both the crazy mundane, and the hopped up combat rush out of your mind, just to do the next necessary thing.
It turned out the same for our spouses and children. They feared the worst, pushed it out of their minds. Longed for the phone call or email. Relieved when off the phone, because contact made it more difficult. Saw the changes in their Soldier, in themselves.
The average soldier returning from Vietnam felt abandoned by country and shunned by fellow citizens. Today, we’re overwhelmed by the support of our family, neighbors, and friends. “I’m no hero,” most of us say. “I never saw any action.” For most, but obviously not all. Like a lottery in reverse, where only the very unlucky lost.
The rest of us won, I guess.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
My good friend John Schroeder of Blogotional encouraged me to share the story of how it came to pass that Mrs. Manly’s Mom passed from life to Life last week. We all grieve and mourn her passing, but God, in His mercy, has used the past few weeks and Ma’s last days on earth in a powerful way.
Go here for the full story of Grief and Praise.
Jules Crittenden describes how he learned about the parts of war, and wonders if we are witnessing the start of the Betrayal Part.
I very much appreciate Jules’s reflections, and the context in which he considers what may indeed be the start of the Betrayal Part of this war. No surprise that few will note the start of such a phase. History’s harshest betrayals seem always to start in such stealth or obliviousness, and only gradually reveal the inexorable slide towards the treachery implied at its inception.
Jules spent March 2003 with a tank unit, embedded in
Nothing is easy in life, this is what we learn, everything's a fight, and that's why, by the time we're in our 40s, most of us stop believing in giveaways and easy outs. We have to have faith, but we have to be smart, and we have to be able to adjust.
Now, in this war of ours in
This is beginning to feel like another part of war I had not experienced, something as terrible as all the other parts, the death and the loss, because of it means for those things. I know enough about history to know this is what happens, maybe more often than not.
So is this going to be the betrayal part?
There are a lot of things I still don't know about war. Some of them I dread more than I dreaded the expectation of death in combat. My son, 10 years old, has grown up in a world of war more intense than I grew up in. He was five and watching TV when he saw the
And he has said things to me like, "When I grow up, if I don't get killed in battle, I want to be a Major League pitcher."
I'm proud of a boy who talks like that, and heartbroken that he has to. I know the day may come when my boy has to go, and I'll learn things about war that hundreds of thousands of American parents have learned in the past few years. And will he then have to learn all these gut-wrenching things? And what about the betrayal? Will he have to learn about that as I fear we might be about to?
I too am proud of and heartbroken for younger Crittenden. I hear similar things from Little Manly, who tells people that he wants to go into politics or law, or serve as an officer in the Army (maybe all three). He’s learned an awful lot about the parts of war, too, some that I experienced, and some he experienced on his own, while I was deployed. He listens to news with intense interest, and processes what he hears within a very thorough knowledge and understanding (for his nearly eleven years) of American and World History.
He often asks me how things are really going in
I am disappointed ISG Report, or more accurately: I object to the emphasis in its rhetoric, some errors in motivating assumptions, and the avoidance of key obstacles that impede their notions of the “New Diplomatic Offensive.”
The ISG Report is a document entirely political, and emphatically the product of diplomacy and compromise. Thus, it contains little of anything meaningful for implementation.
The extreme but predominate anti-war left will likely reject the ISG Report, as it affirms
No doubt the military by and large won’t find it particularly objectionable. For the most part, recommendations involving the military simply confirm military tactics and operational objectives. “Keep doing what you’re doing,” seems to be the message, along with “just do it faster and more and don’t be surprised if we don’t let you finish, since we don’t have any confidence in Iraqi self-determination and self- preservation.” I guess if you follow the same courses of action, but do them more quickly, you can plausibly say you’ve “changed” rather than “stayed” the course.
Not to say the Report doesn’t point US Iraq policy in a new direction, it does, it elevates diplomacy and negotiated settlements with Iran, Syria, the Palestinians and the assorted players (and terrorist sponsors) in the broader Middle East, above all other means of achieving “success.”Diplomacy as the cure all for all unpleasantness in International Relations. Talk about lowered expectations.
No doubt our declared enemies desire such a redirection of
Diplomacy got us four long decades of Communist oppression throughout the world. Diplomacy earned us a nuclear
I suppose it’s unavoidable that a bipartisan assessment would lead to recommendations that would have to be described in terms equivalent to “A New Approach.”
The contents and recommendations aren’t at all new. In particular, the military oriented ones represent tweaks or slight changes in emphasis, and the
Until I heard James Baker harp for the third or fourth time on morning talk shows, declaring how the ISG Report will be the only bipartisan feedback the President will receive, I hadn’t realized how much I dislike the man, and much he represents. If Baker is the embodiment of Realism in National Security policy formulations, than any sense of the “real” in International Relations translates into a reality inhabited only by master politicos and stateless bureaucrats, not the poor slobs who must live in the messes they create.
It’s no small wonder that terrorist masters and their propaganda organs achieve their strategic objectives so effortlessly, when the governmental “elites” succumb to fatalism and defeatism, as precondition to negotiations with the devils responsible for the brutal outcomes they say they want to avoid.
It must be that it is somehow more “realistic” to think that liberal (in the classic sense) Democracies will ultimately concede to their own emasculation and destruction. Baker wants to use the example of the old
Some enemies conduct the “affairs of state” with implacable evil, malevolent intent, or complete unwillingness to surrender the willful oppression and brutality of others. Stateless enemies are even less amenable to the trappings of diplomacy, as they have no real bounds or constraints, not even of self preservation or survival.
Yet the ISG forthrightly assumes that
This may indeed be the only “bipartisan” feedback available. But that’s only because one of our two major parties refuses to deal with the critical national security issues of our day with any seriousness. Partisan differences used to start at the water’s edge. Now, international boundaries demark how much partisan advantage can be exacted, and our former Opposition Party realizes they merely need to turn up the volume and discard domestic consumption filters, and adopt the rhetoric of our enemies when abroad. Why worry that criticism of the current administration is indistinguishable from the propaganda of our sworn enemies? They have elections to win and power to wield.
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