Saturday, July 21, 2007

Flying into Iraq - a Soldier's Tale

I was just made aware of Michael J. Totten’s Middle East Journal which is now linked to the right in my BlogRoll.

I highly recommend that you follow the account of his on-going journey through Iraq. He seems completely dedicated to describing exactly what he witnesses during his experiences in Iraq without bias. Mr. Totten seems bent on defying generally accepted media practice of reporting a twisted view of Iraq as a chaotic battleground that leaves its citizens no where to turn to escape the violence.

In fact, he perceives an entirely different circumstance:

"You’d think explosions and gunfire define Iraq if you look at this country from far away on the news. They do not. The media is a total distortion machine. Certain areas are still extremely violent, but the country as a whole is defined by heat, not war, at least in the summer. It is Iraq’s most singular characteristic."

I encourage you to follow Mr. Totten’s travels.

During his latest blog, Mr. Totten describes his plane flight into Iraq:

"This was not United Airlines.

The funny thing about the steep corkscrew dive is that I couldn’t feel it. Anyone who says it is scary, as some journalists do, is talking b.s. If you can’t look out the window or see the instruments in the cockpit, you’ll have no idea if the plane is right-side up, flying in a straight line, upside down, sideways, or even spinning into a death spiral. I’m not sure how the others knew when to put on their helmets. Perhaps someone signaled. No one could hear anything over the roar of the plane through their ear plugs.

The landing was smooth and felt no different from an American Airlines touch down in Los Angeles."

I absolutely had to comment on Mr. Totten’s site concerning this passage. And now I want to share that comment with you. You may find the story below interesting as I attempt to describe the details of an event that most of our soldiers face today when they travel to Iraq. However, this event isn’t one that will cause political upheaval or sell newspapers, so I doubt you will ever be privy to it unless some boredom-stricken soldier like me decides to share it with you. Nonetheless, I can confidently say that it is a pretty amusing story… It is amusing for me to tell in retrospect. Enjoy.

Again, the following was originally posted as a comment to another site, in response to the passage above, so if some of the terms used seem to be directed towards an individual reader, it because of the text’s original purpose.


That being said, I felt absolutely compelled to tell you of my experience of flying into Iraq and how it differs quite noticeably from yours.

First of all, I consider myself a pretty thoroughly battle-tested individual. This was also the case the first time that I had to fly into Iraq. I was involved in the invasion during my first tour, so flying into Iraq for my second tour was quite a different experience.

I quote you:

“The funny thing about the steep corkscrew dive is that I couldn’t feel it. Anyone who says it is scary, as some journalists do, is talking b.s.”

Man, do I ever humbly disagree!!

I flew from Kuwait to Al Anbar province, Iraq en route to a year of battle in Ar Ramadi. My flight experience nearly caused me to piss myself. Check that – I am quite sure that I did, in fact, piss myself.

You see, the Air Force personnel on my flight had assured us that the flight would be completed in something like an hour and forty minutes. So I quickly dozed off as the plane traveled towards its destination. Well short of the estimated hour and forty minutes, our plane began its descent. And, unlike your description, I most definitely noticed it!!

Of course, no one took the time to inform me that such evasive landings were necessary. Furthermore, no one took the time to make sure that I was aware that such an evasive landing might take place well short of the mentioned time of landing. I was pretty sure that we were crashing. This is when I think I lost control of some limited bodily functions – but it’s hard to say as my uniform was pretty thoroughly caked in a mixture of fresh perspiration and dried sweat that had accumulated over the long and varied travel that you described so meticulously in your post.

Thankfully, the plane landed safely and I was afforded the opportunity to serve my country in Iraq for a second time. I would end up getting the opportunity to see several other planes land in the same airfield that I did and I can assure you that the occupants of those aircraft surely noticed their landings as well.

Assessing the Strategic Value of the Military Troop Surge

First, a little Fred Thompson Controversy

The news on the street tonight, at least as much as I am concerned is about Fred Thompson and the already initiated attacks from the Left. Apparently, the L.A. Times is reporting that a firm that Thompson used to work for did some lobbying on behalf of a Pro-Choice organization. And, apparently, Thompson was directly involved in working on behalf of this organization. This seems to be a lethal blow to the fledgling Thompson for President Campaign that bills itself as one developed sturdily on strong conservative values…

…Save for the fact that the L.A. Times article is significantly stricken by holes, fails to hold any water and falls victim to being out-witted, out-foxed, and out-reported by a “lowly” blogger. The concerned blog is "Ruminations of a Christian Geek" and its L.A. Times retaliatory piece (which is extraordinary) can be accessed HERE. I highly encourage you to follow the link as the blog is a great example of exactly why people take the time to publish independently.

Without blogs like Ruminations, one might be inclined to take news delivered by big media as ground truth (which is something that I cautioned against during yesterday’s Manifesto (Part One)). One must realize that news can be skewed by the way it is presented. Consider a line graph that depicts great growth (or decline) when the graph is seen at near focus. Step back from the graph and distance depicts the movement of the line up or down as much less dramatic. The L.A. Times article tried to deliver its Fred Thompson story at its maximum level of zoom. When the complete story is considered (and the brevity of the entire issue taken from a distance), Fred Thompson’s participation on behalf of the Pro-Choice organization becomes much less significant. However, I suggest that you simply check out Ruminations- I am not giving the intelligence of their assessment credit by drowning it in my babble.

I will merely, state, however that I think it is a positive indication of just how seriously the Democrats are taking Thompson’s not-yet official campaign when they are already lobbing premature attacks. They realize that once the vehicle that is the Thompson campaign gets to rolling, it will be tough to stop by Republican candidates or Democrats alike. Their only alternative is to attempt to sabotage the campaign in weak tire-slashing manner before it officially launches. And this is the best that they could come up with? Senator Thompson, himself, brushed the issue aside with ease via his Blog. If petty attacks like this are the worst that the opposition can dig up, future sailing may smoother then anticipated.

And, besides wasn’t the L.A. Times informed? It doesn’t matter on whose behalf Senator Thompson lobbied. It’s a voting record like this that does:

Senator Thompson in one Congressional session voted in accordance with the National Right to Life organization on the following issues:

If Thompson’s competition expects to be taken seriously, I suggest they no longer attempt to attack futilely on issues where the Senator is especially strong. As Thompson would surely say, “It just doesn’t make good sense.”

Assessing the Troop Surge as Strategy

Tonight’s blog may be especially lengthy because the Fred controversy was simply the introduction topic. I really wanted to write tonight about the current troop “surge” that is being implemented in Baghdad. I want to assess the tactic for its strategic value. I also want to suggest what I feel would have been a better, more likely successful approach. And, finally, I want to suggest why I feel that the Bush Administration and its key ground commanders were backed into implementing the surge.

First, let me be clear that I feel that the surge has the opportunity to be successful. That being said, my assessment will be, for the most part, negatively critical. This is mostly because I feel that there were better options “available;” available in the sense that we had the personnel available to complete them, but maybe not totally feasible because of the negative response that I think that my option would have garnered from the media and, thus, the American people. I also want to declare that United States military generals are the best at what they do. They have years of experience and advanced education at the doctorate levels. It isn’t likely that the common man would be seriously critical of a surgeon in the act of operating on a brain because the common man’s knowledge level doesn’t warrant such an opportunity. In the same sense, the lay man shouldn’t expect to know better then specifically trained military generals. What I suggest tonight is simply based on my limited perspective.

With those preludes aside, I think it is unwise to describe a troop buildup as normal doctrine in a counter insurgency affair. I have seen it deemed as such. This is simply untrue. There is a specific method practiced in dealing with guerrilla warfare- a method that I am sure General Petraeus is quite familiar with.

From my knowledge, the best possible way to quell an insurgency is via a method known in the military as Foreign Internal Defense. This is the act of delivering specially trained American troops, in relatively small numbers, to embed directly with the local nationality’s defense forces in the effort to encourage and teach them how to defeat the enemy directly. The United States military has a group of individuals who are selected specifically and trained thoroughly for just this action. They are the Army’s Special Forces, the so-called “Green Berets.” The Marines are also developing a group to conduct Foreign Internal Defense; however, their operational status is reported as being not fully capable until October.

To quell the conflict in Baghdad, I feel that we should have increased the number of Special Forces in the capital city. Furthermore, we should have taken those already stationed in lesser-violent areas of the country and directed their participation to Baghdad. Leave the conventional troops, for the most part, at their big bases. As I know all too well from past experience, even the best of conventional troops have trouble dealing with foreign militaries with the precision that Special Forces offers.

Allow the Special Forces to complete the mission that they were designed to do. They thrive on this stuff. Many of them speak the language and they have the cultural skills to permit them to get the most from their Iraqi counter parts.

The Special Forces soldiers could then fight beside their Iraqi brethren and defeat the enemy where its loss will have the most impact- in Baghdad.

This is the option that I advocate. I feel that the troop surge may be a military blunder. Conventional forces are great at a wealth of activities. For the most part, Foreign Internal Defense is not one of them. Instead of developing Iraqi forces to their greatest ability, conventional forces are more likely to take the lead in killing the enemy. In the short term, this is an effective means of defeating opposition, but – in the long term – it can be unfortunately counter productive. Iraqi citizens need to see pro-Iraqi forces taking the fight to the enemy. The Special Forces have proved since their development from the Office of Strategic Services in World War Two, through Vietnam with the actions of MACV-SOG that they are exceptionally equipped at exactly this mission.

However, the beauty of the Special Forces is also their downfall in this case. They have a small footprint. They rather not take center stage. And, the Bush Administration needed a new strategy in Iraq that would be obviously evident to all outsiders. They needed visible activity. The troop surge provided such a prospect. The troop surge works well in the sense that one can point to tangible numbers and data. They can suggest that an increase in X amount of troops has directly led to a decrease in X amount of enemy action. The secrecy of the Special Forces mission would not afford the administration such a publicity-concerned value.

This is all simply based on the little that I know of the military. I don’t claim to be an expert. In fact, I trust the judgment of generals like David Petraeus. Unfortunately, I feel that the General’s hands may have been tied in this situation by a media that, in my mind, occasionally digs too deep and a public that simply knows too much.