Friday, January 14, 2005

Reaction To The "New Yorker" Article – JMO’s in History as Catalysts for Change

In response to yesterday’s posting that provided a Link to the New Yorker article on informal networks of communication arising among our troops in Iraq, I received a fascinating e-mail. Bill Batten is a regular Blog reader and contributor. With his permission, I share the thoughts that he offered yesterday.


Been traveling but wanted to say a special thanks for posting the New Yorker article. It may well be recording a watershed moment in American military history where generational differences, communication developments (internet, quick messenger) and political developments (terrorist/political group actions) all combine to substantially change military and political programs. Now having said all that, as you know, that is the "natural" course of history - where the pre-existing paradigm is no longer valid and a new paradigm is successfully carried forward (albeit with continual tweaking) until it encounters a situation where it, too, no longer works.

In the Civil War it was the rifle's longer range taking precedent over the musket's shorter range. The European style of advancing ranks and point-blank shooting led to senseless slaughter with no tactical advantage. The Union's junior officers of that era were the ones to first recognize and implement a new tactical approach to maximize their advantage over the primarily musket-equipped Confederate forces. Likewise, as Steven Ambrose wrote in his D-Day book, it was the junior officers that improvised and led unaffiliated small groups of men off the beach, up the cliffs and over the top to success at Omaha beach. The younger generation will naturally be the first to question the"established" way and, because they are also the ones on the scene being shot at, will be the ones synthesizing information that leads to tactical changes.

Two quick stories:As you know, I travel a bit and predominately use Southwest Airlines. Two weeks after this past Thanksgiving I was trekking back from Providence and changed planes in Baltimore. I was in the "A" boarding group and was in the line processing onto the plane. As I was passing by the head of the "C" line, I noticed a fifty-something fellow wearing an attractive gold lapel pin. I asked him what did he do to get the attractive pin, expecting to hear "30 years at xyz company" or "belong to abc association". Instead he looked down at his lapel with a non-comprehending look and looked back up to say "it is for my son's death in Iraq". Not knowing what to say, I asked when this happened. "Two weeks ago". Where? "Fallujah - he was with the Marines". I boarded the plane, knowing that this man's family had suffered a great loss.

After meeting that bereaved father in Baltimore, I got on the web and researched the lapel pin. It was a Gold Star Pin. The attached URL shows the pin and the USMC application form.

My father-in-law served in WWII and said there were Blue Star Mothers. The Blue Star Mothers flew blue starred flags on their homes signifying they had a child serving the military.

Second story:
I flew back yesterday from St. Louis via Chicago-Midway. A group of Army men were on the plane. A man in his forties (he later told me he is 46) sat beside me. Turns out these fellows are Illinois National Guardsmen who had just come back from Iraq four days prior and had been given four day family passes before returning to Fort Bragg for what I understood to be the unit's de-briefing/de-compression period before returning home. My seatmate and his wife have a real estate business in the south side of Chicago. They have a fifteen-year-old daughter. He has been deployed for essentially two years. He has 27 years in the service (Army and National Guard) and he is not sticking around for 30. He has already been extended the past year and this is quits for him. His reasoning was that another deployment is inevitable within the next three years for his N.G. unit. He further said his wife has had to shoulder the full brunt of running the family business while also dealing with their daughter's concerns about her dad. He made an interesting comment about Marine reservist units only being deployed 6 months, the Navy and AirForce reservists being deployed 90 to 120 days and Army reservist units being deployed for one year or longer at a time. He was a high-grade sergeant and managed a field kitchen. This jives with anecdotal information regarding reserve units losing men/women to retirements at a rapid rate. It sounds like Washington will have to address this issue sooner rather than later.

Thanks to Bill for taking the time to comment.

As always, I welcome additional thoughts and comments on the issues covered in these postings.


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