It is refreshing and encouraging to see a military leader put some of the civilian leadership in check and do the hard right (putting his career on the line with this administration) vs. the easy wrong (let the OPSEC violations continue to go unchecked).
Gen. Joseph Votel, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and future commander of U.S. Central Command, sent a letter in early December to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter requesting that the executive branch stop disclosing details of special operator missions for political gain.
Without a doubt, he is focused on what matters and not himself which is a true sign of selfless service. His men will respect the hell out of him for this and walk into the gates of hell and punch the devil if he asks them to do so. Which is needed in the types of missions he will be overseeing.
Recently, the White House announced that approximately 200 special operators were being deployed to the Syrian theater to fight the Islamic State. Secretary of Defense Carter stated to Congress, this “puts everyone on notice. You don’t know at night who is going to be coming into the window.”
But I guess this is what you get when you put non military-respecting community organizers and physicists in charge of our military and not people with true military backgrounds who understand the ramifications of their words and actions.
It is a sad state of affairs for our military when “allowing” them to kill the enemy is considered “good” news.
The Obama administration has loosened the rules of engagement for U.S. forces striking the Islamic State and affiliated groups in Afghanistan, allowing them to target militants just for being associated with the terror network,..
That should be the norm, not the breaking news exception. That is just really sad and disheartening to think that it took the President to allow our men and women serving in a “combat zone” to find, fix, and kill the enemy. I guess the brains in the Whitehouse were not briefed on the primary purpose of the military.
“Now,” a U.S. official told Fox News, “we can kill ISIS in Afghanistan just for wearing the T-shirt or waving their flag.”
It is way past time to “crap or get off the pot” in Afghanistan. Either we are there to kill the enemy and allow Afghanistan to have a chance to succeed and defend themselves or we should not be there. Quit with the half-stepping and do one thing or another.
For those of us who served as ETT’s or PMT’s up to 2009, we worked for Task Force Phoenix. TF Phoenix was headquartered at Camp Phoenix in Kabul. After TF Phoenix I, each succeeding iteration was staffed by a National Guard brigade, augmented with teams gathered from the National Guard and the Regular Army. Bouhammer and I were both on teams that were fielded to augment a National Guard IBCT (Infantry Brigade Combat Team) functioning as TF Phoenix. After Combat Advisor training at Fort Riley… which in later iterations was provided at Fort Polk… teams were deployed and assigned their missions by TF Phoenix as the task force saw fit.
Part of the tent city built on Camp Phoenix to house the influx of troops.
Each team processed in and out of theater, in part, at Camp Phoenix. The teams were then scattered to the winds as they fanned out to train, mentor and fight with their Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police counterparts. Teams from TF Phoenix found themselves in many different locations and situations. We all had our own experiences in disparate places, some of which few other Americans have been to. We worked with and developed relationships with Afghan officers, NCO’s, soldiers and interpreters that few other Americans would. Our experiences varied. But there is a constant in our experiences; Camp Phoenix.
Many of us hated Camp Phoenix. It was overrun with salute-seeking staff officers, fobbits and bull fobbits. It was a place where you found out how little support your task force would actually provide to you. It represented the weaknesses of the Task Force; the inability to supply or even advocate for the teams. Once we left Camp Phoenix, everywhere we went, we were strangers. Strange strangers. We operated in battlespace “owned” by… usually… Regular Army brigades who viewed us as potentially “gone native.” We had to observe their rules for communications, movement and coordination. Sometimes, we were told, in effect, that we couldn’t operate in elements as small as we were because we didn’t have the vehicles to meet the movement minimums. Some “battlespace owners” would count ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces… the Army and Police) vehicles, so that if we moved with our counterparts we could travel.
We also depended upon those “battlespace owners” for everything from shelter to food, maintenance and supplies; especially ammunition. One would think that these support relationships would be easy; hey, we’re all Americans and we share a mission. Right? One would think. Teams had widely varying experiences in this regard. For me, TF Gladius, led by the 82nd’s Division Special Troops Battalion and headquartered at Bagram, was a great unit to work with most of the time. We had good relationships with their S-2, S-3, S-4 and S-6. Bagram’s finance office worked hard to support us. Their contracting office treated us with equanimity. We had a place to stay when we needed, maintenance and ammunition and a decent working relationship with Gladius and Bagram. We were lucky.
My last few months were spent an the area owned by another brigade and the situation for advisors there was very different.
Horror stories abound of bad situations between advisor teams and “land-owning” units. This is part of what drove GEN McChrystal to disband TF Phoenix and make each brigade responsible for fielding and supporting its own advisor teams. I believe that while the General had good intentions, the actual results were mixed to poor. Green on blue went through the roof, for one thing. Advisors in the land-owning brigades were given much less training than previously. There is more that could be said, but the end result was that TF Phoenix came to an end with the 48th IBCT, Georgia National Guard being the ones to turn out the lights in late 2009. Camp Phoenix became something other than the headquarters of TF Phoenix. No one after that point would view the camp as what those of us who served as part of TF Phoenix would.
Camp Phoenix was also the home of Rambo. Rambo was an Afghan guard who was absolutely famous throughout each iteration of TF Phoenix. Rambo was always there.
Rambo (The Kabul Slugger) with a new bat to guard the front gate of Camp Phoenix
He hated the Taliban, and the stories of why he did were tragic. He had single-handedly foiled attacks on the ECP (Entry Control Point), the main gate of Camp Phoenix, including dragging a suicide car bomber from his seat before he could trigger his explosives. He wore patches from every unit that had ever been there on every bit of velcro space that his gifted uniform possessed. Rambo is a legend who surpasses the movie legend he was named after.
Mushroom cloud from the Vehicle-borne IED that blew up after Rambo pulled the bomber from the vehicle.
The front gate area of Camp Phoenix after Rambo stopped the bomber from getting inside the gate.
For those of us who served as Combat Advisors between 2003 and 2009, Camp Phoenix was one of the first places we saw when we got there and one of the last places we had to go before we left Afghanistan. It was a place where you could get a hot meal, some sleep and even some cigarettes, dip, or other comfort items which were not available “downrange”. I once commanded a convoy from Jalalabad to Camp Phoenix that was conveniently timed to not only take care of business but also catch a USO show featuring Robin Williams, Kid Rock and Lance Armstrong. One of our young security troops was a huge Kid Rock fan. I got an education on how talented Kid Rock really is.
Robin Williams performing for the troops at Camp Phoenix in December, 2007.
It’s only been a few years, but Robin Williams is dead and Lance Armstrong is discredited and reviled. Camp Phoenix has been turned over to the Afghans. The world changes, and sometimes the places we know change as well. Regardless of what your experience was at Camp Phoenix, regardless of how you hated the fobbitry and lack of support, it’s a place that our tiny club of Combat Advisors shares. We can still see it in our mind’s eye, and it’s a common touch point for us.
Give it a thought today. Remember those you served with and think about reaching out to one of them.
When you look for what makes great armies great, the existence of a strong, professional NCO Corps is one of the difference-makers to look for. The campaigns of the past decade-plus have not made the U.S. Army’s NCO Corps stronger, which would be what you would expect to find after protracted conflict. You would expect a hardening effect; the ability to cut through the bullshit and get right to what is important, the ability to put together effective small teams as if it were second nature, and to focus on the standards that matter. The role of the NCO… and the responsibilities traditionally handled by NCO’s… have diminished. These unplanned, undesired changes in the role and functions of NCO’s have been partially the responsibility of those who led the NCO Corps… the failure to adapt the NCO Education System to the realities of the war being fought, for instance. Risk aversion and the ability to micromanage via technology have drawn officers to over-control; dis-empowering junior leaders, commissioned as well as enlisted. Training cycles were centrally planned to a great extent, with brigades or above dictating schedules and tasks. Many battalion staffs yearned for a DMETL (Deployment Mission Essential Task List) which would guide the training decisions that would go into planning Sergeant’s Time as much as they yearned for Sergeant’s Time as a meaningful part of the training schedule.
Some theater-focused training improved greatly during the progress of the campaigns. Much time, however, was wasted on tasks that everyone knew were useless. The dis-empowerment of the NCO Corps took place as time was wasted on training that was either inadequate, inappropriate or inconsequential.
Apparently, there is a push out there towards re-implementing some fundamental practices that we’ve gotten away from. An NCO forum has made the recommendation to mandate Sergeant’s Time. The linked article provides an adequate description of Sergeant’s Time, so for those of us who have never had this be a part of our training lives, we can consider the playing field level. The article also makes a strong case for why Sergeant’s Time is beneficial… perhaps even critical… to training successful units. I agree with all of the reasoning.
It’s a start, but only a start.
As was mentioned above, there are things that help guide what those sergeants choose to spend that precious Sergeant’s Time on. Centralized control of training has damaged these processes over more than a generation of young NCO’s, and that’s going to make it harder to get back to where we were. Sergeants used to drive training. They drove training by being an integral part of defining what tasks needed to be trained. Sergeants helped break down the commander’s METL (Mission Essential Task List) into the sub-tasks that supported the unit tasks. Each headquarters would tell its subordinate units what the METL was for the large unit, and each subordinate unit would then propose a supporting METL to that headquarters. So, if the brigade commander foresees a need to be able to move towards an enemy and attack it, then he would expect his subordinate units to select tasks as part of their METL that would support his intention to be skilled at attack, including the movement required to conduct an attack and the things required before an attack is initiated, such as reconnaissance. When the higher headquarters approved the METL, then the role of the NCO was initiated.
NCO’s took apart the METL and broke it down into supporting collective and individual tasks. They cross-referenced these to identify “high-payoff” training; training that developed skills that would support multiple collective tasks or even multiple METL tasks. By being honest with themselves, NCO’s could choose where to spend that valuable time to develop or improve their unit’s proficiency, and its ability to support what the commander saw as being essential for mission success. We have moved away from this model over the course of the past decade-plus. Sergeant’s Time is a great idea… an essential idea… but what powered Sergeant’s Time is what needs to be reestablished and strengthened; the NCO’s role in defining the very training schedule which would provide that time.
This is a terrible tragedy, and a full investigation is needed. No matter how the investigation turns out I think it will be bad either way. The bottom line is one of three things happened; either there was a US JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) trained warfighter with the Afghan forces who called in fire on he wrong location, or the AC-130 mistakenly hit the wrong target, or the worse possible scenario is we actually trusted an Afghan to call in deadly accurate fire onto the hospital.
“The Afghan forces called in for fire to support them because they were under direct fire,” Army Gen. John Campbell, the chief of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday.
We would not trust the Afghan medics to put on a band-aid, so I surely would not trust them to call in “the rain” onto a target. I would rather trust Stevie Wonder to drive me through Manhattan. They should only be calling in their own air support flown by Afghan pilots, not US pilots.
Until we know the whole story, I have to assume and hope (as sad as it is to say) that this was mistaken location or aircraft targeting by US forces and not that we trusted Afghan forces to confirm, clear and coordinate a close air support mission.
In the case of SFC Martland, it is truly disgusting because in the Army we teach and are taught that we should all do the HARD RIGHT instead of the EASY WRONG. This is what separates the sheepdogs from the sheep. Standing up for what is right and having the courage and intestinal fortitude to do it. Trust me it is not easy and many times, not possible. Our soldiers are put in the middle of a rock and a hard place when they see something as horrific as child rape and abuse happening, or even soldier male on male rape happen. And also know that they are told by all levels “it isn’t our job to install our values into their culture” and to know that if they offend, humiliate and piss off the same Afghans who’s protection our vulnerable soldiers depend on for force protection could cause an American’s death.
It doesn’t take long in country to realize that the time a person has left there won’t make a squat of a difference to how the place turns out or how the people there act. There is an old Afghan saying, “Americans may have the watches, but Afghans have the time”. They know they can wait us out; they know their country has been at war longer than our country has been in existence.
The situations that guys like SFC Martland, LCpl Buckley and countless others have found themselves in, is almost unimaginable. Even though our forces are not there to instill our way of life, our western values, etc., our soldiers are still human beings. It does not matter what political party someone belongs to, what religion they have (if any), or what part of the country they were raised in. Respecting human life and protecting the innocent is a basic characteristic of a sane person. It is against our DNA to take another human life, and for anyone with a conscious whom is not an evil animal, to abuse and molest child is not conceivable. Our warfighters at all ranks and ages from the private to the most senior leaders see this stuff if they are anywhere around Afghan forces or the public. What do you expect a soldier like SFC Martland do when a mother brings her young son to him that has been raped and the mom herself beaten for complaining about it. To make it worse, these horrible acts were done by a public official who is entrusted to protect the innocent people and this is supposed to be a person that a soldier is mentoring.
How do you look evil in the eye like that and not let it affect you? How do you act like it never happened? How cold-hearted do you have to be to ignore this type of evil? If you ask me, this is the type of soldiers we DON’T WANT. I want and I expect our military to have compassion for those that are innocent. That is what keeps them human, that is what keeps them focused on what is important in life. They are not stormtroopers or SS Nazis or robots, they were human beings before they stepped up to defend out country, and they hopefully will be humans after.
Had SFC Martland never taken action and a “investigative” film crew were to go to Afghanistan and film this attack and then film SFC Martland ignoring it, the American people, Mainstream Media, Hollywood and probably the administration would “take action” and do their best to shame any soldier that let something like this happen. Based on history and their actions to date, I can guarantee you that is exactly what would happen. So he was damned if he did or damned if he didn’t.
There are stories from my time in Afghanistan that I could bore you with of American soldiers doing the HARD RIGHT with Afghans security forces that caused the soldiers to be investigated, have marks put on their careers and negative actions taken against them by their superiors. When I talk with people, or do interviews and say “The American People will never be able to comprehend how the Afghans live”, it is these type of incidents I am thinking of at the time.
I belong to several private groups on Facebook and other social media outlets where I have seen multiple comments from people whom have NEVER been there say what they would do and how they would never let this happen. To be honest, they are talking out of their ass and doing nothing more than “Monday-morning quarterbacking”. Until someone is there and dealing with all the factors and issues while being in country, they have no idea what or how they would act. So I ask anyone reading this, before you obtain a “holier than thou” attitude with your “expert” opinion; just take a knee, drink water and STFU.
If you haven’t seen it, I suggest checking out The Fighting Season and learning a little more about what you absolutely won’t see in the news at all. Produced by Ricky Schroeder, this documentary series spends time on the ground in Afghanistan in current times as our military is drawing down and preparing to pull out of country for good…for now.
As anyone is aware, there is no news coming out of Afghanistan, not because there is no news to report, but because the MSM doesn’t care, doesn’t see a story and doesn’t think it is worth it. However, we still have young men and women there EVERY SINGLE DAY fighting and getting shot and wounded to support and continue our efforts for the last 14 years.
This series follows along with a platoon from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (a unit I fought along with in 2006-2007) and with 2/504th Airborne Battalion out of the 82nd Airborne Division and a Police Mentoring team in Afghanistan. It may have been 8 years since I was last there as a soldier (5 years since I was there as a military contractor) but watching this brings it all back. It was like I never left, as the negotiations, the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Army, the people, the scenery, the dirt are no different than they were since the last time I was there.
From the casual observer it probably looks like not much has progressed over the years and for some parts of the country and the military and police I am sure that is the case. We used to say “two steps forward, one step back”, and it probably looks worse than that. However if what I saw in this series in an indication of the entire country and it’s forces then I can tell you a lot of progress has been made. Afghan progress is not the same pace as American progress, nor will it ever be. You can’t measure them against out standards, just like you can’t measure life in Hawaii against life in New York City.
The 6-part series gives the viewer a small glimpse of the life of the every day soldier in Afghanistan today. From the Infantryman in a patrol on the ground to a Battalion Commander trying to plan a operation and his staff going through MDMP (Military Decision Making Process).
They are not long episodes and are worth the time to watch. Educate yourself, do more than wear a flag shirt on the 4th, and share patriotic memes on Facebook on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. You don’t have to go through Basic Training, you don’t have to live in the suck, you don’t even have to break a sweat. Just watch and educate yourself. Of course you need DirectTV or a friend with it to see it right now. Hopefully it comes out on other channels soon or at least NetFlix.