Saturday, July 24, 2004

Surrealism I

I received two emails damning me for my apparent support of the caste system I described in Kuwait. In my previous post I merely stated that Kuwait was a pleasant place to visit as a US soldier. I did not state that I believe or disbelieve their form of societal controls is good or bad. It is a complicated circumstance in Kuwait. I suppose the bottom line is that folks there seem to accept things as they are. TCN’s continue to willingly move there to work even though they are in essence the lowest rung on the social and legal ladder. Mothers continue to insist that their daughters abide by the social norms for women even though women are without most of the rights enjoyed by western women. I do not and did not judge their system. I simply described it.

I suppose that my previous post meshes well with my thoughts here. It is a basic dichotomy that Americans support the stationing of troops in Kuwait and the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 and oppose systems equally restrictive in places like South Africa. There is really little difference in apartheid in South Africa and the system in Kuwait. In each system one group benefits from the labor of others. In each instance one group enjoys legal privileges and protections not enjoyed by others. It is a form of surrealism to consider how one system is accepted and another rejected.

A few notes before I continue. I have been asked why I have toned down my political observations. It is simple and complicated. I do not fear retribution of ill treatment. If there is something that must be said I will say it. There will come a time some day for me to reflect and ponder on the "whys and hows" of all of this. I do not believe I have the time right now to properly think on these things. Also, there is the fact that I am with people 24 hours a day that go out and make sacrifices, large and small. There is a time to ask why and there is a time to accomplish the task at hand. So as I find time to write and post my topics will be, well rather boring observations of the world around me. I will leave commentary, hypothesizing and opining to a latter day.

I will not discuss a lot about what I do either. I really do not want my blog to become about my life and me. I think that writing about observations over the next few months might assist future readers in grasping the full meaning of the opinions I will eventually express. Where I find it impossible to tell the story of my observations without fully excluding me as the participating observer I will endeavor to minimize my role.

It is fascinating how much things have changed in Iraq in just a few months. It is amazing how much the US military has changed here. I left an army here that was a fully arrayed army of invasion. I find now a well-entrenched army of occupation. The differences in those two configurations are significant.

The army of invasion of my memory was hot, dirty, uncomfortable, on edge. The atmosphere was very much wild west in nature. All of the manuals and books on how to fight a war go out the window soon after bullets begin flying. War has always been thus.
Many people mistakenly assume that military men are warmongers. This is of course not true at all. We are much like anyone else. Those few that are true warriors by nature enjoy the opportunity to escape from the text bound rules of peacetime. The horrible costs of war are the only things that prevent a man of conscience from being a seeker of battle.
During every war technology, tactics and terrain force men to devise new and innovative ways of accomplishing their missions. This is exciting and challenging. This tests one’s full intellect, skill, resourcefulness and creativity. It is exciting and exceptionally terrifying, especially for those that make decisions and give commands. General Lee said it best, "it is good that war is so terrible, else we would grow to love it". I cannot think of a truer statement to describe the reality. In a very real way the love/hate relationship is a dichotomy creates a very surreal situation.

The army that I left was filled with innovation, creativity and resourcefulness. The old peacetime rules were abandoned immediately when it was found they no longer made sense.
To the casual observer I suppose the first sign was universal modification of uniforms. First Sergeants have busied themselves for years ensuring that troops wore their field gear in just such a way. Everything was standard, everything taped down just so. Command Sergeants Majors patrolled field sites enforcing these standards. Primarily because that entire rank group has long ago abandoned their primary role as chief trainer but also because these folks have little else of importance to do.

All of that standardized nonsensical uniformity was discarded soon after bullets began to fly. The equipment a soldier has to carry to survive is heavy enough. The desert is very hot and unforgiving. Soldiers began to wear what war needed.

Another big change that was quickly adapted as a grassroots effort was additional armor for vehicles. In very short order one began to observe vehicles of all makes and intents outfitted with homegrown add-on armor. Heavy weapons were mounted to vehicles that no peacetime book ever intended. People began to do what needed to be do in order to survive and win.
Leadership began to change also. Many a young captain with six to eight years in the service never previously had the opportunity to really lead. By that I mean the opportunity and chance to make momentous decisions that would result in life or death, success of failure. Many of these decisions were made in circumstances that did not match the peacetime textbook solution. It was an exiting time. There was a mission to be accomplished but no real clear rules on how to do it. There were simply a lot of young folks out there figuring it out day to day, using whatever training they had before but more importantly they used their individual skills and intellect.
Of course all of that is very different now. To be sure there are some elements of chaos involved. However it is a more standardized sort of chaos. It is the sort of chaos that is partially controllable and partially predictable. This of course allows for folks that believe they know best to begin writing rules. It allows for the numerous headquarters weenies at every level to begin doing what they do best; writing copious standard operating procedures for everything.
One can still observe the effects of the "wild west" period. There are still a fair number of joes that spend their days tired, hot and on edge. The modification of vehicles into up armored battlewagons has continued. The fact that the military cannot provide enough factory modified armored humvees will ensure this trend continues. Most joes have avoided a return to peacetime uniform and equipment standards; although the trend toward standardization for the sake of standardization is slowly beginning to take hold.

The most significant change is in the role of leadership at the lowest level; events are less fluid now, they appear more controllable. Technology enables higher commanders to observe and virtually control the actions of team size elements. Since the pace of action has slowed to a circumstance that allows these higher commanders to pick and choose their operations they choose to engage in just as many events as they can personally oversee. There are no more young captains out maneuvering their companies in a chaotic and dispersed environment far from their boss and his control. Thus innovation and creativity have been replaced by control and standardization.

I would be remiss if I did not describe the nature of life of the troops involved. Whereas in the army of invasion troops went for days and weeks without even seeing a tent many troops now live in air-conditioned tent cities. Many live in portable trailers complete with electricity and AC. Where water was at a premium it is not readily available. Shower and latrine facilities are exceptionally nice. There are Exchange (military Walmart) facilities on almost every camp and a couple of very large facilities on the larger camps. Burger King, phones, internet cafes, laundry facilities and even pools (thanks to Saddam) on some camps.

Of course the nicer camps house the majority of the headquarters weenies. These are not the sort to ever seek being dirty or uncomfortable. However, even the camps that house the men that go out each day and do bad things to bad men have most of the amenities described above. Part of what makes this so surreal is the fact that inside the wire there is all the comfort of home, if you removed the oppressive heat and added family members one might think that the location was Fort Bliss Texas, just outside the wire there lurks the danger of the bad men. It is difficult to keep that in perspective. You look around and see soldiers that never leave the wire, living relatively comfortable lives and then realize that this is still a place where people die.
The bad men try as best they might to remind all the HQ weenies that they are supposed to be earning the combat pay they receive but really do not earn. Almost weekly there occurs random mortar attacks on many of the camps. Not really shelling, generally just one or two rounds. They bad guys know that counter battery radar can easily pinpoint their location so more rounds would surely shorten their life expectancy. The rounds are not really well aimed, just sort of in the general direction of the camp. In a large camp with thousands of people it is pretty unlikely that any particular individual will be unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. It is just enough to remind those that never leave the comforts of the camp what is outside waiting on those that do.

That is more than I intended to say on that. I intended to describe more of the bizarre realities here, such as Saddam’s Al Faw Palace and reserved hunting grounds. This place would make any good ole boy that has ever joined a hunting lodge envious. I will do that in a latter post. Amazing stuff really. I hope my words will do justice to the amazement it brought to my mind.

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