Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer

Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer
They sent me here just to watch...

Thursday, April 28, 2011


On a battlefield somewhere in the near future, a battalion commander and his sergeant major contend not only with the enemy,  but with the ongoing  battle among technology, terminology, and tradition.  In this narrative, they deal with  those things that are and those that might be.

“Where’s that resupply?”  the CO barked.
“Supply officer says its on the way” the Sergeant Major quickly replied.
“I can’t sit here all day waiting on fuel and ammunition”  LtCol Lowspeed kicked the tires on his HMMWV.  “Get me the XO!”
“Who?” the driver responded.  Lance corporal Newage looked towards the SgtMaj.
“Go get the Command and Staff Integrated Process Team leader,” the SgtMaj slapped Newage on the back, “and hurry.” 
“IPT leader up.  Aye aye Sergeant Major.”
As Newage hustled off to a group of vehicles camouflaged in a nearby draw, SgtMaj Evenkeel wondered to himself if his touching of Newage was appropriate.
Corporal Digital stuck his head out of the vehicle.  “The CG’s guidance is on the street sir.”
“Send someone back to get it.”
“I’ve got it right here sir.  The graphics are better if you view it from the screen, but I can print a text only copy if you want.”
“Just give me the words.”  Lowspeed looked at the SgtMaj as if he were the custodian of too many unanswered questions.
“You’ll loose the interactive sections and the hypertext links won’t show up in a printed version.”
“Just print it!”  Lowspeed wasn’t angry with his communicator, but with someone or something he just couldn’t touch.
“This may answer your question about the resupply colonel.”  Evenkeel pointed to the messages scrolling across a monitor mounted in the back of the Hummer.
“JITARS forecast indicates that class I, III, and V supplies to arrive within 90 minutes.  Expect high customer satisfaction.”  The words bitterly rolled out of the commander’s mouth.  “High customer satisfaction?  Do I look like a satisfied customer?  We should have been continuing the attack over an hour ago!”
“Its the way that JITARS defines satisfaction, sir.”
Lowspeed turned his head slightly away from the screen and glared at the SgtMaj knowing that he did not want to hear the rest of the story.
“If we can continue our mission within 30 minutes of delivery of supplies, we are considered a satisfied ...”
Lowspeed cut him off, “That’s a function of what we can do not what this miracle of combat service support does.  When it was just plain old resupply we could still be moving 30 minutes later.  If we could have packed the extra two days of supply in our own trains we would be moving now!”
“Not economical sir.  The Just In Time Ammunition and Resupply System is designed to get the right amount of supplies to the right place at the right time.  Our actual consumption rates and forecasted missions are used to compute the type, time, and quantity of our resupply.  JITARS adjusts lead times all the way back to the factory. ”
“And what about redundancy in supply planning?”  Lowspeed’s frustration was increased with every textbook answer he heard.

“Too costly.  The folks that monitor the Service Support Home Page said that they got very few negative comments when they proposed this system so it was fielded without a pilot program.”  The SgtMaj realized that informing Lowspeed that he could have registered objections on-line was neither resolving the current situation, nor calming his commander.
“All battalion icons show DITCOO sir.”  The corporal rotated the flat screen towards his commander.  Text entered by the nearby combat operations center scrolled across the bottom of the display.  The operations clerk’s narrative entries were as timely as the graphics which updated automatically every twelve seconds.
“Dit who...”
“Sorry  sir,” Evenkeel jumped in.  Defense in the course of the offense.”
“That’s an old Soviet term.  What’s it doing on my screen!”
“One of those Department of Defense Objectives--never mind that acronym--that came in last week.    Seems that a large contingent of Former Soviet Union officers training in our service schools complained that our acronyms were not culturally diverse enough.  This was one of the new NATO concessions.” 
“One of...”  Lowspeed was a mixture of emotion.  He was thrilled to finally be familiar with some of the jargon his Marines were using, but equally distraught that the only terms he understood were those of his former adversaries.   Lowspeed stared at the digital graphics that represented his battalion.  “We’re stopped alright.”
“Yes sir.”
“Where is that Naval Surface Fires guy?  We can at least keep up our momentum with supporting arms.”  Lowspeed had done the best he could to put his frustration with the resupply situation behind him so he could focus on what he could do.
“Sir, the message here says that we have no reimbursable man-years for Naval Surface Gunfire support. “  The corporal handed Lowspeed a printed copy of the digital message.
Lowspeed said nothing but looked again to the SgtMaj for explanation.
“It made it into the POM, but had to be cut in this year’s budget.  At the time, nobody expected us to be fighting in this place or in this strength.    HQMC is considering cutting some other programs to get us some naval gunfire, but too many of the programs have fenced their money.  When we projected our probable task organization into work breakdown structures, the Naval Surface folks were not in our current workyear contract.”  The SgtMaj stopped when Lowspeed’s jaw dropped a good six inches below the rest of this face.
“When did money start driving operations?  I can live with the endless budget crunch during training, but this is the real thing.”
The CO’s question was rhetorical, but Evenkeel missed the intended sarcasm.  “I think we started the transition back in Somalia.  We dispatched MPF ships based upon what we could pay for out of Saudi Desert Storm funds, instead of purely operational requirements.  Everyone talked about mission creep over there, but I think budget creep was more prevalent.”
Lowspeed heard the words, but his thoughts were here with the current operation.  Frustration was written on every feature of his face.  How could he get things working again.  What did it take to get back on the move.
“There’s Newage.”  The SgtMaj pointed to a Marine double timing towards their HMMWV.
“Where’s the XO!”  Lowspeed shouted with an emotional mixture of anger that his second in command was not immediately on the scene and a sense of hope that the same individual could make sense of this technological chaos.

“Who?  Oh, he’s on the way sir.  He had to run the last two courses of action through the MAGTF Synergy Modeling System. Everything had to go through both the Operational Maneuver from the Sea and the Continued Operations Ashore paradigms.  They're still two separate programs and the data rights are owned by two separate companies.  I don't think we'll see the integrated upgrade for a couple more years. ”  Lance Corporal Newage was  out of breath and it was all that he could do to give his commander the reason for his delay.  He  doubled over with his hands on his knees, took a quick breath and looked at the commander.   “Bad news sir.”
“Well what is it son?”  The SgtMaj reached to straighten the young Marine so he could catch his breath.
“Alpha Company has been right sized by two sir.” 
Lowspeed was torn between compassion and anger.  He had been through he first three days of this operation without anything more than cuts and bruises.  If he had lost Marines because they were out of ammo, he would rip somebody’s head off.
“What happened?” Evenkeel prompted.
Newage recounted what he had been told gasping for air between every few words.  “Manpower competency pulled them out sir.  Something about improper Racial, Ethnic, and Demographic balance on the front lines.  RED imbalance, that’s what it was.  The recruiters can’t meet their quota in those areas.  There was something about a T2P2 equation, and it sounded like their replacements would get shipped to boot camp a couple weeks early.” 
“Two weeks early to boot camp.  I need fighters on the ground now.  How do they make these decisions!”
“They were NVA sir.”
NVA?  What are you talking about.  We’re not even near Southeast Asia and these were our Marines.”  Lowspeed stared down Newage as if he was purposely antagonizing his commander.
“No sir.  NVA, you know, no value added.
“A squad leader and a machinegunner.”  The SgtMaj quickly translated he names on the written message that accompanied Newage into terms of combat effectiveness.
Lowspeed’s relief that the Marines were still alive was quickly dissipated by the rationale for their evacuation.  “No value added?  Where do they get this stuff?”
“It came about with VAGUE shortly after the second government shutdown of ‘96. “  The SgtMaj had replied instinctively once again missing his commander’s cynicism.
Vague?  Don’t tell me we really have something called vague?”
“Yes sir--Value Added Government & Uniformed Employees.  Couldn’t use non-essential because of the unknown adverse emotional factor on the affected personnel.  Nobody could figure out what to substitute for non-essential, so they just called everyone else VAGUE.”
“What?”  Lowspeed couldn’t believe he was hearing this babble from his own sergeant major.  “And I suppose the two Marines we lost in Alpha feel good about themselves now.”
“The government really upset a lot of folks by saying that they were non-essential during the shutdowns.  Not my words colonel--read the message traffic.”
“Message from the ACE sir.  They want in the fight.”   The corporal shouted from the HMMWV.  “I’ll print it for you sir.”
“All right!  That will get us moving again.  Get the Air Officer on the hook.  I’ve got some targets for him!”    The thought of getting the air combat element of the task force into this part of the fight had Lowspeed’s fullest attention.
“You might want to read the message first colonel.”  Evenkeel did not want to terminate the CO’s temporary elation, but facts were facts.
“The commander of the air combat element at Cherry Point wants to tie into our operations via distributed simulation.  Seems that their budget has been severely cut and they can’t go to CAX this year.  He thought this would be his best opportunity for an AGILE.” 
“A what?”
“An  AGILE sir.  You know,  Air Ground Interface in a Livefire Environment.”
Lowspeed mustered only a thousand mile stare.
“They’ll pay for data transmission costs.”  The SgtMaj added hoping to revive his boss from his dysfunctional state.
“General’s enroute to our pos sir.” 
“No I don’t need  you to print that one.”  Lowspeed replied to Digital.  “I’ve got a few things to tell him.  We’ll get this mess straightened out for sure now.”
Evenkeel wasn’t sure which mess Lowspeed was referring to, but was content that the CO had snapped out of his depression.
“Message from Alpha Company coming in sir.”  Came the voice from the hummer.
“There’s the general’s helo,” the SgtMaj pointed to a low flying aircraft.
“That’s not a Marine chopper.”  Lowspeed barked back.
“No sir, the MAGTF had to contract for secure area air transport.  Osprey program cost too much.  You can only do so many dozen service life extension programs for the 46, so the solution was to outsource some of our vertical lift requirements in country.   He can’t go forward of our position though.”
“A squad from Alpha has resumed the attack sir.”  Digital was shouting over the noise of the chopper.
“Find out what’s going on”  Lowspeed shouted back as he moved out to meet the general.
There was an awkward exchange of salutes and handshakes as the Marines moved away from the rotorwash.
“Great job taking those last two objectives colonel.”  The general walked with Lowspeed while the SgtMaj went another direction with his MAGTF counterpart.
“Yes general, we’re just getting the reports now.”  Lowspeed was praying that Digital had figured out what was going on.  How did the general already know about it”
“I thought you guys didn’t have enough support to continue the fight,”  the MAGTF commander said as he put his hand on Lowspeed’s shoulders, “looks like your Marines found a way.”
Corporal Digital started to hand Lowspeed the report.
“What’s it say,”  the CO asked.
“ Corporal Bigguns took over second squad after the rightsizing sir.  He got enough ammo from the other two squads in his platoon to run a security patrol out towards the two objectives.  He detected the enemy  moving towards our lines but he could tell they were not in an offensive mindset.  He caught them in a paradigm shift.  He attacked immediately and had one of his men e-mail the lieutenant on one of the hand held units.  In about fifteen minutes the platoon joined Bigguns and his Marines and took both positions, including about 30 prisoners.   Graphics are on the screen now at the vehicle sir.” 
“They have VTC equipment with them don’t they colonel?”
Digital read Lowspeed’s uncertainty with the general’s question.  “Yes general,” the corporal answered with boot camp crispness, “the video teleconferencing and teleinterrogation link to the general’s intelligence officer was being established when I printed this message.  The general’s headquarters will have to retransmit the interrogation to other stations.  We’re still not outfitted with the multistation interactive teleconferencing network.  Two of the enemy were instrumented and Biggins thinks he recovered one of the units before the frequencies were zeroed.”
How does he know all this?  Lowspeed’s silent question required no immediate answer but the general’s did.
“You’ll get plugged in with the air guys by day’s end won’t you?”
Digital’s almost motionless nod indicated that it was technically possible.
“Yes general.  We’re on it.”  Lowspeed wasn’t quite sure what obligation he had just made, but corporal Digital was already at the HMMWV breaking out some gear.
“Resupply’s here,” Newage shouted towards the general and the CO, not quite sure of the proper way to interrupt their conversation, but confident that Lowspeed needed to know.
“Just in time.  You can get back to business now.” 
There was no time to belabor the resupply point now.  The hint of sarcasm in the general’s voice was enough consoling.  In less than half an hour his unit would be on the move again.  With the audacity displayed by corporal Bigguns, the battalion might regain most of the momentum it had lost over the past couple of hours.
“As soon as your guys are ready to hold up for a while, I’m going to stop back by and pin a medal on Bigguns.  My guys should be able to write the thing from the network transmission file copies and the instrumented overlays.  I want to do it soon though--while I’m still wearing my Marine hat.  This looks like it will turn into a JTF mission in a few days, but I don’t think we will do the UN shuffle this time.  I have to get to third battalion right away or I’ll end up paying premium time for the flight.”   The general shook Lowspeed’s hand, slapped him on the back, and departed with one of those gestures that’s intended to be both salute and wave.  “Get back in the fight colonel!”

Moments later the contract helo was over the treeline.  Digital was directing Newage and two other Marines on where to connect an assortment of cables that had been stowed in the commander's vehicle since coming ashore.  Lowspeed had no idea what the additional computer did, but his Marines were installing it quickly and calmly.  Whatever it was that he had just promised the general, Corporal Digital appeared to be making good on it.  For all of the things that had gone wrong today, Lowspeed couldn't help but be amazed with the resourcefulness and competence of his Marines.  I guess I had better get smart on this stuff myself was the concluding thought in his silent dissertation.  He saw his sergeant major off by himself and something didn't look right.
Lowspeed walked towards Evenkeel and confirmed a distinct change in this proud Marine's countenance.  He was hanging his head.  Lowspeed asked with respectful caution, "What's wrong sergeant major?"
"Don't call me that anymore."
"Don't call you what?"  Lowspeed couldn't figure out what Evenkeel was saying.  "Tell me what's wrong."
"Looks like I'm not your sergeant major anymore, sir."
“I didn’t fire you and the general promised you were staying in the battalion as long as I was here.  I’ll put an end to that...”
   “I’m not going anywhere, colonel.  I’m just not the Sergeant Major any more.  I’m the BISECL.”
“The bicycle?”
“Not exactly.  I’m  now the Battalion (Infantry) Senior Enlisted Competency Leader, BISECL sir.”
“Someone redefining a perfectly good organization to create the illusion of progress?”
“Think so,”  Evenkeel perked up a little with Lowspeed’s humor.

“Well Sergeant Major, you’ve noticed today that I’m not quite caught up on my terminology or technology.  You’ll just have to bear with your old title ‘til I can figure everything else out.  By the way, we’re moving out in ten minutes.  Your still riding with the CO aren’t you?”
“CO, now there’s an outdated term.”  Evenkeel rubbed his chin as he walked back to the hummer.
“Outdated.  What do you mean outdated.  They didn’t come up with some...”
“I’ll tell you about it on the objective colonel.”  Evenkeel threw his gear in the vehicle.  “ Move out Marines!”


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