Sunday, November 23, 2008

Outside Looking In

I thought this article, written by a French soldier serving with the 101st in Afghanistan, was pretty cool. We often forget the military culture shock that foreign military professionals have when they get a close-up view of the US military and our troops. In a way, the deep impression that we make is a double-edged sword; while the impression is almost always singularly positive, it creates the impression that we can do anything, from a tactical/operational point of view. This sometimes generates resentment when we don't produce results right away, because of the mindset that "they could easily do it if they really wanted to, so they must be blowing us off."
The Mungadai are butting up against this in our advisory role. We're so rich, so tactically capable and logistically "fat" in comparison to our Iraqi brethren, that failures to produce results on the most outlandish requests is viewed as a willful disregard of our counterparts' priorities.
Some of the French author's views are chuckleworthy:
Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine - they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them - we are wimps, even the strongest of us - and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.
I'm sure that most people are shocked when they discover that the top priority for the vast majority of US troops, when given some downtime, is to hit the gym. The greatest source of frustration for most of the guys serving in remote COPs is the lack of PT venues. Still, no one is so built that
Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest.
Obviously, the Army gets a "T" in training training troops on the principle of "shut up and suck it up." I don't think any of our guys lack for discomfort after putting in 12-16 hours in full battle rattle. I start the day at right around 6' tall, I end it at about 5'7". At the end of the day, when I take off the kit, my decompressing back sounds like the pneumatic pump of the MRAP door.

To our outside observer, the support of the American people for their troops is preeminently evident:
Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location : books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission.
Some of our author's comments would be considered a left-handed compliment:
And combat ? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all
Hmmm. Not sure too many of our senior NCOs would concur with that, as they constantly remind our troops that "you ain't Rambo, knucklehead."

I remember that Jean Larteguy, French paratrooper and war correspondent, author of The Centurions, wrote in his autobiography that the French soldier will heal from his wounds much faster than his American counterpart, because the Frenchman knows that he has no one to really depend on but himself, while the American knows that he can wait for his military to help him heal. Not sure why that quote popped into my mind on reading the article; probably because I don't read a whole lot of literature authored by French soldiers.

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