Sunday, May 31, 2009

Add a Little Bling... your favorite weapon. Chrome is the ultimate AK-47 accessorizer.

More Pics from the Street

Believe it or not, most of the "wire" pictures on this one were inadvertent.

Pain Is Fleeting, Shame is Forever

Although I can probably be classified as a news junkie, I'm not much of a fan of television news, or television editorial shows that purport to rip their topics from the headlines. Most of the shows have an "I'll yell at you then you yell at me" format that doesn't exactly illuminate the topic. Others are one-sided and these days make no pretense of pushing an agenda rather than examining an issue. In other words, most of the news/current events fare on television is blather or blatant titillation of the target audience (O'Reilly: Tonight we're going to expose how the pornography is ruining America, coarsening our society, and possibly endangering your kids. Here to talk with us about this situation is Jenna Jameson...)
The Dining Facilities (DFACs) here run big screens on either side. Usually on one side they'll have sports and sports highlights shows, across the hall on the other side, they'll show news programs. Usually the Mungadai hit the DFAC as a team, and sit in the neutral middle where the television programming isn't an issue and doesn't intrude. On those rare occasions when I go alone, I'll generally sit on the news side, on the off chance that I'll learn something that I didn't know.
So the last day or two, they've been running repeats of a show where the guest is some shock jock radio personality who decided to get "waterboarded" and is now apparently news because he's decided that waterboarding is definitely, categorically torture.
This is bullshit. I'm not going political here, it's just that words mean things. If one wants to declare waterboarding as abusive, extreme, "enhanced," or uncalled for technique, or argue it should be barred from our (apparently rather limited and limpid) menu of enhanced interrogation techniques, that's fine. But calling waterboarding torture demeans the experience and anguish of those who have undergone real torture, and dilutes the severity of the accusation when we level it against rogue states and dictatorial regimes that employ real, no-shit torture.
But first, a few words about our country's most newly minted and celebrated subject matter expert on what is, and isn't, torture: who came up with this clown? He has no basis to ascertain what real torture is; he looks like the hardest thing he's ever done in his life is, when bravely trying to drop a couple of the forty or fifty extra pounds he lugs around, he took the stairs one time instead of the elevator ("can't keep doing those stairs man; they're torture"). This guy has never known physical privation or hardship, so what does he use a measuring stick to determine the "torture index" of any given endeavor? This guy would think that a paper cut is torturous. He has the musculature of a 12-year old fat kid, and I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't last any longer mano a mano with my 12-year old daughter than he did on the "water board." Actually, I have a daughter who is even younger than 12, but she's a bit of a heller and it wouldn't be fair to Twinkie Boy the disc jockey to put him on the same card as her. The 12-year old is a peace loving flotist who would still roll her eyes and then knock the snot out of this guy.
Second, the guy wasn't waterboarded. I know waterboarding, and that wasn't it.
Third, no one can evaluate the "torture index" of an event if tapping out is an option and you can quit whenever you want, as was the case here. A significant component of torture is the absolute helplessness of the victim to stop the evolution and the power of the torturer to determine how much, how long, and how intense.
I'm not going to even try to generate a laundry list of factors that determine whether an event is torture or not. That's too subjective and it's too contentious right now--and I do think that reasonable people can disagree. Instead, I'll offer an anecdote that greatly informed my personal definition of torture.
Some years ago I was designated as an escort officer for a VIP for a period of about five days. Being an escort officer can really suck, as everything that goes right is transparent to your charge and everything that goes wrong (reservations, transportation, appointments, etc) is obviously your fault. But this one was an honor: I was the escort officer for Senator Jeremiah Denton,RADML (R). Like most real heroes, he was pretty self-effacing and didn't view his actions as a POW in Vietnam, which won him the Navy Cross, to be all that heroic.
Jeremiah Denton was a POW in Vietnam for a little under eight years. During that time, he suffered horrendous torture at the hands of his captors. He was subjected to privations that would probably kill Tinkerbell the disc jockey just thinking about them. In a 1966 North Vietnamese propaganda piece "interview," he negated the credibility of the propaganda by blinking T-O-R-T-U-R-E in morse code as he delivered his scripted lines. And yeah, he was "punished" pretty severely once the NV figured out what he did. Big. Brass. Balls. I'm not going to go into detail about the ways in which he was tortured; his book, When Hell Was In Session, tells the whole story.
But most informative (from a "what is torture" perspective) was his acknowledgment that, if he were forced to go back and do it again, even knowing that his captivity would be followed by (at that time) thirty years of a happy life, he would elect to commit suicide first. Think of the hell that our guys went through. I know that different POWs have different personal definitions of torture; although I think that they all pretty much agree that the United States should eschew its use. But do you think that the Gutsack radio boy would turn away from even one minute of the air time that his "torture" has garnered him? Let alone turning away from the rest of his life before getting back on that table?
I'm telling you, television news is da Devil.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Some Days You're the Bug...

...and some days you're just breakfast. This pictures don't quite do the scene justice, but these wooly fellows definitely knew where they were headed, and definitely didn't want to go there.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Change for the Worse

I recently had the opportunity to go to a maneuver battalion's weekly awards formation. First, it's been a while since I've stood in a long, battalion-sized formation. I've missed it. Really.
In the corresponding timeframe, I've also had occasion to get smart on the regulations for the award of the Combat Action Badge and the (new regulations for) the Combat Infantryman's Badge in order to recognize the achievements of the Mungadai.
I think that there is some bad juju going on here.
The Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) was established by the War Department on 27 October 1943. Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, then the Army Ground Forces commanding general, was instrumental in its creation. He originally recommended that it be called the "fighter badge." The CIB was designed to enhance morale and the prestige of the "Queen of Battle." Then Secretary of War Henry Stinson said, "It is high time we recognize in a personal way the skill and heroism of the American infantry."
In the years since, the CIB has been the primary "been there, done that" ticket stub for an infantryman or SF soldier.
With the advent of the insurgency in the Iraq war, the Army realized that the sacrifice and achievements of non-infantry, even non-combat arms soldiers needed recognition above and beyond the right-sleeve combat patch, and the Combat Action Badge was born. The CAB recognizes soldiers who, although serving in non-combat type jobs, have come under direct fire like unto situations traditionally experienced by infantrymen. Thus clerks, cooks, and mechanics, should they get into a firefight, now have an award that recognizes their combat experience. When the CAB became an authorized device for wear on the uniform, the regulation that delineates the rules for earning and wearing the CAB also modified the rules for the award of the CIB.
Originally, as long as an infantryman was assigned to a brigade-sized element or lower and served in the combat zone, he was awarded the CIB. Now, in order to earn the CIB or CAB, the soldier must "be personally present and under hostile fire" (AR 600-8-22).
This makes sense from a bureaucratic perspective. Once an award is available, it becomes a discriminator for evaluations, jobs, and promotion. Consequently, fraud and abuse will follow, and the bureaucracy must establish policy that will curtail, if not totally prevent, fraud and abuse.
Look at the reg from the perspective of commanding a combat unit. Look at it from running a combat unit in a COIN environment.
Say 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Alpha Company gets in a dust up which meets the prereqs for the award of the CIB (or CAB, if A Co is an armor unit), and after sworn statements and testimony as to the particulars of their firefight are taken they are awarded their highly coveted CIBs (or CABs) on a Sunday afternoon formation with much ado and hailing of their new bona fides as no-shit warriors, certified killers of men, owners of the official combat concert T-shirt. Now, what do you think, as patrols start exiting the wire on Monday morning, the young soldiers (and officers) of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th squads, 1st Platoon, A Co, not to mention 2nd and 3rd Platoons, are focused on when they roll out into the ville? They want to get their shit. Be damned if those slackers from 1st Squad are going to get one up on us. This is not, in my opinion, the way you build a band of brothers.
As Napoleon said,"Give me enough medals, and I'll win any war."
I'm not sure that this is the mindset we're shooting for, as we battle insurgents in a highly populated urban area.
The kids that roll out into Mosul every day, day after day, should be awarded the combat device for the job they do; regardless of whether they, personally, are engaged. They are assuming a huge risk on a daily basis. In many ways, making contact with the enemy is actually desirable; for once, you get to engage the bad guys in a stand up fight, instead of worrying about exploding trash piles, push carts, 2-liter soda bottles and vehicles. Not to recognize each and every one of the troops that roll out of the wire every day, expecting to make contact or be engaged in some way, shape, or form, is a travesty.
The situation is akin to an old SF or LRRP guy in Vietnam, that spends his days snooping and pooping the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, calling in airstrikes from B-52's on lucrative targets, and who after a year of living at the tip of the spear goes home without a CIB because he was never "personally present under hostile fire."
That's just crazy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

West Side Story

We usually work the west side of Mosul. This morning (officially at the ass-crack of dawn) we were on the east side of the river looking west. Here, you can see the Ras al Koor neighborhood of Old Town (aka Mungadai stomping grounds) abutting the river.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

DIY Municipal Electricity

For whatever reason, the home-grown power grid fascinates me every time we roll out.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's a Bad Day

Rolled into the wire tonight, stopped by the BN ops shop to see what's what. Someone handed me this.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Quote of the Day

Somewhere a True Believer is training to kill you. He is training with minimum food or water, in austere conditions, day and night. The only thing clean on him is his weapon. He doesn't worry about what workout to do--his rucksack weighs what it weighs, and he runs until the enemy stops chasing him. The True Believer doesn't care how hard it is; he knows he either wins or he dies. He doesn't go home at 1700; he is home. He knows only the Cause. Now, who wants to quit?
--Anon SFQC Instructor

h/t Scotty

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quote of the Day

A man will learn some skill, and after making doubly sure he's got it down, will use it over and over again in vain, never understanding that that skill has now become his enemy and that he is inviting disaster.
--Issai Chozanshi

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique...

...and other secrets of the Martial Arts for only $199.99

While re-perusing last month's Black Belt Magazine (in the latrine trailer), I noticed again that you can't hardly conceive of someone marketing a martial arts product without declaring that you get a bundle full of wonderful secrets to go with your purchase. If you're not selling "secrets," you can't charge as much. On thinking about it (again, in the latrine trailer, so take it for what it's worth), I think that there are three categories of "secrets"--above and beyond absolute bunk, that is.

1. Tactics: In a lot of the old Japanese schools (ryu) of traditional jujutsu, and too in a lot of BJJ schools, their "secret" techniques are actually tactics. The school will teach its students a certain approach or method of arriving at the point that the student can apply a generally well-known technique. One reason these secrets were so closely guarded is that, once the tactic is known, counters are easily found and applied. This weakness is generated by schools that teach by-rote, pro forma approaches to fighting. I'm not disparaging the study or application of tactics, I'm just discriminating between tactics and techniques. Emphasizing the importance of tactical awareness keeps one's game growing and developing. I love learning three or four approaches of getting to the point I can apply a technique, and trying and adapting each in turn until it is a sound and reliable part of my game. One method I enjoy using to force tactical improvement is to "call the shot," and tell my training opponent the exact technique I'll use to submit him. His ensuing defensiveness will help me eliminate any weaknesses in my game. Refining one's tactics is as key as refining one's techniques.

2. Advanced concepts: Some "secrets" are refinements to application of a basic technique that the student can only be taught once he has mastered the fundamentals. The introduction of the refinement must wait until the student has a basic understanding of and proficiency with the technique so it can be added without becoming a distractor from gaining a baseline competency. Once, after spending about six months polishing a certain throw (Harai Goshi), my instructor gave me a modification of my pulling arm's elbow/wrist alignment that exponentially increased the efficacy of the throw. It was one of those pieces of advice that was so simple I kicked myself for not thinking of it on my own. When I asked my instructor why he hadn't given me this hot tip, say, three or four months previously, he said,"you weren't ready for it; it would have just screwed you up."

3. Actual secrets: Look, I'm a skeptic. Doubting Thomas was a piker; I'd've asked for blood samples and DNA tests on top of seeing the wounds. When someone boasts that Dim Mak or similar arts don't work because if they did, we'd have a Dim Mak UFC champion, I give that credence. Seeing is believing, winning with one's style in a hard-fought competition is irrefutable. Styles that refuse to compete do, to me, seem to be shirking a pretty objective means of establishing combat effectiveness.
And yet...
About 10 years ago I was sent to Northern VA for some training that lasted about six weeks. Nights were, for the most part, free. In an effort to abstain from debauching myself at night, I looked up some of the local dojos. I found one that looked promising, and called the guy before I launched from Bragg to VA. He knew my instructor, and extended me the offer to train at his place for the duration of my stay in VA.
This guy (who I'll not name because I haven't asked his permission to use his name) was an awesome instructor. First, he took my Judo background and taught me subtle methods of turning traditional Judo "mutual benefit" throws into lethal throws designed to crush the skull, break the neck, or demolish the entrails. Who wouldn't have a good time studying that? It was like reverse engineering Jigaro Kano to get at the techniques that he had modified in order to make Randori possible.
Above and beyond that, one night the Sensei was going over grab arts, defences against someone laying unwanted hands on you, usually resulting in a broken finger, wrist, or forearm for the violator of your personal space. At one point in the evening, the instructor, with a broad wink, told me to grab his forearm, so I did. He didn't cover my hand, he didn't block with his elbow, he didn't touch me at all. He just...adjusted his own arm a little and all of a sudden I was holding on to an electric fence. I was up on my toes, arm extended unto breaking, trying to figure out how to tap while immobilized by the voltage. [This instructor was an avid practitioner of "perfect pain," transmitting the greatest possible amount of pain along the nervous system possible before the system shorts out] He then threw me across the room. Well, okay, he just moved his arm a little and I threw myself across the room to get away from the pain and the breakage of bones that are very dear to me. I jumped up with a "do it again!" So he did. Same results. He mopped the floor with me for about 40 minutes. No matter the angle, hand positioning, speed, or force of my attack, any time I grabbed him anywhere on his arm I ended up locked up with pain and subsequently airborne--and we never made any contact above or beyond my initial grab. Before going to the dojo, had someone described the technique to me, I would have invariably and knowingly replied that "that's just one of those martial arts myths." Shyuh.
After logging more time in the air than a FEDEX jet, he finally said,"Look, I know you're trying to figure out what I'm doing. It would take you about two years of coming here every night to see what I'm doing. It would take about ten years of coming here every night to be able to do it."
So, while I'm a skeptic, I'm more than willing to admit that I don't know what I don't know.

Quote of the Day

We live in a wondrous time in which the strong is weak because of his moral scruples and the weak is strong because of his audacity.
--Otto von Bismark