Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Ask Why?

Okay, read this article in a the UK Telegraph stating that GEN McChrystal and CSM Hall have decided to do away with some of the amenities on large Afghan bases like Bagram and Kandahar. Burger King, TGIF, etc are about to disappear because, in the Command Sergeant Major's words, "what it comes down to is focus." Uh-huh.
The whole line of reasoning, in both the UK Telegraph and in the CSM's post on the unit blog, sounds a wee bit mangled to me. Okay, the CSM states that "this is a war zone, not an amusement park." Thanks for clearing that up, Sergeant Major. I'm sure that the studs on their second, third, or fourth tour in the box were befuddled by the Pizza Hut trailer (yes, most of the concessions like BK and Pizza Hut are in little trailers, which only have an ordering window and a picnic table out front). In a previous post, I found and linked to a pretty good analysis that argued that
In Iraq and Afghanistan, army combat troops often get 200 days of combat in one 12 month tour, which is more than their grandfathers got during all of World War II.

I'm thinking that few of the kids that are over there have any illusions about where they are and what they are doing. Accusing a troop who looks forward to a whopper--maybe even something so decadent as a whopper with cheese--of not being mission focused, or of thinking that he's been sent to Coney Island for a year, is pretty fucking insulting.
Look, I'm sure that there are reasons for shutting down concessions that the troops enjoy--but I'm also pretty sure that those reasons have more to do with Command perceptions than reality. Those who say that "perception is reality" don't have a tight enough grip on reality.
First of all, the reasoning that troops pushed out on small outposts don't have BK, Pizza Hut, et al is specious. REMFs will always get over compared to front line (or "on outpost") troops, that's the nature of the beast regardless of how many concessions you close.* Okay, the troops on outposts don't have hot chow, running water, or electricity. They are fighting for the mission and their lives every day. So closing Burger King is supposed to give the FOBbits what, moral parity? Have all the FOB Dining Facilities stopped serving Surf & Turf once a week? I've served both on FOBs and out in the field, and I can tell you that
1. Nothing the FOBbits could go through would make me cut them any slack, and
2. Although I never thought of it in these terms then, knowing the privations any REMFs were going through would not have ameliorated my own bitches about my own hardships.
Oh, and do you think a troop assigned to a far-flung outpost might enjoy a Whopper when he passes through the FOB on that rare occasion when the mission pulls him back?
Mongo Rule #4: Never begrudge anyone a good deal.
Another reason proffered for saving our troops from the threat to good order and discipline that consuming french fries boiled up in hydrogenated vegetable oil is that Afghanistan-based units need the storage space and convoy volume in order to support the surge that are currently encumbered by concessionaires. Uh-huh. Then I'm sure that there is a staff study out there showing that combat troops are shorted because of (Burger King- rather than Dining Facility-bound) sesame seed hamburger buns.
Also, let's at least be consistent. The CSM expounds on the decision on the ISAF blog, but while his post has a lot of good Sergeant Major shit in it, it doesn't provide a lot of clarity to the decision making process. Burger King is being closed, but the Green Bean coffee shops are staying open. Let's see, where do people generally go when their explicit purpose is to fuck off? A burger stand, or a coffee house? Do the troops on the combat outposts have Green Bean and Starbucks, but not Burger King, so that's why the BK has to go?
I guess this is one of those command imponderables: why ask why?

*I remember waay back when I was a young 2LT Platoon leader during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I had a lot of frustrations trying to accomplish the mission within our incredibly austere logistics environment. My units Deployment SOP stated that troops had to deploy with two pairs of boots. Within a few short weeks of working daily in ankle-deep sand, most troops' boots were abraded all the way through, and the guys were binding them up with 100 mph tape (the mil version of duct tape). Digging a foxhole in the sand was ever so much fun, but once we had cracked the code on the digging/sandbag emplacement kabuki dance that would let us actually dig a name-tape deep foxhole, we were still screwed because we couldn't get the 4x4 planks of plywood that we needed to use as the base of our overhead cover. We were eating MREs for every meal, except that the unit strove to provide us with a hot T-ration meal, with some sort of reasonably fresh salad and one soda pop per man at least once a week.
So after we had been there (Saudi Arabia) for a couple/three months, I get tagged one month to go to Corps to pick up the cash for the monthly battalion casual pay. My unit dropped me off at battalion, which gave me a ride up to brigade. After that, I pretty much had to hitchhike to division and from there to corps. The whole thing took about three days up and three days back, and is a story unto itself--especially the return trip. For whatever reason, some reg or policy stated that I had to have a side arm. So I had to turn in my M16-A2 and draw a M1911 .45, which was older than me, if not my father, and sort of rattled a lot if you shook it. Yuh, I was real happy hitchhiking home with a ratty-ass pistol and a briefcase with around $50k in it. What could possibly go wrong?
The point of the story is what happened when I got up to corps. First I had to get a legal brief from the Staff Judge Advocate pukes (reverting to my Infantry mindset for the purposes of the story). The huge GP Large Tent was totally floored with...4x4 pieces of plywood that you can be damn sure should've been up front providing troops with some means of building overhead cover. Every corps puke REMF bastard was wearing a brand new set of boots--desert boots!--specifically designed to withstand the Saudi sands. I (no shit) saw pallets of soda pop strewn about, and almost had a fucking aneurysm when I watched a couple young troops grab sodas off the pallet, take a couple quick swigs, and then toss their cans into the 55-gallon drum still half full. I also saw pallets filled with bundles of glassine envelopes with some kind of cardboard element inside. I found out that these weird widgets were water-operated MRE heaters. Who knew? I asked a couple of people that seemed associated with supply and/or transportation when these pallets--pallets!!--of MRE heaters would be pushed to the front. No one seemed to know. They never were.
Needless to say, the whole trip was an awakening.

1 comment:

  1. Having read the ISAF blog and post by the CSM I had an instant flashback to a wonderful morning in Mosul. I think you might remember that morning, it was the one where you had to pull a CSM off my ass for parking a 42,000lb MRAP in the wrong spot. Is there really a wrong spot to park the Mungadai 6 MRAP? No there isn't! Either way I will keep my comments locked up deep inside until the moment is right and then it's game on. For now I can only say WTF...