#84 Reflections

This was not the original idea for today's post. As they often do, this one showed up in my inbox a little earlier and sent me down a new path. The thoughts have not all been worked out yet but we'll see where it goes.

I received the following article from a friend of mine this morning. Bill called it an "interesting read." I agree. You can find the link here:


Take the first paragraph:

"The U.S. Army now begins its 10th continuous year in combat, the first time in its history the United States has excused the vast majority of its citizens from service and engaged in a major, decade-long conflict instead with an Army manned entirely by professional warriors."

As Mr. Wood points out, this is the first time in American history where a war (possibly 2 if you see Iraq and Afghanistan as two separate theaters) has been fought without the involvement of much of the American citizenry. Ours is an all-volunteer Army. No draft. No requirement for national sacrifice. Nothing more than a peripheral recognition that we are a nation at war proudly brought to you by your choice of news outlets and You Tube. We have managed to fight this war for 9 years and transform both the institution and the way we conduct operations using less than 5% of the American population. For many people, this has brought a sort of disconnectedness from combat and it's costs and consequences. As Mr. Wood rightly suggests, there is a divide between those who serve and those who have not.

Let me be clear. I am not judging either side one way or another. I am simply agreeing that the divide exists. I refuse to judge it as a positive or negative. If a person feels a calling to service, it can come in any form. Some feel called to educate, some to the clergy, some to their local communities. I am not elevating the warrior class above any other because I do not believe the warrior should be elevated above any other. I choose to do what I do. The same way that someone else chooses to teach or minister or work in a hospice. We are all servants to our communities whether they are local or national. I am not entitled to any extra recognition because of my choice.

What is true however, is that there is, and will remain a divide between those who have been to combat - in any role - and those who have not. This applies to all Servicemembers. Combat Arms or not. The mental strain, the separation from family, the forming of new bonds, the crucible of a firefight, the mourning of losses. These things to one degree or another apply to all who have served over the last nine years. We have all attended memorials for fallen comrades. We have all anxiously stared out an airplane or helicopter window on our way into the fight and as it lands at home and we search the small crowd for the face of a family member or friend who is there to greet us. There is a connection there that we all share. This too, is not new. There is a reason that we have reunions each year from those who have fought before us. There are so few who were there. And only those who were will understand.

However, I think this is the same type of feeling that a surgeon gets. They have just performed a difficult operation. They have worked for hours in the operating room and they walk out to meet the family. They are exhausted and dirty but finished the job and told the family the patient's prognosis. They brief them that the surgery was successful, but the days ahead will still be critical. The family is overjoyed and begins to hug each other and ask to see their loved one. In the midst of this the surgeon quietly slips away and goes about his business. No one but another surgeon, and those who understand the complexity of the task, will truly appreciate the skill and dedication the operation required. And so it is with the warrior class. We have performed our operations with skill and care, but they are hard for the Nation to put into perspective. They have no frame of reference. Only other warriors will recognize the difficulty and understand the implications. That's OK. Like any skilled profession, we take pride in earning the respect of our peers. For they are the ones who best understand the significance of our task.

The parades and thankyous' and tributes are nice, and they are appreciated, but maybe we ought to share them with other servants as well. The warrior class is no better and no worse. We serve because we want to. It's all we know how to do.

I also think that the words of General Casey in the article are pretty damn important as well. He said:

"Before 2001 we were largely a garrison-based army,' said Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff. "We lived to train. I grew up training to fight a war I never fought.'' Since 9/11, Casey has spent 32 months in Iraq, as have many others. "We know war, now,' he said."

The Chief of Staff of the Army - it's most senior position - is filled by a person who grew up training and preparing for a type of war that never came, as did everyone including me, until September 11th, 2001. I had been in the Army for 11 years on that day, and 14 years before I deployed to Iraq in 2005. We have ended up fighting - and arguably winning - two wars with incredibly different dynamics. Our senior leaders recognize this and have worked very hard to ensure that the mental flexibility and adaptability required for this type of fight remains at the forefront of our leader development.

Last week, I mentioned LTG Hertling in my post and the Facebook exchange we had. Later on he sent me another message that in effect said that we have become very good at combat and deployments and the training/preparing cycles that the demands of these two fights have placed on us. Now, there needs to be an effort on the part of all leaders to look at how they will develop themselves to ensure that we don't return to a mindset that we can only prepare for what we think will happen. We need to also prepare for the unexpected. We need to ensure that we continue to develop active thinking, and a clear understanding of the requirements of the problem we are trying to solve. We may not face the situation we trained for. We have to develop ourselves for the situation we face. Like the surgeon who suddenly finds himself with a problem he didn't expect or couldn't see on the X-rays, we need to develop leaders who can recognize what is in front of them and choose the right tool to stem the bleeding. We need to develop quickness of thought, an understanding of consequences, and the ability to quickly shift our priorities when required.

The Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, MG John Campbell, sends updates to families and others on Facebook. This morning I read update number 5. You can find the link here:


For those who cannot access it, MG Campbell, in trying to answer the question why we are still in this fight said this:

"The simple reason why we are here is summarized very well by a slide GEN Petraeus uses entitled, “Why This War Matters”...Bottom line, we want to prevent attacks like those depicted on the slide from happening again in our country and other countries. The specific reasons we continue to fight in Afghanistan are more complex. We are here to disrupt Al Qaida and other transnational extremist organizations. We are here to prevent extremists from having a safehaven for training camps where they can plan future attacks. We are here to strengthen and enhance the government and security forces of a country attempting to re-establish some sense of normalcy in a war-ravaged country. For the people of Afghanistan this is important because it provides them hope for the future after nearly 30 years of war. For Americans and many other countries around the world, we are here to provide for safer environments for our Families, free from fear that terrorists will once again kill thousands of innocent people."

Sometimes the task and purpose is very clear-cut. Or, more accurately, it appears very clear-cut on the surface. We were attacked by extremists in Afghanistan. We must respond. 9 years later, however, we have entered a new world. We are still fighting extremists, but we are also trying to help a nation. We are still disrupting the ability of terrorist organizations to plan, plot, and train to attack us. Now, however, we have gained an immeasurable degree of wisdom regarding what that fight will cost, and what that fight requires. A warrior class once built on might and firepower has become so much more. Mr. Wood may be right that for the first time in history America has a truly professional, volunteer warrior. That one person with the skills, abilities, and judgement to serve and to prevail. The focus will always come back to one kid, one Sergeant, one Lieutenant, one person.

Yesterday, before changing direction, when I started thinking about what I was going to write about this morning, I came across the following quote from General Creighton Abrams:

"By people, I do not mean 'personnel'. I do not mean 'end strength'. I do not mean 'percent of fill' or any of those other labels which refer to people as a commodity. I mean living, breathing, serving human beings. They have needs and interests and desires. They have spirit and will, strengths, and abilities. They have weaknesses and faults. And they have names."

Everything we do as an Army, and as a warrior class, must be oriented toward the development of that one person with a name. If we do that well, the Nation - while maybe not understanding exactly what we do - can be grateful that there is a class of servants who are willing to do it.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.