Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Restructuring the Corps Into a MEB-Centric Fighting Force

The organization chart the Corps needs to change.


In 1991 and 2002 the Marine Corps Gazette published two articles that directly relate to [the current] downsizing of the U.S. Marine Corps while retaining a viable capability to seek out, close with and destroy the enemy.

The 1st was titled: "Twelve Brigades: A Blueprint for the Future" - which was published in April 1991 and discussed how the Corps could restructure itself in a regionally focused MEB-Centric Fighting Force capable of a wide range of operations.

The 2nd was titled: "Let's Organize and Train As We Would Fight" - which was published in October 2002 and made an excellent case for restructuring the MEFs into MAGTF-Centric vice MSC-Centric organizations.

I realize that to some, these essays are blasphemy but the simple fact of the matter is that our [future] budgets will be cut - ergo we, as a Corps of Marines, need to do our utmost to shape events rather that react to 'em. . . .  And best way to begin that process is to think "out of box" - just like the authors of these two fine essays. 

Tien len!  Muon doc lap phai do mau!


Paul L. Stokes, Major USMC, Retired
Director of Operations
Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School
29 Palms, CA 92278-8281

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Resistance Training Without a Gym

When Marines are in the field it is important to continue to resistance train. However equipment such as weights, benches, and racks are not available. Marines can use equipment such as flak jackets, ammo can filled with dirt, and spare 7-ton tires to increase resistance. It is important to slowly and steadily increase the resistance used by the Marines so that they have time to adapt. An example would be week 1 Marines would wear boots and utilities for physical training. Week 2 Marines could wear boots, utilities, and flak jackets for physical training. Week 3 could incorporate 7-ton tires and filled ammo cans.

It is also important to take into consideration other training that is going on such as machine gun or lane training. This other training stresses the body as well. It is important not to over train your Marines. Over training causes a decrement in performance.

Monday, February 27, 2012

500 Words or Less

When General Mattis was preparing for the invasion of Iraq, I have a suspicion he may have been reading Livy's books on the Punic Wars.  After all, there are very few places to go when looking for an answer to the question "How do I get a tribal society to join my team?"  Livy's History of Rome is one of them.  

In book 21 of his history Livy begins the story of Hannibal's invasion of the Italian peninsula, and his ultimate defeat at the hands of Scipio Africanus.  However, before Scipio defeated Hannibal he had to defeat Hannibal's brother in Spain.  Spain in the late 200s B.C. was much like societies are in the middle-east today, tribal.  So in order to win in Spain, Scipio had to get the Iberian tribal chiefs on his side. 
Scipio undertook a two-prong approach to the Iberian tribes.  There is a great line in Livy attributed to Scipio that sums up this approach.  It might sound familiar, "there is no nation in the world today which you could less wish to be the enemy of you and yours, or more wish to be your friend."

There are a number of things in this world that are practically universal and unchanging, like man’s behavior in war, and relations between countries. There is nothing new under the sun, and no revolutionary is truly revolutionary.  Almost every new idea is an old idea that you can find in classical antiquity.  This is why leaders like General Mattis extol the benefits of reading and intellectual development. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Toward a Typology of Military Dysfunction

In previous posts, I've explored some organizational and incentive factors as to why the military acts the way it does.  Actions at the individual level, though, are often the most perplexing.  For instance, why would people who have risen to senior levels with 20 years or more of experience in the organization exhibit such toxic personalities as to drive middle managers to homicidal or suicidal contemplation.  I haven't actually seen a case of actual suicidal thoughts, but I have heard more than one officer say, "I wish they would just fire me and put me out of my misery."  The screaming, belittling, and insecure; the email all-caps yellers (who cc the world); the control freaks; the incompetents; the indifferent...  What is the pathology behind this behavior, I wondered.  I reached out to some friends to test their reactions to the question, has a decade of the stress of combat operations caused irreparable psychological harm to our senior officers?  While the answer is undoubtedly yes in some cases, I think that some more salient factors have contributed to the dysfunction and may move us toward understanding (I doubt rectifying) the situation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Human Terrain and Liars

In a recently published book, Bazaar Politics, Noah Coburn, PhD, recounts his time living in the Afghan village of Istalif for 18 months between 2006 and 2008. Fluent in Dari, he rented a small house with his wife and lived in the village in order to conduct anthropological fieldwork. Besides an incredibly detailed account of contemporary village life in Afghanistan, I think this book provides some important lessons for Marines training for and conducting census operations.

An important takeaway from the book is how ambiguous, after some analysis, the local power structure actually is in Istalif. On the surface, the traditional power structures of a Tajik qaum, which very roughly translated to “tribe”, are present. The police, maliks, and mullahs are all present as well as some national Afghan government officials. These are the traditional “power brokers” that Marines would choose to engage with during key leader engagements (KLEs), shuras, jirgas, etc. However, after taking local history, economic dynamics, and the physical terrain in consideration, a different picture emerges. The relationships between various powerbrokers was extremely tenuous and, after the long period of civil war the village suffered through, almost everyone in the village preferred a peaceful status quo to solidifying power.

A single consistency I could draw from the book was that any Afghan in a position of power saw the international community as a source of income for their own patronage networks. Village chiefs, businessmen, and ambitious young men all told different stories to various aid agencies and organizations to direct the flow of aid money.

This should not be a shock to any Marines who have conducted intelligence preparation of the battlespace (IPB) or census operations. In theory, it is understood that the human terrain is complex. Yet, Bazaar Politics demonstrates how incredibly difficult that is for a military unit. As a civilian unaffiliated with the government in Kabul, NATO, or even the UN, Dr. Coburn enjoyed rare access to the population. The French troops who occasionally patrol the village are seen as sporadic occurrences who know little about the true situation on the ground. In villages where Marines lack a permanent presence, I’d argue we have about the same level of situational awareness.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Flip Side

Amersfoort Concentration Camp
Image via Google Images
In light of Brett Friedman's previous post about the use of the Schutzstaffel symbol in our Scout Sniper community, a post that was no doubt provocative and probably unintentionally incendiary, I thought it might be interesting for everyone to see this from a slightly different angle. These two links are from the 9 Feb 2012 editions of and De Telegraaf, two of the biggest news mediums in The Netherlands, one of which is operated as a public service.

This is how I found out about the photo, not through American media. Living in Holland, I am sure you can imagine my reaction when I first saw it the next morning on the train. I was hoping to just read another breakdown of the crisis in Greece and maybe some requisite European criticism of Romney and the U.S. political system. Wasn't the case... Some interesting thoughts came to mind though, especially since I had recently visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam a couple of weeks prior and saw the new-ish exhibition “Free2Choose”, an interactive exhibit devoted to education and world tolerance. Naturally, I began formulating explanations in my head (in Dutch) that I knew I would need to be armed with for the rest of the day. The reaction from the Marines here was quite typical; it mostly involved good natured ribbing about how stupid and arrogant Americans are, but no real interest in diving into history or any sort of philosophical discussions on symbolism (then it was business as usual - endless coffee and cheese). It was the varied reactions from the civilian population that surprised me. They ran the gamut from the expected outrage to being quite gracious and everything in between. Here are some of the comments from the De Telegraaf article (translated into English as best I can of course and in no particular order):

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The SS, Snowflakes, and Supervision

Like a Marine in a properly executed MCMAP training session, the Marine Corps is taking its lumps in the image department lately. In April of last year, Lance Corporal Harry Lew committed suicide in Afghanistan after experiencing sustained hazing on the part of his squadmates. Although there is no way to tell if the hazing caused LCpl Lew’s suicide, it almost certainly contributed to it. The story remains in the news as the Marines involved go through the court martial process. In January, the story broke that Marines, including Staff NCOs, had filmed themselves urinating on corpses of Taliban fighters. I’m not going to comment specifically on these two issues as the failure in ethics is pretty obvious. Anytime a Marine is ostracized in his unit, for whatever reason, the leadership has failed. The desecration of human corpses, whether filmed or not, is indefensible.

I will, however, comment more specifically about the use of the SS logo on flags since there seems to be some debate over whether or not it was appropriate. I’ll ignore the fact that scout snipers apparently think that they are special snowflakes entitled to their own flag above and beyond the traditional scarlet and gold Marine Corps flag that every other unit uses. The first excuse posited by those who want to brush this most recent PR nightmare under the rug is that the scout snipers were ignorant of what the symbol meant. I guess that’s possible. What’s not possible is that every SNCO and Officer in charge of every scout sniper unit that used the flag shared that ignorance. No way. They just refused to do anything about it.

The second, and far less believable excuse is that the SS logo is disconnected from the Nazi ideology and simply a reflection of Marines’respect for German military prowess. Nothing could be further from the truth. The SS were not a military unit. They were a paramilitary unit formed to protect Nazi party meetings from interference, chosen for their loyalty to the Nazi party. A subset of the SS, the Waffen-SS, was tasked with combat operations against Nazi Germany’s enemies, but this does not change the fact that the overall purpose of the SS was the execution of Nazi ideological aims. Even if we were to look to Nazi Germany for inspiration for military prowess, it was the Wehrmacht that achieved blinding military success, not the SS. The next excuse will inevitably be that the Wehrmacht were not Nazis. Again, this is not true. SS units tasked with extermination missions were attached to Wehrmacht units and thus under the command of Wehrmacht officers. Nowhere is there an example of Wehrmacht units interfering with or failing to support the mission of the SS as they murdered their way across Europe. Additionally, it was the Wehrmacht, not the SS, who were responsible for the care and transit of prisoners of war captured by German forces. Millions of prisoners, particularly Soviet soldiers, starved to death or were shot for failing to march out of the forward operating areas fast enough. These POWs, being Russian, were not as human as the German soldiers were after all. Still don’t believe me? I’ll let someone whose vaunted military prowess earned him the rank of Field Marshall in the Wehrmacht, Walter von Reichenau, speak for himself. “The soldier must have understanding for the necessity of the harsh yet just punishment of the Jewish sub humans… He is called upon to achieve two goals. 1) The extermination of the Bolshevik [he means Russians] heresy… 2) The merciless extermination of foreign treachery and cruelty to safeguard… the German Wehrmacht in Russia.” This is not by any means the worst example of Nazism amongst Wehermacht leadership, it was simply the first one I found. To claim that the snipers use the SS logo as a nod to German military prowess in World War II and not as a symbol of Nazism is false. There was no distinction between them then and there should not be now. This is nothing more than an excuse that leaders will use to conceal their moral cowardice when it came to allowing the use of this flag.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI and Warfighting - A Thought

Marines and sailors with the 24th MEU erupt into cheers and bouts of
disappointment in the ship's chow hall as the New York Giants secure victory
in the Super Bowl, Feb. 5, 2012.
A few days ago my beloved New England Patriots were defeated in Super Bowl XLVI. While disappointing in its own right, it did get me thinking of maneuver warfare and Carl Von Clausewitz of all people. There are certainly no shortage of analogies between football and warfare – such as speed, maneuver, and timing – but as I lay awake that night, I thought of something else. Rather, I thought of chance, luck, and fundamentals. I thought that if such things could derail a professional football team that doles out millions of dollars to win games, why couldn’t such things happen to Marines in the much more serious environment of combat?

Restless, I thought of how the game came down to a few key plays - a defensive penalty negating a forced fumble, failure to jam a receiver on the game’s winning drive, a well-timed defensive penalty that traded space for time, and so on. Interestingly, at the time, one would be hard pressed to call those plays decisive or critical, particularly when considered against the sheer number of total plays throughout the game. Feeling more restless now, I opened up MCDP 1, looking for a particular sentence – and I found it in Chapter 1, beneath Uncertainty: “Outcomes of battles can hinge on actions of a few individuals, and as Clausewitz observed, issues can be decided by chances and incidents so minute as to figure in histories simply as anecdotes.”