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Where I Belong: Padre Steve and the Christmas Truce

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Christmas 2007 COP South, Al Anbar Province Iraq

“I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.” Father Palmer, the Chaplain in Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas)

Last night I again watched the film classic Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) which is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it.

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead.  His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

palmer

Father Palmer Tending the Wounded

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within a country.

bishop

The Bishop Leads His “Service” 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMPxjUE40iw

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.”  Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

iraq bedouin

Christmas Eve 2007 with the Bedouin 

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. When I left the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisors without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care.  So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie.

It has been six years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Severe and Chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy.  It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many.  

As for me I am in a better place now. I still suffer some of the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and anxiety in crowded places and bad traffic, but I do believe again. Like the Priest in the movie I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” Like Paul Tillich I have come to believe that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” 

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, film, History, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, PTSD, Religion, Tour in Iraq

Iran Makes Noise in Persian Gulf: Obama Dispatches Patriots and Ships to Deter

Mahmoud Ahamadinejad threatens a “harsh blow at global arrogance”

Something is going on in Iran.  The despotic regime of Mahmoud Ahamadinejad has been cracking down on dissidents and protestors over the last few months since the disputed presidential election.  Two opposition leaders were hanged yesterday.  The opposition is calling for protests on February 11th to coincide with the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.  At the same time government supporters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces are planning both pro-regime activities as well as anti-opposition crackdowns in the days leading up to this event.  To add to the volatile mixture Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad has threatened a “harsh blow against global arrogance” on the 11th.  There has been no explanation of what Ahamadinejad meant by his cryptic comments by the Iranian news service but  the Obama administration is taking them seriously by sending additional Aegis Missile ships equipped with anti-ballistic missile systems as well as Patriot air defense missiles to the Persian Gulf. To give you a glimpse of some of the confusion surrounding the current situation in Iran and in its implications for the West I have linked a number of articles from a wide variety of sources here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/31/iran-nuclear-us-missiles-gulf

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/01/31/iran.protests/index.html?section=cnn_latest

http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60U18R20100131?type=politicsNews

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8490929.stm

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2010/02/01/missile-shield-gulf-ups-ante-iran/?test=latestnews

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&article_id=111329&categ_id=17

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=201022\story_2-2-2010_pg20_1

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/gulf-countries-accept-air-defences/story-e6frg6so-1225825224604

http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8811080764

http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Supreme-Leader-Claims-Iran-Remains-United-Against-Outside-Threat-82073702.html

http://www.rferl.org/content/Irans_Protesters_Must_Keep_Their_Eyes_On_February_11/1942248.html

http://www.opendemocracy.net/volker-perthes/iran-2010-11-four-scenarios-and-nightmare

http://en.rian.ru/world/20100129/157712614.html

http://www.rferl.org/content/Iran_Media_German_Diplomats_Involved_In_December_Riots_/1941229.html

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1146909.html

http://www.energypublisher.com/article.asp?id=25925

http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=116955&sectionid=3510303

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hos0sGvW5l2cEN2xO2ex4fhamzIw

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L3838323,00.htmlhttp://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3838323,00.html

http://www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/201001284565/World-Politics/iran-morality-police-vanish-as-more-protests-loom-in-tehran.html

Massed Protests in Iran have been met by force

If you take a look at the details of these various reports there are a number of possibilities in regard to Iran, its internal political tensions and its repeated threats to US and Western interests. There are a myriad of possibilities many of which while directed outward are also directly related to the internal unrest in Iran in which a new generation who have grown up under the religious totalitarianism of the Mullah’s and men like Ahamadinejad who are convinced of the certainty of their beliefs and determined to impose them not only on their own people but their neighbors.  Ahamadinejad’s belief in the return of the 12th Mahdi to bring in a new era where the Caliphate will be established in Jerusalem is another wild card to factor into any equation.

Shahab-3 Missile test launch from mobile launcher

In the past year the Iranians have been increasingly more bellicose concerning their nuclear program and ballistic missile programs and have thwarted US, EU and UN initiatives to ensure that the nascent nuclear capacity is only capable of peaceful use and not capable of producing weapons grade uranium which could then be used in nuclear weapons.   They have expanded the number of centrifuges used for enriching uranium as well as continued to disperse and harden nuclear facilities against possible Israeli or US preventive strikes.  Additionally they have continued to increase their ballistic and cruise missile capabilities and the newer versions of the Shahab missile are capable of striking Western Europe.  The Revolutionary Guard forces have been actively supporting the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon which in 2006 waged a successful war against Israel on the Israeli-Lebanese border.  It has continued to improve its asymmetric warfare capabilities as well as Naval and Revolutionary Guard Naval force capacity for disrupting shipping in the Straits of Hormuz through which a large percentage of the world’s oil is transported.

Iranian Missile Boat and Helicopter

Ahamadinejad’s latest remarks are ambiguous and could mean a number of things ranging from empty rhetoric designed to evoke a response from the United States or Israel up to military action.  Possible events within the continuum could be measures to destabilize Iraq where recently Iranian forces briefly occupied an Iraqi oil facility on the border near Basra before leaving when Iraq sent troops and threatened force to retake the facility.  Likewise a missile test of an upgraded or longer range Shahab could be planned, a military exercise in the Gulf or a test of a nuclear weapon which they might have succeeded in developing in their clandestine labs from previously enriched uranium.  The timing of the threat could also mean a military attack against Israel or US allies in the Persian Gulf including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia.  Iran could in a “doomsday” strike launch a nuclear weapon (should it have an operation weapon) or chemical or biological weapons against Israel or even the rival Sunni Moslem Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, provoking a retaliatory strike which could embroil the region in a major war and might have worldwide implications. While I would think that the military attack would be a lower possibility the timing which coincides with the anniversary of the Revolution coupled with domestic unrest could mean that Ahamadinejad may feel that the benefit outweighs the risk.  It also could mean a stronger domestic crackdown on Iranian dissidents, whichever course of action the Iranians take it could make life even more interesting.

Shore based C-802 Surface to Surface Anti-Ship Missile in Iranian service

With the full spectrum of possibilities from simple rhetoric to a military strike laid out the Obama administration reportedly has sent Patriot Missile batteries to shield key Gulf allies and dispatched additional Aegis anti-ballistic missile capable ships from the US Navy to the Gulf.  Past remarks by the administration have been perceived as weak by the Iranians and the demonstration of US resolve by the dispatch of additional forces to the region may be designed to show that the Obama administration is not indecisive but capable of countering military threats to the region.

Additional ships of the Arliegh Burke Class that carry SM-3 missiles and Ant–Ballistic Missile systems have been moved into the Gulf along with Patriot Missile batteries

The administration’s move is prudent considering the potential threat.  Iran does not have the capabilities to fight a sustained war but could if fueled by the apocalyptic vision of Ahamadinejad mean that the Iranian government is willing to risk a confrontation with the United States because it perceives the Obama administration as weak.  I think that such an assumption by Ahamadinejad would be a serious mistake, however if he were to attempt a military or asymmetric-terrorist act of some kind he could create chaos until the United States and our allies eliminate his offensive capability.

Iranian Nuclear facilities are dispersed around the country and in hardened sites

Potential problems that Iran could cause the United States could include disruption of transition efforts in Iraq through military or terrorist activity as well as to cause casualties or damage US military forces in that country. Far less likely is the possibility that the Iranians could offer support to their rivals in Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan if for no other reason than to disrupt the US/NATO mission in that country. Likewise the Iranians could attempt to cause economic and diplomatic problems in the region that would adversely affect the US and world economy that could be done short of war.

To deal with all possibilities the United States must not only be militarily ready to respond to any military threat but also to be able to exercise the full spectrum of diplomatic, economic and intelligence resources of its own and our allies.

So in about a week and a half we will know what the cryptic Ahamadinejad meant by his latest outburst, hopefully there will be some clarification before then so the US and its allies in the region can coordinate an effective response.  With tensions rising and uncertainty in the air it is important for the US, Israel and the West to get this right and hopefully give the Iranian opposition time to force Ahamadinejad and his supporters in the Iranian clergy and the Revolutionary Guard from power.  There is both danger and opportunity in the coming days and one can only hope that the Iranian opposition will be successful.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Mission Accomplished in Al Anbar: The Marines Turn Over the Mission to the Iraqis

Religious Support Team 2 MNF-W the Desert Rats at Al Waleed August 2007

There was a time not very long ago that names like Al Anbar, Fallujah and Ramadi were synonymous with futility and humiliation.  But that was before a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. In late 2007 the Marines and our Iraqi Allies aided in large part by the “Anbar Awakening” where the Sunni in the province realized that Al Qaida Iraq’s motives were not in the best interest of the people gained the upper hand in a very short time.  The success was heralded as part of the “surge” but was in large part due to the effort made by the Marines to be seen as something other than occupiers but allies in a fight against foreigners that would brutally kill Iraqis to achieve their goals.

Iraqi Children Happy to see us near Baghdadi

I arrived in Al Anbar in August of 2007 and spent my tour as the Chaplain to the Marine, Army and other advisers in the province which at the time of my arrival were still very much in play.  Within days of arriving at our base of operations I took part in a number of mass casualty situations at the Shock Surgery Trauma center at Ta Qaddum where I prayed for, anointed and looked after Marines wounded when their vehicles were destroyed by improvised explosive devices during combat missions.  My tour was the highlighter of my military career.  In my tour with the advisors as well as the Iraqis of the 1st and 7th Iraqi Army divisions, Second Border Brigade and Iraqi Police, Highway Patrol and even a reconstruction team or two.

Allies: Colonel Cottrell and General Murthi of the 7th Iraqi Division at the Marine Corps Birthday 10 November 2007

During my time there I was privileged to serve with great Marines, Soldiers and even a number of Navy, Air Force, US Border Patrol and Customs personnel and contractors working with the Iraqis.  The Iraqis in many cases were valiant men who while serving against the insurgency and Al Qaida knew that their families were in danger from retaliation as were their own lives.

Friendship: Dinner with General Sabah

While Marines and Army forces took the battle to the insurgents the Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Al Anbar suddenly turned on the insurgents and Al Qaida Iraq.  Soon Iraqi civilians who had been either hostile or neutral towards the Marines and their own Iraqi Army and Police units turned on the Al Qaida and their allies.  Suddenly violence began to subside; Iraqi civilians began to report insurgents, weapons caches and IEDs.

Near COP South waiting to clear suspected IED

By the time that I left Iraq in February 2008 the situation in the province was such that the 1st Iraqi Division was able to be dispatched to Basra and Diyala where they in conjunction they would take the lead in driving the insurgents from these regions. Just before I left an Iraqi General, General Ali in Habbinya told me that I should come back in 5 years as a tourist because everything would be alright. Another Iraqi officer told me that if anything ever happened between us and “the Persians” that the Iraqis would be on our side.  I knew when I left that Iraq would be okay in the long run and I still believe that to be true.

Me with General Ali January 2008

Thursday the Sergeant Major of what used to be Multinational Force West or MNF-West announced the Marines of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) would be conducting a transfer of authority for the American mission to the 1st Armored Division of the US Army as part of the US drawdown in Iraq without a relief in place.   For most people in the United States this will be an event of little significance Iraq is now despite the continued presence of US forces has been forgotten by most.

With Advisers and Leaders of a Company of the Iraqi 2nd Border Brigade

Concern is now focused on US military actions in Afghanistan and the humanitarian relief operations in Haiti.  However, it was in Iraq that an insurgency was defeated, the first time since the British defeated the Malayan insurgency sponsored by Chinese Communists, and the French had militarily defeated the Algerian insurgency before the French government under DeGaulle surrendered the hard fought success of the Paras and Legionnaires betraying them even as he looked after what he viewed as the future of France.

With Bedouin Family and Advsiers near Syria

In the summer of 2007 Iraq was viewed as a lost cause by much of the American body-politic, politicians of both parties and the media.  Now it is becoming a functional state, in large part due to the sacrifices of US Military personnel and the Iraqi Army and security forces.  U.S. Forces are disengaging and exiting the country. While it is likely that and advisory and support mission will remain as the Iraqis continue to rebuild and their Army and security forces continue to expand their capabilities.  The Iraqis recently showed their metal by facing down an Iranian incursion into Iraqi territory on a strategic oil field.

The text of the Sergeant Major’s message describing the transfer is posted below:

From: Carpenter SgtMaj Kiplyn (USF-W SGTMAJ)

Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2010 15:55

Subject: FAREWELL OF THE MARINES FROM IRAQ

UNCLASSIFIED

Please pass on,

SgtsMaj, MGySgts, CMDCMs, Marines and Sailors, Saturday, 23 January at 1100 will mark the end of the Marines in Iraq as an organization.  II MEF (fwd) will conduct a Transfer of Authority Ceremony with the First Armored Division without a Relief in Place from any incoming unit. USF-W (formally MNF-W) will merge with USD-C (formally MND-Baghdad) and will cease to exist.

After 6 years, over 850 Marines and Sailors killed in combat and another 8800 wounded we have completed our mission.  At our peak, we had almost 26,000 Marines and Sailors on deck, close to 200 aircraft, over 380,000 pieces of ground equipment, and were averaging close to 2000 significant events a month.  We have added a whole new generation of Heros; and names like Al Nasiriyah, Fallujah and Ramadi will be added to our History books.

Words can’t begin to explain the magnitude of effort and sacrifice our Marines and Sailors have gone through to help the Iraqi people.  Each year since the initial invasion, Marines and Sailors from all over the Corps have been a part of the revolving I MEF (fwd) and II MEF (Fwd) Commands.  Each year has been different with its own sets of unique challenges and each successive year, the incoming organization has built upon the successes of the outgoing organization.

This year was no different, we didn’t have anywhere near the level of fighting that previous MEFs have done.  However, we did conduct many operations, maintained security, continue to professionalize the Iraqi Security Forces, develop good governance and economics, assisted with the continued establishment of the Rule of Law and oversaw the peaceful transition of the provincial government.  We also had one unique mission that we can call our own. That was to finally bring the Marine Corps home. Over the past year, we have simultaneously conducted the responsible drawdown of 24,000 Personnel, over 34 COPs and FOBs, including Baharia, Rawah, and TQ and sent six years worth of equipment out of theater.

For those of you who served with me this year, thank you.  It was long and difficult at times, with our own set of challenges, but we did it.

It has been an honor to serve with you.

For those of you who have left your boot prints over here at least once during the last six years; thanks to you too. You set the stage for us to finish the job.  It has been costly, it has been challenging, it has taken a while with quite a few dark days. But, in the end, it was worth it.

All Marines and Sailors, including those who remained stateside have contributed to the overall success of the Marines and Sailors in Iraq and; all of us have known someone who didn’t make it back alive or has permanent injuries. It is up to us to ensure that those who follow never forgot their sacrifice or what we did here.

Collectively, we have added another illustrious chapter to the successful story of our Marine Corps.  One that all of us can be proud of.

Semper Fidelis,

K. Carpenter

Sergeant Major

United States Force – West, Iraq

(Previously Multi National Force – West) II Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd)

21 January 2010

UNCLASSIFIED

Iraqi Recruits going through Basic Training

I am proud today to have been part of a mission that appears to have ended in success, at least in Al Anbar Province.  Semper Fidelis to the Marine Corps and the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen who served alongside of us in Al Anbar as well as the Iraqi Army and security forces who despite the odds set the stage for the Iraqis and US Forces in the rest of the country to begin to re-establish order and normalcy to a country that has known little but war, dictatorship and tragedy over the past 40 years. I look forward to going back to Iraq someday and maybe visit some of those Iraqis that I was privileged to serve alongside.  May God bless all those who served honorably in Iraq and the Iraqi Army, security forces and the people of Iraq.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Anomaly of Operation Desert Storm and Its Consequences Today

Armor Advancing During Operation Desert Storm

There are few occasions in history where an army is given exactly the scenario to which its organization, training and doctrine coalesce against an opponent that uses the template of organization and training that it has been designed to defeat.  Operation Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait by the United States and its coalition from Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army and Republican Guard was such a war. The operation was built up in the popular media to the extent that it created a false image of the cost of war and belief that wars can be won “one the cheap” because of superior technology and organization.  That belief was shattered during the Iraq insurgency which began in earnest following the occupation of Iraq following the defeat of Saddam in 2003 by a significantly smaller US force than was used to liberate Kuwait twelve years before.

Architects of Desert Storm

The superior performance of the Army in the Gulf War did not turn out to be the template of how future wars would be fought.  In the following years the US military has become embroiled in conflicts where opponents use inexpensive and often crude off the shelf technology to counter conventional US superiority in firepower and organization.

During the First Gulf War the Army was aided in that the doctrine that it developed to fight a war in Europe against the Warsaw Pact, the Airland Battle was “perhaps best suited to armored warfare in the open desert.”[i] Of course during Desert Storm this was exactly the setting that the Army would be called on to fight.  Unlike Vietnam where the Army attempted to fight an unconventional war with conventional tactics the Army had the chance to fight exactly the battle that it had trained for, against an enemy trained in the tactics and using the equipment of its former Soviet adversary.

The Army enjoyed the advantages of having “reached a high level of training and technological proficiency”[ii] against the Soviet threat. The fact that the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact had melted down unexpectedly in 1989 and 1990 and removed any conventional threat in Europe which allowed the Army to concentrate massive amount of forces including the VII Corps from Germany to the Middle East was nothing short of incredible.  Additionally the Army had the advantages of superior weaponry and the fortuitous timing of the war before the effects of the post-Cold War drawdown were realized.

For the Army the “1980s were a golden age of military thought and debate,”[iii] and the Airland Battle concept “was greeted with enthusiasm throughout the Army.” Terms such as initiative, agility, synchronization and depth….soon became part of every officer’s vernacular.”[iv] Colonel Harry Summers who had written a critical history of the Vietnam War noted that FM 100-5, the Army’s primary manual of operations, was the “operational blueprint for Operation Desert Storm.”[v] That blueprint had a well trained and disciplined force schooled in the conduct of the Airland Battle concept enunciated in FM-100-5. David Halberstam noted that Operation Desert Storm was fought by a “professional army-a very professional army.”[vi] Seldom in the history of warfare was any army trained and equipped to fight the exact battle for which it found itself.

The Highway of Death

The foundation of doctrine, training, technology and organization laid in the 1980s was solid.  The Army was not only effective in the Gulf War, it was overwhelming.  This is not to say that the Army did not encounter problems.  It did, some which against a better trained and equipped force might have negatively impacts its operations. However the problems encountered did not keep it from dominating the battlefield.

The US rapidly deployed a blocking force of paratroops and Marines following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait at the end of August.  While few in number they served as a deterrent that Saddam did not test. There was great concern that had Saddam pushed into Saudi Arabia when forces were small and lightly equipped that he might have succeeded in capturing the northeaster Saudi oil fields and production facilities.  The military leadership continually reinforced these forces first to a substantial defensive force and then with the addition of more forces a significant offensive force.  Thus when the decision was made to liberate Kuwait under the United Nations resolution the forces were there and ready.

When the war began advances in Joint warfare and C3 was evident in the effectiveness of the operations.[vii] Particular successes included the movement of VII and XVIII Airborne Corps into the desert to outflank the Iraqis in Kuwait[viii] and every actual engagement between Iraqi and American forces.  Of note was the performance of Major General Barry McCafferey’s 24th Mechanized Division,[ix] and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at 73 Easting against the Republican Guard’s Talwahkana Division.[x] Likewise the action of 2nd Brigade 1st Armored Division against the Guard’s Adnan Division at Madinah Ridge[xi] displayed the effectiveness and lethality of the Airland Battle and joint warfare concepts developed in the 1980s.

There were weaknesses and these included various aspects of command and control and fratricide[xii] brought about by the fast pace of operations and the fog of war. Likewise conflicts between General Schwartzkopf and some of his Army commanders, notably Generals Franks[xiii] and Yeosock hindered operations.  This occurred most notably in the failure to destroy the Republican Guard prior to the cessation of hostilities. This was partially was due to political considerations and faulty intelligence but was operational decision of Schwartzkopf to halt McCafferty’s  24th Mechanized Division before it could finish off Republican Guard units facing it or letting Franks complete his double encirclement of the Guard or encircle the key southern Iraqi city of  Basrah.[xiv]

The New Face of War Somalia

Iraq

Rwanda Genocide

Deadly Large Shaped Charge IED

Afghanistan: Brits in Action Against Taliban Fighters

Despite the successes of Operation Desert Storm the planners failed to anticipate the end state of what would happen when hostilities had ceased.  The conditions of the cessation of hostilities were the chief contention of many against the end to the ground war at the 100 hour point. Some argue that the early end of hostilities allowed the victory to be less than it could have been.  Some even today argue that the offensive should have gone forward with the goal of overthrowing Saddam, however despite its success the Army was not prepared for an occupation nor would have the coalition supporting the US have survived an invasion and occupation of Iraq.  The actual mistakes were not in the stopping of the war, but rather the faulty conditions of the cease fire which enabled Saddam to recover the internal control of Iraq and put down attempts to revolt especially around Basra in the Shia south.  Rick Atkinson in his book Crusade notes that there were “errors would be made in establishing conditions of the ceasefire…but stopping the war was no mistake.”[xv]

While the debate about Operation Desert Storm still persists nearly 20 years after the fact the more important lesson was not learned.  That lesson was that Operation Desert Storm was not the new face of war, but rather an anomaly.  It was a war that was the swan song of the Cold War where the doctrine, technology, organization and trained to and practiced were inflicted on a less well trained and equipped version of the force that they were designed to defeat, forces which were badly deployed and already isolated by airpower even prior to the ground war. Once the ground war started the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq had little chance against the massive US and coalition force arrayed against it short of preemptively using the chemical and biological weapons of which Iraq had an ample supply.  It did not employ these weapons for a number of reasons, but without them Iraqi forces exposed in the open desert with no air support and cut off from much of their supply by constant air attacks were easily defeated.

In the past 20 years the United States and the west have only once been able to reprise the type of war displayed during Operation Desert Storm.  That was in the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq.  While the forces deployed were successful in defeating the Iraqi military and overthrowing Saddam Hussein they were insufficient to secure the country especially after the decision to disestablish all Iraqi police and military forces which might have assisted US forces in securing the country.  Perhaps planners forgot that German military police, police and civil servants were employed by the western allies in the period immediately after the war even during the period of “de-Nazification.”

Instead of a litany of Desert Storm like scenarios US forces as well as those of NATO and UN allies have had to deal with terrorism, insurgencies, revolutionary wars, tribal wars of genocide and wars waged by religious extremists. Despite more than a decade in dealing with these types of war, many in the military and political establishment as well as the media and public opinion believed that Desert Storm was the model for future wars. As such after the brief period of euphoria which occurred after the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom the grim reality of war has stared Americans and others in the west in the face.  While the military has performed well, it has had to adjust and learn lessons about war that it wanted to avoid during and after Vietnam.  Those were the lessons of counterinsurgency, unglamorous and unexciting they were the lessons buried after Vietnam which were ignored until it was nearly too late in Iraq and possibly now too late in Afghanistan.  Desert Storm was an anomaly and one does not base the future of war on the swan song of the last war.


[i] Atkinson, Rick. Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1993. p.253

[ii] Gordon, Michael R. and Trainor, Bernard E. The Generals’ War, Back Bay Books, Little Brown and Company, Boston and New York 1995. p.467

[iii] Peters, Ralph. Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg , PA p.xi

[iv] Ibid. Atkinson.

[v] Summers Harry G. On Strategy II: A Critical Analysis of the Gulf War, Dell Publishing a Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, New York NY 1992. p.159

[vi] Halberstam, David. War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals, A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, New York 2001. p.153.  Gordon and Trainor note that the “never in the history of the Republic has a more competent and more professional military been fielded.

[vii] See Summers pp. 243-245.  Summers is very complimentary of the advances in the Joint aspects of command and control that impacted the campaign.  He notes several points at the strategic and operational levels which are complimentary of individuals including comparing General Colin Powell to General George Marshall. Gordon and Trainor writing a few years later are more critical of the “jointness” of the Americans including valid criticism of the air campaign, fire support coordination, and differences in doctrine between Marines and Army and the way the VII Corps and XVIII Corps operated based on the way that they trained and organized. Pp.471-473

[viii] Atkinson pp.309-310.  Atkinson discusses the fact that American commanders involved had seldom maneuvered units of battalion or brigade size prior to this operation.

[ix] The 24th made a great advance to the Euphrates but as Atkinson notes that it had “encountered no enemy resistance at all.” p.406

[x] See Atkinson pp. 441-448

[xi] See Atkinson pp.466-467.  In a 40minute fight the M1A1s destroyed 60 T-72s and dozens of APCs at a cost of one American KIA.  Atkinson notes that this battle like the action at 73 Easting “was waged with tactical acumen and devastating firepower….”

[xii] Ibid Atkinson pp.315-316.  Atkinson notes that there were 28 incidents with 35 killed and 72 wounded.

[xiii] Ibid. pp.405-407.  Schwartzkopf felt that Franks was not aggressive enough and that VII Corps was “sluggish” and “ceding the initiative to the Republican Guard.”  Schwatzkopf even threatened Yeosock that he would fire Franks.

[xiv] Ibid. Atkinson p.476

[xv] Ibid. p.477

Bibliography

Atkinson, Rick. Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1993

Gordon, Michael R. and Trainor, Bernard E. The Generals’ War, Back Bay Books, Little Brown and Company, Boston and New York 1995

Halberstam, David. War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton and the Generals, A Touchstone Book published by Simon and Schuster, New York 2001

Ralph. Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg , PA

Summers Harry G. On Strategy II: A Critical Analysis of the Gulf War, Dell Publishing a Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, New York NY 1992.

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