Tag Archives: horn of africa

Where Were You on 9-11-2001? Share Your Memories

I was reminded today about how the terrible events of September 11th 2001 are part of our national fabric and how those that remember that day have in some way been affected by it. Most of us I am sure remember where they were when they found out and what they were doing. I have written about my experience at Camp LeJeune but I know that others have just as vivid memories.

I was asking one of my sailors where he was on 9-11. He is young, just a year in the Navy and he replied that he was in 3rd grade. He explained that he remembers his teachers and other adults in states of shock and disbelief. He said that as a kid the significance was not understandable, that the pictures looked like a movie.

One of my friends who I served with in Germany early in my Army career was a hospital administrator at a large medical center on the New Jersey side of the Hudson across from Manhattan when the towers were hit and how he watched from his office as the towers burned and fell.

I have many friends from the USS Hue City which I reported aboard in December 2001 who were at sea and after the attack patrolled the East Coast. Another one of my friends who works with me on our pastoral care staff was in the gym at 29 Palms following a combined arms exercise with the 2nd Marine Regiment when the news showed the second aircraft hitting the South Tower of the WTC. He informed his disbelieving commanding officer of the attack.

My wife Judy was in a doctor’s office waiting room when the news came on the television. She said to a friend who was with her that “it was terrorism” and the friend said “that damned Saddam Hussein.”

I had friends that served as first responders or provided support to first responders at the site. Many were clergy, both Navy Chaplains serving with the US Coast Guard and civilian clergy.

Quite a few of the young Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and Airmen that I have served alongside joined following in the days, months and years after 9-11-2001 because of that terrible event. Others who had done their time on active duty volunteered as Reservists or National Guardsmen to return to active duty .  They are part of the 9-11 Generation, a new Greatest Generation, who have served in the longest and most far flung war in our nation’s history.

I believe that we should never forget that day and the lives of those that were killed or injured during the attack, the families who lost husbands, wives, children or parents and those that laid down their lives going up to save lives even as the buildings came down. Some of us knew people killed in the attacks. One of my Army Officer Basic Course Classmates, Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner died in the Pentagon. Other friends and comrades have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For their sake we should remember and never forget 9-11-2001.

Many of us have gone to war, deploying more than once to Iraq, Afghanistan or the Arabian Gulf, the Horn of Africa and other less known theaters of the Global War on Terrorism. Over 6,000 of us, twice the number killed on 9-11-2001 have died in those wars, tens of thousands of others wounded and forever changed. The name Operation Enduring Freedom is no misnomer, it has gone on far longer than anyone of us imagined that it would.

However on 9-11-2001and in the days following that day Americans stood as one. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, straight and gay, religious people and non-religious people, secularists and humanists, Christians of all denominations, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, followers of Wicca and earth based religions and American Moslems who often took the brunt of others anger for the actions of the terrorists all stood together. We were Americans again.

We have lost unity that over the past eleven years and all of us, especially those  probably share some of the blame for the division. I do hope that as we remember the events of 9-11-2001 that we somehow recover a sense that we are all in this together and come together as Americans no matter which political party is in power.

Tomorrow at the Naval Hospital that I serve we will mark the events of 9-11-2001 with a small ceremony at morning Colors and have moment of silence at the time of the first attack. Others around the country, especially at the World Trade Center where the Freedom Tower is rising, the Pentagon and in Somerset County Pennsylvania will have more elaborate ceremonies. Regardless of where we are we will be one in spirit.

I invite anyone reading this to share in the comments your memories of the day, perhaps your experiences of it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

1 Comment

Filed under History, News and current events

Padre Steve Remembers 9-11 and the Forgotten War

It has been nearly eleven years since that fateful Tuesday when the world changed.

I can still remember it like it was yesterday despite the intervening years.

I was in my office at Camp LeJeune where I was serving as Chaplain for Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division. I had just finished an early morning counseling case and had delayed my early morning PT in order to handle the case and after I checked e-mail I was about to close my internet browser when I saw a small headline on the Yahoo News headline section.

The headline simply read “Plane crashes into World Trade Center Building.” My immediate thought was “some dumb ass flew his Cessna into the building.” I simply thought that some inexperienced pilot had gotten lost and crashed his plane into a tower. Thinking nothing more I closed out the page and left the office. It was 0900.

I got in my car and the radio was tuned in to a local right-wing talk radio station, yes I used to listen to it all the time. The talk show host was former Congressman Bob Dornan. He was talking with someone about what kind of aircraft had struck the building when he shouted “oh my God another plane has crashed into the other tower!”

I was stunned. I knew that it had to be terrorism. I drove to the gym since they had multiple televisions and I figured that I could find out more there. I walked in and saw Marines, Sailors and civilians gathered around the sets. Every TV was tuned in to different news programs, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC as well as shows such as the Today Show and Good Morning America. Some whispered to each other but the silence of most was deafening. I remained a few minutes, transfixed by the images on the set. I then left the gym, got in my car and went back to the office where I showered, got into uniform, made a check of the news which was now reporting a strike on the Pentagon and the collapse of the South Tower of the WTC.

I drove to our battalion command post where I met with our Commanding Officer, Colonel Lake and Executive Officer Major Foster. We all knew that this was the beginning of a war and all of us had been through countless instances where we had been notified to get ready to deploy, most recently during the Kosovo action where Marines were to take a lead roll had the Serbians not backed down. While we talked the North Tower of the WTC collapsed. The emotions on everyone’s face showed, it was hard to believe that so much had happened and the great towers were smoldering heaps of rubble with possibly tens of thousands of victims crushed or incinerated in the ruins. I was instructed to get my gear and be back for a staff meeting as Colonel Lake was heading to division to meet with the Staff of 2nd Marine Division.

I made a quick run to my town home, hugged the dogs since Judy was out and grabbed my gear and some extra uniforms and underwear and headed back into the base through the back gate. I deposited my gear in my office and went around the building so see our Marines and Sailors assigned to our Truck Company, MP Company, Medical Company and Headquarters Company and all were waiting for more word, most gathered around televisions and watching breaking news. Some came to me and asked what it meant and expressed concern for families and friends in the affected locations. Then I went back to our headquarters where we heard from Colonel Lake what was known and what our actions would be. We were placed on high alert, patrols by full combat ready Marines were to patrol vulnerable areas of the base while roadblocks and checkpoints were established near every major headquarters aboard the base. The base was also locked down and only Marines, Sailors or Civilian workers returning to work were allowed aboard.

Later in the day I met with the chaplains who served our independent battalions, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Recon Battalion and 2nd Tank Battalion. I explained what I knew from my meetings with the Division Chaplain and Battalion Commander. We concluded our meeting with prayer for the victims of the attacks, the responders and for our Marines and Sailors.

It was both grim and surreal as the day passed and night fell. We remained in that condition four days. Meals were served at the Chow Hall, MRE’s issued and we went everywhere in full combat gear. I visited Marines at their guard posts during the night and worked counseling those who were concerned about family members or friends. They did so for good reason as nearly 3000 people were killed in the WTC, Pentagon and aboard the four hijacked aircraft.

Within a month U.S. Forces were engaged in combat in Afghanistan, driving the Taliban from power and sending Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda into hiding. Various units of the division were deployed to Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa over the coming weeks and months and even as we did so rumors circulated about Iraq.

I knew that the war would not be the short war that everyone hoped for and within 6 months I would be deployed with the USS Hue City and the USS John F Kennedy Carrier Strike Group to the Arabian Gulf, Horn of Africa and Gulf of Oman.  We would take part in maritime interception operations off the Horn of Africa and in the Arabian Gulf where we took part in the UN Oil Embargo on Iraqi smugglers.

I would travel to the Middle East frequently over the coming years supporting Marines from the Marine Security Force Battalion and later deploy to Iraq from EOD Group Two. I have lost friends and see the effects of the war every day at Camp LeJeune.

Osama Bin Laden is now dead, and it has been 11 long years of war. However it has been a war that for the most part has not been a national effort. After 9-11 the nation was not called to sacrifice, it was told by political leaders to “go shopping.” The brave men and women of our military and their families have made incredible sacrifices over the past 11 years. 2024 have died in Afghanistan while 4486 died in Iraq before the withdraw of US forces in December 2011. Another 32,223 were wounded in Iraq while 15,332 have been wounded in Afghanistan. These numbers do not count American contractors, State Department, CIA, FBI or other law enforcement agencies.

They also do not count the thousands afflicted by PTSD or other illnesses contracted in the combat zone, nor does it count the large number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have taken their lives on active duty or following their discharge or retirement. Then there are the lives of over 1500 coalition soldiers, mostly British, Canadians and Australians who have given their lives in these wars. Finally there are the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghan civilians who have died or suffered injury or have been dislocated or exiled as a result of the wars.

Then there is the economic cost which amounts to trillions of dollars for both wars which have been funded by borrowing against our economic future.

Despite this for most Americans the war in Afghanistan is unpopular, little understood and distant, far from daily life. This is backed by polling data and by words of some politicians of both major political parties, in every major poll over 60% of Americans say that the war in Afghanistan is not worth the cost and needs to end.

One of the most glaring examples of how political leaders think about Afghanistan, but certainly not the only one is Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Romney did not mention either Iraq or Afghanistan in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, although he did mention “strengthening the military.” He explained it later in an interview by saying to Fox News anchor Brett Baier “When you give a speech you don’t go through a laundry list, you talk about the things that you think are important….”

The sad fact is that no matter why Romney left out any mention of an ongoing war out of his speech that his words “you talk about the things that you think are important” are indicative not only of him but the majority of Americans. The reality is that Romney and most Americans have no personal connection with the war or the military. The war has been fought by a relatively small professional military that represents less than one percent of the population. Marine Lieutenant General John Kelly who lost his son, a Marine Lieutenant in Afghanistan noted at the 2012 American Legion national convention:

“America as a whole today is certainly not at war, not as a country, not as a people… Only a tiny fraction of American families fear all day and every day a knock at the door that will shatter their lives….” 

This Tuesday we will reflect on something called Patriot’s Day and pause to remember the events of that bloody Tuesday of September 11th 2001. I hope, probably in vain that the American people and their leaders will do more than mouth a few words, talk about how terrible the day was and go back to business as usual. I hope, probably again in vain that Americans will wake up to the fact that tens of thousands of Americans are in harm’s way and that even more and probably more terrible wars loom just over the horizon.

I have no idea what it will take to actually engage the vast bulk of the American population that what happens in Afghanistan is still important. Nor do I think that most people have any idea that a war with Iran could be disastrous for US and coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan.

It is odd to think that we can think about 9-11 and then ignore the subsequent wars the way that we have done. I really don’t.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

4 Comments

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, News and current events

The Miscalculations of July

The Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand 

“War is the unfolding of miscalculations.” Barbara Tuchman

Sometimes I miss the Cold War and the ever constant threat of Nuclear annihilation.  Not that I looked forward to getting nuked and having the world blown out from under us, but back in those days it was pretty much for sure that the United States and Soviets would keep their missiles in their silos no matter how much they jibber-jabbered. Things did get awfully sporting during the Cuban Missile Crisis and during the 1973 Yom Kippur War but cooler heads prevailed. Yes there were incidents but we survived. We fought proxy wars and helped despots that we liked while the Soviets did the same. There was an air of predicability as both sides restrained their client states. Those were the days, we only really had to worry about two sides keeping things under control. Yes, those were the days… not really but compared to now I wonder.

Now, it seems that the shit is really starting to hit the fan all over the world, especially in the Middle East, Southwestern and Central Asia and even Europe. As day does into day it is hard to keep track of all the boiling cauldrons of hatred and misery and the vast numbers of political, religious, military, economic and ideological “leaders” that pour gasoline on the fires that stoke them. While I cannot definitively predict exactly where the disaster of war will begin or what the reasons that men will justify it; I do know that whenever, wherever and for whatever reasons it will be because of a failure of political, religious, military and economic leaders to prevent it. Abba Eban said “History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”

*Iran continues to threaten to close the Straits of Hormuz and unleash missiles on neighboring countries and Israel. 

*Israel is making plans for pre-emptive wars in Iran and Lebanon.

*The EU Oil Embargo on Iran has gone into effect.

*In Lebanon Hezbollah, the proxy army of Iran has made major strides in its ability to strike Israel and border skirmishes are now occurring between Israeli forces, Hezbollah fighters and even the Lebanese Army. 

*Syria’s Assad dictatorship is killing vast numbers of its own people and violence from its civil war is spreading to Lebanon. 

*Turkey has reinforced its borders with Syria after one of its aircraft was shot down by Syrian forces. 

*The United States sends additional naval and air forces to the Persian Gulf while maintaining a strong ground force in Kuwait. 

*Iraq, still beset by sectarian violence and undermined by Iranian agents is unable to maintain its traditional role as a balance to the Persians. 

*In Egypt a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood has taken power and threatens to end the peace with Israel even as they contend with the still powerful Egyptian military, and more secularist Egyptians for control of the country. 

*The United States and NATO are bogged down in a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won and works with a government that cannot be trusted and a military whose members are killing more NATO troops than actual “enemy” forces.

*Pakistan teeters on the brink and supports Taliban and Al Qaida forces even as the United States wages a clandestine war against those forces ensconced in their Pakistan bases. 

*The United States fights a drone war in Yemen as that country’s military fights Al Qaida Yemen forces, forces that are now more capable of harming the United States and its interests than those based in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. 

*Violence in the Horn of Africa spread by the Al Shabaab terrorist network threatens to spill over into neighboring countries. 

*In Nigeria Moslem extremists burn Christian churches and threaten that country’s oil production and economy. 

*European nations stand on the brink of disorder and anarchy should nations begin to default on their debts and abandon the Euro. 

*Simmering long term disputes in the Balkans continue to cause worry about more war and instability.

*Fascist political parties and movements are gaining momentum throughout Europe, especially in Eastern Europe.

*Leaders of all of nations make bellicose statements meant to stoke the passions of their most zealous political supporters often invoking apocalyptic visions of the future.

*Other leaders attempt to maintain a precarious balance in order to ride out the wave of change, hatred and discontent sweeping the Middle East and Europe.

*Religious and political leaders do their best to demonize anyone that does not agree with them or their version of “the truth.” 

*The war profiteers sell arms in abundance to every side to maximize their profits by legal and illegal sales and transfers.

I could keep going but the point is that eventually someone is going to miscalculate in one or more of these conflicts or situations and events will take on a life of their own. Leaders will commit themselves to wars that they think that they will be able to manage and like 1914 things will go horribly wrong. The hatreds of peoples, many which go back hundreds of years will spill out against their neighbors.  Martin Luther said “War is the greatest plague that can affect humanity; it destroys religion, it destroys states, it destroys families. Any scourge is preferable to it.”  Unfortunately it seems that we are heading down a path that will bring great suffering and misfortune all because of all types of leaders who are willing to take a chance on war rather than to do the hard work of peace. Confederate General Robert E Lee wrote about the American Civil War “The war…was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” 

I wonder if any of the leaders now waging war or preparing for war will say the same when the coming wars are over, or if they will find words to justify the suffering that they have inflicted on millions of people. I imagine that it will be the latter.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, middle east, national security, Political Commentary

Armed Forces Day 2012: The Disconnection of the Military and Society and the Terrible Result

Armed Forces Day was celebrated in some locales Saturday but I would dare say that the vast majority of Americans didn’t notice it. Meanwhile under 50 “Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans” from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War got lots of air time for throwing their “Global War on Terrorism Service Medals” away at the big anti-NATO Summit protest in Chicago. This is the Medal that those that served after September 11th 2001 received for being on active duty in the United States, not actually deployed.

Now there were a fair number of local celebrations to honor members of the Armed Forces across the country. As a member of the military I appreciate those events and the people that put them together, especially those that have taken the time to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  There are others that honor the Armed Forces every day, I think especially about the Maine Troop Greeters of Bangor Maine and the Pease Troop Greeters of New Hampshire. These men and women, many veterans themselves or related to veterans are amazing. They have been welcoming veterans back since early in the war and provide many services to the men and women of the Armed Forces that pass through Bangor Maine International Airport and the Portsmouth International Airport, the former Pease Air Force Base in Pease New Hampshire.  I have had the honor of passing through both locations, Bangor on more than one occasion. While I know that there are many others that do this they are in the minority in this country.

At any given time less than 1% of Americans are serving in all components of the military. For over 10 years we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other locations that we don’t like to talk about too much like Pakistan. However this has not been the effort of a nation at war. It has been the effort of a tiny percentage of the population.  As a nation we are disconnected from the military and the wars that have been going on for so long. The fact is that most Americans do not feel that they have a personal or vested interest in these wars because they have been insulated by political leaders of both parties from them. There is no draft, and no taxes were raised to fund the wars. Every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman volunteered for duty or reenlisted during this time period. Motives may have varied from individual to individual, but unlike the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam all were or are volunteers.

Many of these volunteers served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither war was popular, except in the very beginning when casualties were low and victory appeared to be easy and quick. We like short wars. We left Iraq last year and Afghanistan is still going to be with us for a while. In Afghanistan we followed the same path trod by the British and Soviets in trying to topple regimes and plant our respective versions of civilization in that land of brutal Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek warlords who war on each other as much as any foreign infidel.  It is a path that leads to heartbreak which ties down vast amounts of manpower without any significant strategic gain for the United States or NATO.  This even as war drums beat across the Middle East and nuclear armed Pakistan slips into political and social chaos and keeps a major supply route for the US and NATO to Afghanistan shut down.

The fact is that American and for that matter other NATO and coalition military personnel who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa or at sea are in the minority in all of our countries. Thus when a few of the few of these veterans choose to make a public spectacle of themselves by tossing a medal away they get cheered and lots of media attention. Liberals applaud the medal throwers and conservatives vilify them without getting what is really going on. Both miss the tragic disconnection between the military and civilian society that is the result of public policy since the end of the Vietnam War. A relatively small professional military in comparison to the population is sent to fight wars while the bulk of the population is uninvolved.

I heard one of the organizers of the medal throwing exhibition apologize for his service. If he wants to apologize to people that generally haven’t been touched by war and haven’t had to make a single sacrifice then fine. If he wants to apologize for acts that he may have committed against Iraqis or Afghani people that is another matter, that can’t be mitigated by tossing medals over a fence. However I think that the manner of by which he and his compatriots demonstrated at the NATO Summit did nothing for those that serve. Tossing a medal away, a medal not earned for combat service is cheap. The medal that they threw away symbolically shows that they served in the homeland on active duty after the 9-11 attacks. Some did serve overseas, some in combat but to throw this particular medal away seemed an odd choice.

The right to protest and disagree with policy and the politics of war is important. It is a right which I will defend. However I think that what these veterans did was more disrespectful to their former comrades and those currently serving than it was to those that make policy. The army of lobbyists and think tank wonks that promote the politics of war regardless of who is President don’t care about this because no matter who is in office or who controls Congress they will promote policies that keep them employed and businesses enriched. Marine Major General and Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler was quite right when he said:

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

I may disagree with the manner of how and when these veterans protested. However, I am not going to question their motive or honor even if I disagree with their manner of protest because I came back different from war.

But then when a society sends off its sons and daughters to fight in wars that no one understands, and the vast majority of people no longer support it is no wonder that some veterans make such displays. Likewise it is understandable why other veterans have major issues with such protestors, just as many Vietnam veterans still feel the hurt of how a nation turned its back on them.

For the protestors the display may make them feel better, but it misses the bigger point of why wars like these go on for so long.  That they do is because misguided policies have brought about a chronic disconnection in our society between those that serve in the military and those that do not. But how can there not be when in the weeks after 9-11 people like President Bush and others either directly or in a manner of speaking told people to “go shopping”* as we went to war in Afghanistan? When I returned from Iraq I returned to a nation that was not at war whose leaders used the war to buttress their respective political bases.

I think that Armed Forces Day should be better celebrated but I am grateful to those people that do things every day to thank and support military personnel in thought, word and deed like the Maine Greeters and Pease Greeters. The interesting thing about these groups is that they are made up of citizens from across the political spectrum, veterans and non-veterans who simply care for and appreciate the men and women that serve in and fight the wars that no-one else can be bothered to fight.

I just hope and pray that the end in Afghanistan does not turn into an even worse historic debacle than suffered by the British or the Soviets during their ill fated campaigns. Of course the politicians, pundits, preachers and the defense contractors, banks and lobbyists will find a way to profit from this no matter how many more troops are killed, wounded or injured and how badly it affects military personnel or their families. After all, to quote Smedley Butler, “war is a racket.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Foreign Policy, iraq,afghanistan, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Navy is the Future of National Security

USS HUE CITY CG 66 in the Arabian Gulf 2002.  “I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” John Paul Jones 

“Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”  President George Washington

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” President Theodore Roosevelt

“A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.” President Woodrow Wilson

“Events of October 1962 indicated, as they had all through history, that control of the sea means security. Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security….” President John F. Kennedy

There are a great many debates in Congress and the Pentagon regarding the current and future military budgets in light of the massive budget deficits and economic crisis facing the nation.  Complicating the issue is our massive commitment to land campaigns that contribute little to the long term national security of the United States and its friends. These wars constrain our diplomatic military and economic ability to respond to other crises at home and around the world be they military threats, terrorism or natural or man made disasters.

Until the mid 20th Century theUnited States viewed the land forces when used abroad as expeditionary forces which were employed overseas for relatively short periods of times of combat.  The mission and strategy was to fight the war, bring all or most of the forces home, assist with security as needed and depend on a naval presence to show the flag without a continued large “boots on the ground” presence.   The two times that we have elected to fight protracted ground wars with no definable condition of victory we have come out weaker than we went in.  This was the case inVietnam a war which badly divided the nation and nearly destroyed the military as a viable force.  The present campaign in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq which is close to ending have the potential to do the same.

In the prosecuting the Global War on Terror which was launched in response to the attacks of September 11th 2001 we have for the most costly and historically flawed ways to use an American Army.  In doing so we have had to invest a huge amount of our expenditures simply to maintain a force to keep the status quo in a country that will turn on us as soon as it convenient to do so.

In the process of focusing on these aspects of this war we have forgotten the more crucial long term aspects of national security which can only be addressed by maritime power.  This power includes the military might of the Navy and Marine Corps team but also includes our Merchant Marine and Coast Guard.

Ninety percent of world trade is transported by ship via sea lanes that have choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz,Strait of Malacca, the Bab El Mendeb and the Horn of Africa, and the Strait of Gibraltar.  Likewise other traffic must pass through the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits or around Cape Horn.  Then there are the two major maritime canals the Panama and Suez Canals.  Terrorists, pirates, rogue nations and ascending Naval powers such asChinapose real threats in all of these critical maritime commerce choke points.

Real and potential threats to the choke points: Iranian Naval and Revolutionary Guard Naval forces, Somali pirates, the new Chinese aircraft carrier and a Pakistani Navy that may become an enemy overnight 

Most of the world’s population lives in what are called the littorals, the areas of land adjacent to oceans and major waterways.  Likewise most industry is located in these areas. Most of these populations and industries are also in areas under the same type of threats as the sea lanes and choke points.  Simply put the sea and the littorals are much more important to this country and the world than landlocked Afghanistan.  They also are much more easily influenced by naval power that is not bound to land bases in nations where governments and their policy to the United Statesand our friends can change overnight and which large land armies would have minimal impact.

The United States Navy has been and still is the world’s preeminent naval power. It will likely remain so for the foreseeable future but the navy is strained.  Since 2001 it has shrunk in size, shed some 52,000 sailors and seen its scope of responsibility and operational tempo increase putting greater strain on the ships, aircraft and personnel remaining.  Ships are aging, maintenance was deferred and the planned new construction has not materialized.  The Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruisers are nearing an average age of 20 years, our carriers average 23 years old, many of our submarines are nearing the end of their projected service lives and some other ships are far older.

Ship classes like the Freedom and Independence class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), San Antonio Class Landing Ships (LPD) and the DD-1000 Zumwalt Class are badly over budget, plagued with technical and workmanship issue and are behind in production.

USS Freedom (above) and USS Independence Littoral Combat Ships

The LCS in particular seems like a bad investment, the ships are undermanned and under armed, planned weapons modules are not in production and they are not designed for survivability.  In effect they are large fast ships with almost no offensive or defensive capabilities that would be hard pressed to survive in a fight with any current or future Corvette or Frigate fielded by an opposing naval force. In order to be effective they need heavier armament and larger crews and need a redesign to improve their survivability. It makes no sense to spend more than half a billion dollars each on ships that are not survivable and cannot fulfill their intended missions.  A better choice would be something similar to the Dutch De Zeven Provincien  German Sachsen or the French Lafayette Class frigates which have a heavy armament and good endurance or the smaller and cheaper German Braunschweig class Corvettes.

DD-1000 the Zumwalt Class

The Zumwalts are 14,000 ton “Destroyers” that were designed as a replacement for the battleship.  Originally 32 were planned but the high cost and multiple problems associated with the design. These issues have included such things as seaworthiness due to their hull form and other hull issues, its integrated advanced electro-magnetic propulsion system and its surface and air warfare capabilities.  Their armament has been an issue since the beginning as they cannot meet the standards of the Aegis equipped Cruisers and DDGs and cannot support the Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities of those ships.  Their naval gunfire support capability which was advertised as one of their main selling points is woeful. They are to be equipped with two 155mm long range naval guns designed to use a “smart” munitions. The ships will carry a limited supply of shells for these guns and because of the need for extended range and guidance capabilities the shells will have a smaller charge than their land based counterparts.   They will have only two-thirds of the VLS cells than Ticonderoga class ships meaning that they can carry few missiles of all types.  It is likely that the Tomahawk cruise missile will comprise the bulk of their missile armament but if one wants a ship that’s only significant capability is launching Tomahawks then there are many other ideas which are more economical and can carry far more missiles than the Zumwalts. One of these was the Arsenal ship which was designed to carry 500 Tomahawks on a stealthy platform that requires a small crew and had an estimated cost of 500-800 million dollars.  It was cancelled in favor of the project that eventually turned into the Zumwalt class. The DD-1000 program began with the DD-21 program in 1994 and the first ship may not enter service until 2015. The cost of just two of these ships has grown exponentially to 6.6 billion as of 2011.  The two ships under construction have little place in the current or future Navy and would likely serve as technology test beds.

The Arsenal Ship

While we have increased the numbers and continued the production of the highly successful Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers (DDG) and Wasp class Amphibious Assault ships (LHD) it is not enough to compensate for the continued attrition.  If worst case budget projections occur the Navy could experience massive cuts without any decrease in maritime threats or operational commitments.  The Coast Guard is in even worse shape.

The USS John S McCain DDG 56

The most important aspect of national defense, free trade and humanitarian assistance in the coming years are America’s Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  Without a strong Navy and the other components of maritime power we are at the mercy of tin-horned dictators, pirates and terrorists who live and operate in the most vital areas of the world’s maritime transportation network.

Humanitarian assistance: USNS Comfort off Haiti 

As our political leaders meet in the coming weeks and months decisions will be reached in matters of national security.  They will be based budget considerations alone as we have not operated on a clearly defined national security strategy since the end of the Cold War.  Force structure has to be decided based on the over arching national strategy and broad brushed and un-thought out cuts are a recipe for disaster.

History tells us this. Following our Revolution the nation was deep in debt and eliminated the Navy.  Since our merchant shipping was no longer protected by the Royal Navy and the treaty withFrancewas allowed to lapse American ships became easy prey for the Barbary Pirates.  Rather than build a navy to protect American citizens and shipping the nation paid “tribute” to dictators which amounted to tens of millions of dollars until Thomas Jefferson sent the new re-established Navy to counter the threat.   Our history and that of other maritime powers such asGreat Britainand theNetherlandsprovide many precedents for this use of power.

What needs to happen now is for the LCS ships and Zumwalt class production to end with the current ships building.  No carriers except the 50 year old USS Enterprise should be decommissioned until a full up national strategy review is completed and agreed to by both political parties.  That strategy needs to actually prioritize the most important areas of engagement that the military should focus its efforts.  The Middle East will remain important but will fade as Asia continues to gain importance.

Regarding other ship classes much needs to happen.  DDG production should be stepped up and an affordable yet fully capable replacement to the Ticonderoga class designed, to include the ability to conduct ballistic missile defense.  A diesel electric attack submarine needs to be fielded to complement the Virginia Class attack boats.  A Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier design should be designed and produced to compliment the Nimitz and Ford Class Carriers now in commission or building. The Navy should design or take an off the shelf Corvette or small Frigate type ship to fill the role envisioned by the LCS.  Such ships should be designed for specific tasks to avoid the massive cost overruns and simplify production.  When one remembers that it as the United States Navy that first developed the Destroyer Escort type ship to fill a specific role such an undertaking should be well within ship designer and capabilities so long as they do not try to “gold plate” the type and make it a jack of all trades and master of none ship.  Other types of ship should be studied to include smaller but still capable aircraft carriers and new amphibious ships to support the Marine Expeditionary forces.

Ships need to be designed with combat power, survivability as the first priorities and they need to be affordable and easy to mass produce.  Designs do not need to be over thought.  George Patton’s adage “a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week” applies today for this nation and the Navy.  To adapt Patton’s adage I say that “a combat effective and survivable ship class that we can afford and mass produce now is better than a perfect ship that bankrupts us and cannot be produced in the numbers needed to secure the seas.” 

The Navy is the American Armed Force of the Future. Of all the Armed Services the Navy offers the United States the ability to protect its interests abroad and homeland security without the need to base large numbers of ground forces overseas.  Naval forces are flexible, are easily sustainable and conduct security, combat and humanitarian operations better and more affordably than any armed service in the world. When coupled with the expeditionary capability of the Marines offer a force that affordably provides national security.  George Washington, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt all knew this.  I do hope that the current Administration, Congress and their successors will not allow the current superiority that we enjoy on the high seas to decay just as our greatest economic and military competitors build up their naval capabilities and the threat of terrorists, pirates and the small but dangerous navies of rogue states threaten the sea lanes that are absolutely vital to our economy and national security.

The Navy is also the least provocative armed service and history has repeatedly shown that naval forces are a deterrent to war and guarantee of peace.

On that last note…

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, national security, Navy Ships, US Navy

The Naming of a New Aircraft Carrier and the Centrality of the Navy in Future National Security Strategy

USS HUE CITY CG-66 Enforcing the UN Oil Embargo against Iraq in April 2002

“Control of the seas means security. Control of the seas means peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the sea if it is to protect our security.” —John F. Kennedy

“For in this modern world, the instruments of warfare are not solely for waging war. Far more importantly, they are the means for controlling peace. Naval officers must therefore understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without unleashing the powerful instruments of destruction and chaos that they have at their command.” Admiral Arleigh Burke

Over the Memorial Day weekend Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the naming of the second ship in the Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier.  The name selected was significant as the ship will be named the USS John F. Kennedy CVN-79, her namesake being President John F. Kennedy who served as a junior officer in the Second World War commanding a Patrol Torpedo Boat, PT-109 in the Solomon Islands. Kennedy’s boat was rammed and split in two by the Japanese Fubuki class destroyer Amagiri in the early hours of August 2nd 1943.  Over a period of six days he made herculean efforts to save his crew and was awarded the Navy Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart.

The United States has always been a seafaring nation and today the vast majority of our commerce is borne by ships from the world over. The United States learned during the Revolution and the War of 1812 the importance of sea power when the Royal Navy for all intents and purposes rules the waves. Even the land victory of Washington at Yorktown was sealed by the intervention of the French Fleet which prevented the British from evacuating the garrison.  During the Civil War the Union Navy was the deciding factor as it blockaded Southern ports and forced the Mississippi River cutting the Confederacy in two and sealing its fate even as Confederate armies battled Union forces in the bloodiest battles ever seen on this continent. The Navy was the deciding factor in the Spanish American War sweeping the Spanish Navy from the seas and dooming its garrisons around the world.  The U.S. Navy began the First World War late but by the end was the ascendant naval power in the world and was one of the major reasons that the British in spite of the superiority that they had at the time agreed to the Washington and later London Naval accords.  When the Second World War erupted the United States was in the beginning stages of a Naval build up to reinforce and replace the fleet that was still dominated by the ships built prior to the Naval treaties.   In the Pacific the Japanese Navy steamrolled its scattered and ill equipped opposition while in the Atlantic German U-Boats decimated convoys very nearly breaking the back of Great Britain and the Soviet Union. However it was the Navy initially stretched to its limits by the Two Ocean War which regained the initiative which in an unprecedented build up of Naval Power defeated its adversaries and safeguarded the vast convoys of merchant ships carrying American troops and equipment into battle and bringing American Lend Lease aid to reach Britain and the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, Korea and Vietnam the Navy was a flexible and mobile response force to crises around the globe military, diplomatic and humanitarian, often diffusing situations without a shot having to be fired in anger and eliminating the need for large numbers of ground forces. In the 1980s the Navy secured the Gulf of Sirte against the threats of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi and kept the Persian Gulf open during the Tanker Wars initiated by Iran on merchant ships transiting the Gulf. American naval power was again on display during the Gulf War and subsequent United Nations sanctions on Iraq.  After 9-11 the Navy has been a response force around the globe in the War on Terrorism as well as numerous natural disasters and humanitarian crises. When a crisis develops which might require a military response the first questions on the mind of every Presidential administration has been where is the nearest Carrier Strike Group and Marine Expeditionary unit.  Today the Navy supports military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa and against piracy.

The vast majority of the world’s populations now live on the littorals, or the land areas adjacent to the ocean.  The bulk of world commerce is maritime commerce; the United States depends on secure sea lanes to support our economy.

While sea power is essential to American national power, diplomatic, economic and military large standing armies are not. Yes our land forces must be strong and in quality the best in the world. At the same time whenever we have committed large numbers of land forces to ill defined campaigns we have squandered national power and prestige in wars that have been at best stalemates and at worst strategic defeats. This of course excemts the two World Wars where those large land forces were engaged they had a specific mission that was directly tied to national strategy.

We have come to a place in our national life where our strategic thinking still largely influenced by the World Wars and the Cold War has to be modified.  The major land wars launched by the Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven incredibly costly in terms of manpower and economics and it is clear that the Obama administration and bipartisan Congress will seek to disengage sooner rather than later from those wars.  One knows that once those wars are over that land forces will shrink as plans are already on the table with cuts already beginning in some services.

Of course one has to ask what the military should be composed of in light of a coherent national security strategy that takes into account the full spectrum of threats to our nation many of which are not military in a traditional sense. To sustain large numbers of land forces on foreign territory is expensive and often fraught with peril when there are changes in the leadership of allied nations on which we depend for the basing of such forces. Even forward deployed Air Force assets are subject to these constraints.  Such basing was necessitated by the Soviet threat during the Cold War.  All previous overseas conflicts were viewed by American leaders as expeditionary in nature, land forces would go in with a specific goal for a limited time. If forces were left in place they were generally small and of a constabulary nature.

Only the Navy-Marine Corps team provides the flexibility to provide a rapid military or humanitarian response to overseas contingencies.  Critics call it “gunboat diplomacy” but then we have found what we are doing is not sustainable and we need an alternative.  That alternative is the Sea Services, which also include the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.  The Bush administration reduced the Navy in terms of ships and personnel in order to support land wars of questionable strategic value, even turning thousands of Sailors into soldiers to support Army missions in Iraq and Afghanistan without reducing and even expanding the requirements of Naval forces.  This was a mistake of unmitigated proportions, no strategic goal that we have accomplished in either Iraq or Afghanistan could not have been accomplished by the Navy and Marine Corps and contingents of Special Forces, military and civilian advisors and the CIA.

Theodore Roosevelt had a saying, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” He was not an isolationist by any means; he advocated engagement with the world but also protections, military, economic and ecological for Americans.   A strong Navy was central to his thinking as were good relations with other nations.  He understood the importance of the Navy in supporting American interests. In his annual address to Congress on December 6th 1904 he stated:

“In treating of our foreign policy and of the attitude that this great Nation should assume in the world at large, it is absolutely necessary to consider the Army and the Navy, and the Congress, through which the thought of the Nation finds its expression, should keep ever vividly in mind the fundamental fact that it is impossible to treat our foreign policy, whether this policy takes shape in the effort to secure justice for others or justice for ourselves, save as conditioned upon the attitude we are willing to take toward our Army, and especially toward our Navy. It is not merely unwise, it is contemptible, for a nation, as for an individual, to use high-sounding language to proclaim its purposes, or to take positions which are ridiculous if unsupported by potential force, and then to refuse to provide this force. If there is no intention of providing and keeping the force necessary to back up a strong attitude, then it is far better not to assume such an attitude.”

Roosevelt understood better than most of his peers around the world of the necessity of worldwide engagement and the protection of American interests.  As interdependent as the United States and our allies are on international cooperation in anti-terrorism, humanitarian response and the free flow of commerce the Sea Services have to be the primary means of response.  Land forces are important but it is clear that they will need to be reorganized and rebuilt after the long and arduous conflicts that they have shouldered and ultimately they are dependent on the Navy for the bulk of their support when deployed overseas.

Any new national security strategy must prioritize our nation’s goals with diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic assets. We must leverage power and not squander it.  Naval forces are among the most flexible and economic means of exercising the military aspects of such strategy and are not hostage to unstable governments as are forward deployed land forces.   Naval power leverages national power in ways that forward deployed land forces cannot and are far more connected to goodwill than are ground forces which are seen by many around the world as occupying forces.

British Maritime strategist Julian Corbett in his book Some Principles of Maritime Strategyprovides a clear understanding of how sea power is best suited to the principle of a true national strategy for a maritime nation which emphasized limited and asymmetrical warfare.  Such strategy sustained the British Empire until it allowed itself to become mired in the trenches of Flanders and the shores of Gallipoli during the First World War killing off the flower of the nation’s youth and nearly bankrupting the nation and alienating much of the empire.

Corbett maintained that naval forces were best suited to controlling lines of communications, focus on the enemy, and maneuver for tactical advantage.  He also believed that naval forces best suited the political, economic and financial dimensions of waging war as well as war’s technological and material aspects.  One key aspect of this was the Corbett believed that continental war where large land armies are deployed inherently act against opponents limiting their political aims and increase the chance of total war with all of its destructive effects.  Corbett understood, as Clausewitz did before him the primacy of politics in war and necessity to devise appropriate strategies to protect the national interests while emphasizing efficiency in battle while preserving costly assets.

Ultimately the United States is a maritime power. When we try to become a continental power by engaging in protected land wars overseas we lose our strategic and economic advantage.  One can argue that we would not be in Iraq or Afghanistan today had it not been for the deployment of land and air forces on the Arabian Peninsula following the Gulf War.

The new USS John F. Kennedy when completed will be one of the key platforms of American power projection in the middle part of this century and it is important that we strengthen and modernize the Navy so that it might meet the tasks required of it by our nation and our friends around the world.  It is imperative that we as a nation remember our heritage and return to it as we develop a strategy that is at last freed from the World War and Cold War model.  The time for that is now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under History, Military, national security, Navy Ships, US Navy

The Last Full Measure: The Long Wars with more to Come

Fr Corby gives absolution to the Irish Brigade at Gettysburg as they stood in the breach

I have been watching the events in Egypt as well as other parts of the world with concern. We live in very dangerous times.  I do not want to sound like an alarmist but things are looking like we are heading into some very perilous waters.  For me this is personal because I have friends serving in harm’s way, I serve those wounded in body soul and spirit from their time in combat and I know in my heart that we will but blessed beyond compare if nothing else blows up on us.  But I am not optimistic.

The United States and its Allies have been fighting a war against Moslem extremists and terrorists on multiple fronts.  Some of these have been of necessity because they were where Al Qaeda and its allies were based such as Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa as well as a number of places in the shadows around the world. In 2003 President Bush elected to invade Iraq and another from was opened which drew the bulk of our combat forces into a protracted counter-insurgency campaign which we seem finally have been able to extricate ourselves from.  After years of neglect President Obama ordered a surge of troops into Afghanistan where the situation had deteriorated.  The fight is still raging there with the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies receiving support from various entities in Pakistan supportive of their cause probably including parts of the Pakistani Intelligence services.

In these wars the all volunteer U.S. Military has performed many remarkable feats but suffered over 5000 deaths and more than 35,000 wounded not counting those with the unseen wounds of the soul and spirit.  Parts of it including the elite Special Operations Forces according to their Commander are stretched and frayed.  The operations tempo of deployment, redeployment, training and deployment is continuing to take a toll on active and reserve forces.

If this was all that we had to be concerned about it would be enough.  Unfortunately it seems as if the Arab world is about to experience a revolution. While we normally cheer the triumph of people over tyrants it is unknown how this will develop. Conceivably it could be a good thing should moderate forces take control of the situation in Egypt should Hosni Mubarak step down.  Unfortunately history shows that the control of revolutions seldom remain under the influence of moderates as extremists are far better organizers and much more likely to use violence to gain control through terror, especially in cultures where there is little experience of freedom or or history of non-despotic rule.  Egypt lies at the heart of the Arab World and what happens there will likely influence events in other Arab nations.

Meanwhile Iran, Syria and their Hezbollah confederates work to destabilize the region and Iran seeks to build weapons capable of carrying WMD which could be used against US Forces, our Allies in the Middle East and Europe in defiance of international organizations.  In light of all of this the outgoing Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces has told his country that it needs to prepare for “all out war.”

I could go on and talk about all the other simmering cauldrons but the point is that no matter how much we would like not to be involved when the cauldrons boil over we will. It is a very dangerous time.

Our forces, Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force which have fought gallantly for 10 years will be sent into the breach.  The place and time are not yet determined but it will happen.  And unlike Iraq and Afghanistan which are counterinsurgencies this will be a fight like we haven’t seen in many years and it may even come to our shores in the form of terrorism.

While all of us that volunteer to serve have our own motivations ranging from idealism to simply needing a job we all have volunteered. We know that we are at war and it is not going to end anytime soon.  For me the call is to be with my Sailors, Marines and Soldiers wherever I am sent, which for the moment is caring for those injured in mind body and spirit at a Naval Hospital on a Marine major Marine base but I know that I will be involved again somewhere and I am alright with that because this is a sacred calling.  That call for me is call as a Priest and Chaplain to serve our Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and Airmen wherever I am sent. Many others have this as well as the call to the profession of arms and share in the brotherhood of war.  We are a brotherhood knit together by war as Shakespeare said “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” This band of brothers will be called into the breach the only question is where and when. May our hearts and spirits be up to the task as just as Henry V prayed:

O God of battles! Steel my soldiers’ hearts.

Possess them not with fear. Take from them now

The sense of reckoning, if the opposed numbers

Pluck their hearts from them. Not today, O Lord,

O, not today, think not upon the fault…

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military