Tag Archives: kandahar

Unforced Errors: The Bane of the American-NATO Campaign in Afghanistan

The Scene at one of the Houses (Reuters: Ahmad Nadeem) 

The efforts of the United States in Afghanistan and chances of coming out with anything resembling a successful conclusion to the longest war in its history are being destroyed by unforced errors. Of course anyone who watches any kind of sporting event knows that there are many times that the team that should win self destructs by committing unforced errors that result in them losing a game. In football they might be penalties, fumbles or badly thrown balls that result in interceptions. In basketball the errant pass, the bad foul, the unforced turnover in baseball the error that costs a game. However in war unforced errors cost precious lives, harm the strategic goals of a nation and lead to greater suffering of the populations affected.

Today we learned that a US Army Staff Sergeant went on a rampage in the Afghan villages near his base in Kandahar killing 15 or 16 Afghan civilians including 9 children and 3 women. The killings were particularly brutal. We don’t know details except that some reports indicate that the sergeant had recently had a breakdown and had deployed at least one other time to Iraq or Afghanistan. I would guess that he had multiple deployments.  The initial reports say that he was assigned to troops supporting a Special Forces team that was working with the local villagers.  Some Afghans say that more than one soldier was involved although NATO says that the soldier acted alone.

The murders come after the accidental burning of a Koran sparked riots and attacks on US and NATO forces killing 6 NATO soldiers including 2 US officers working inside a secure area of the Afghan interior ministry. They also follow the video display of Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban and the trial and conviction of soldiers who had their own killing team. All the incidents were unrelated and none had the imprimatur of the American or NATO command.  However like the My Lai massacre committed by the platoon led by Lieutenant William Calley during the Vietnam War the crimes have tarnished the honor of the US military and are undermining all efforts to bring about a successful conclusion to the war in Afghanistan.

Unforced errors do not help when the strategic goals are totally dependent on the cooperation and goodwill of the populace of the country that you are operating in and trying to secure. The whole tenant of Counterinsurgency Warfare is securing the population and by doing that bringing them to cooperate with you. If you do not have the massive numbers of troops to actually secure the country yourself it is doubly important. In fact by doctrine there should be 4 times more troops to conduct a successful counterinsurgency campaign. In places where the indigenous forces are larger and more capable some or even much of the burden can be born by them, however the Afghan National Army and National Police are able to shoulder the burden. Riddled with corruption, plagued by incompetent leaders, poor discipline, high desertion rates and awash in Taliban sympathizers. A growing number of American and NATO soldiers have lost their lives in attacks from the Afghan soldiers and police working alongside of them.

Of course there are other factors such as that the government of the country must inspire the confidence of its own people in order to turn back an insurgency.  Afghanistan is “governed” if one can call it that by the regime of Mohammed Karzai. The government can most charitably be described as corrupt and incompetent.  However the Karzai government has little power or authority outside of Kabul.  It has little control over its own security forces or for that matter even regional governors who function in a near autonomous fashion as best benefits them personally or the tribe that they belong.  A shadow government of the Taliban factions often hold as much real power over the people as the “legitimate” government.  The biggest money maker is the Opium trade as Afghanistan is one of the top Opium producers in the world. The real truth is that for all practical matters Afghanistan is for all practical purposes a narco-State run by criminals and thugs of different factions.

Afghanistan also is a nation whose people believe that it is an offense against Islam foreigners to occupy the country. The Afghanis have shown their resolve against every invader and though successfully invaded they have never been long occupied nor cooperated well with their occupiers, even those that considered themselves liberators. As such the campaign to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and bring about some form of democracy has had little chance of success after forces were diverted to the invasion of Iraq.

The latest incident will cause more American and NATO soldiers to die and will likely erase any possibility that we can succeed in our goal of an orderly train up of Afghan security forces and transfer of the conduct of the war to them.  It is very likely that the situation on the ground will get worse, perhaps markedly worse.  The American military will do the right thing regarding the investigation and prosecution of this case but that investigation may prove to show how bad things have become.

Unforced errors.  I don’t know how to overcome them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, national security

The Brotherhood: Veterans Day 2013

I am always a bit on the melancholy side on Veterans Day.  This year is no different but is a bit different because for the United States the war in Iraq is over, at least for now while the war in Afghanistan grinds on as we prepare to transition.

For me our wars are more about the incredibly small number of Americans who for the past 12 years have borne the burden of these wars.  They are my brothers and sisters, the 0.45% of Americans that serve in the military.  While this is a terribly low number it is only marginally lower than most of our previous wars.

In fact for most of our history it has always been a small minority of Americans that have fought our wars.  Kind of funny when you think about how much our culture worships militarism. World War II was an anomaly as just over 16.1 million people or 9% of the population served in the military then.  That number while large pales in comparison with percentages of those that served in other nations involved in the Second World War. The reason that I point this out is just to say that as a nation it has always been the few that have borne the cost of war. We are “the few.”

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

From the Speech of King Henry V at Agincourt in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” 1599

In the midst of the petty politics surrounding the Afghan War so so ponderously and pompously purveyed by politicians and pundits of all strains I feel the need to speak up for that small band of brothers that has served in these wars. They are to steal a phrase applied to a previous generation the “New Greatest Generation” something that I am loathe to apply to much of the population at large.  You see the cost of these wars is finally beginning to sink in, at least the financial cost. The real fact of the matter is that these ill advised wars have harmed us as a military and as a nation, our superpower status which was uncontested before 9-11-2001 is challenged because our military is hollowed out, economy weakened and our moral authority questioned by those wars, war crimes and spy scandals.

I’m not so sure that the human cost factors in for most Americans because the tiny percentage of the population that serve in the wars. The fact is that the volunteer military is an insular community which for the most part is based on bases away from most of the population. We have become a society apart from the society.

We used to have big bases in or near major cities, the New York Naval Yard, the Presidio of San Francisco, Long Beach Naval Shipyard, Fort Devens Massachusetts near Boston, Fort Benjamin Harrison Indiana at Indianapolis.  But after the Cold War they and hundreds of other bases were eliminated and with them a connection to the active duty military.  That is not the fault of the people in the big cities it just happened that way, no the military with a few exceptions is based away from most of the population. As a result people may support the troops but most have no idea what they do, how they live and what they suffer.

In spite of that this many of the new Greatest Generation’s accomplishments will largely go unheralded by history. Unlike the “Greatest Generation” of World War Two they will probably not receive the full honors and accolades due them.  This brotherhood of war who have served in the current War on Terror, Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns have now been serving in a war that is now twice as long as the American involvement in World War Two.  Many, like me have been in this since the beginning and many have made multiple deployments to the combat zones.  And many of us, if not most of us would go again. I know that I would because part of me is still in Iraq; for me this war is still un-won and un-finished.

The battles, Fallujah, Ramadi, Haditha, Mosul, Baghdad, Tal Afar, Marjah, Kandahar, Anaconda, Wanat and thousands of other places significant and insignificant are vivid in the minds of those that were there. Unfortunately for most of their countrymen they might as well be on a different planet.

With no disrespect to the Greatest Generation of World War Two, most who were drafted, all of the current Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen volunteered to serve in time of war.

At any given time only about one half of one percent is in uniform.  In the three years and ten months of the Second World War about 16.1 Million Americans served in the military, the vast majority being draftees.  Likewise the current generation has fought the war alone.  The vast bulk of the country has lived in peace untouched by any inconvenience to daily life such as gas and food rationing, requirements to work in war industries and the draft as were citizens in World War Two.

In the Second World War Americans shared the burden which in large part has not occurred in this war.  While many have pitched in to help and volunteered to help veterans and their families the vast majority of people in this country are untouched by the war, not that there is anything wrong with that.  This is simply a comparison of the situation that those who served in World War Two and the present conflicts faced.  So I have to say that our current “Greatest Generation” is only a small part of the generation, as the line in Henry V “we few, we happy few who fought together….”

These Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen from the United States as well as our Allies who serve alongside of us are my brothers and sisters.  They too are volunteers and represent a miniscule portion of their countries population. I am friends with military personnel from the UK, Canada and Germany who have served in the various combat zones or at sea and met quite a few others from France, the Netherlands and Australia. Of course my Iraqi friends who I served with while with our advisers in Al Anbar province who are not only trying to bring peace and stability back to their country but have to worry about the possibility that their families become the target of terrorists.

There are a number of things that unite us in this relatively small brotherhood.  However, I think that this brotherhood could also be extended to our brothers who fought in Vietnam, French, Vietnamese, Australian, South Korean and American, the French who served in Algeria and the Americans and others that served in Korea.  All of these wars were unpopular. All had little support on the home front and often returning veterans found themselves isolated and their sacrifices ignored or disrespected.  For those Americans who serve in the current wars I can say that at least to this point the public has been much more supportive than they were to our Vietnam brothers, many of who were even disrespected by World War Two vets who had fought in “a real war.”  I cannot count the Gulf War in this list as it was hugely successful and the returning vets were hailed as conquering heroes with ticker tape parades.

Our shared brotherhood includes our scars, physical, psychological, neurological and spiritual.  Those who served on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those who served in Vietnam, French Indo-China and Algeria have a common shared experience.  All fought people who didn’t or don’t like foreigners no matter how noble our intentions and who by the way have a long history of outlasting people that they believe to be invaders or occupiers.  We have had to fight wars with no front lines, no major units arrayed against us, but rather asymmetrical threats propagated by creatively devious foes who use low tech easily available technology and a willingness to sacrifice themselves and others to force attempt to kill us.  Thus we have cleverly designed and often quite powerful IEDs or Improvised Explosive Devices which can obliterate a HUMMV.

These threats create a situation where there is no front line and thus where every excursion outside of a FOB (Forward Operating Base) or COP (Coalition Outpost) is automatically a trip into a potential danger zone.  Enemies can infiltrate bases posing as local nationals in either military uniform or as workers, rockets and mortars can be lobbed onto even the largest and most secure bases at any time and any vehicle driving by you on the road could be loaded with explosives and just waiting to blow you up while insurgents with automatic weapons and Anti-Tank Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) have taken down helicopters.  When you have taken fire on the road, in the air and had rockets whiz over your head you this becomes a reality that you never forget.

As a result we many men and women with physical wounds as well as wounds that have damaged the psyche or the soul.  PTSD is very common either from a direct encounter or the continual wear and tear of being in a danger zone wondering if you were to get hit that day every day of a tour.  I have lost count now of people that I know who have mild to severe symptoms of PTSD.  Traumatic Brain injury is another condition men and women attacked by IEDs, mortars and rockets experience. Likewise there are the injuries that shatter the soul.  These are the images of ruined buildings, burned out vehicles, wounded bodies, injured children, refugees and wars desolation that can leave a person’s faith in God, or ideals that he or she believes in weakened or even destroyed.  There are the smells of smoke, death, diesel, garbage and sewage that when encountered far away from the combat zone send us back.

The wars have been costly in lives and treasure.  The “up front” casualty numbers are below; they do not include those with PTSD or mild to moderate TBI. They also do not count those that have died later after their service in VA or other civilian care, those that did not report their injuries and those that have committed suicide.

Iraq                   KIA    US  4483       UK 179    Other  139           Total  4801

Afghanistan     KIA  US  2290         UK 446     Other 659        Total  3395

US Wounded   Iraq  32224      Afghanistan   17674

The financial cost: over 1.2 trillion dollars and counting.

As many idealistic and patriotic military personnel question God, their National Leadership and even themselves because of their experience in Iraq or Afghanistan.  I cannot get the image of a refugee camp on the Iraqi Syrian border full of Palestinian refugees who have nowhere to go; they had been invited to Iraq under Saddam and have been sitting on the border trying to get home for years now.  The Palestinian authority wants nothing to do with them. I cannot smell smoke or hear a helicopter or pass a freshly fertilized field without being reminded of Iraq.

These men and women are my brothers and sisters.   I have seen quite a few of my colleagues at the Naval Medical Center and Naval Hospital deploy and deploy, the medical personnel don’t get much of a break.  These are my friends and I do get concerned for them and pray earnestly for their safe return.  I wish that I could go with them because I know them and have already walked with them through the dark valley of the shadow of death in the Medical Center ICU or the wards and clinics of the Naval Hospital.  We already have a bond that will not be broken.

It is now six years since I served in Iraq and five years since my PTSD crash.  However, I still would do it again in a heartbeat.  There is something about doing the job that you were both trained to do and called to do that makes it so.  Likewise the bonds of friendship and brotherhood with those who you serve are greater than almost any known in the human experience.  Shared danger, suffering and trauma bind soldiers together, even soldiers of different countries and sometimes with enemies.

I remember the conversation that I had with an Iraqi Merchant Marine Captain on a ship that we had apprehended for smuggling oil violating the United Nations sanctions.  The man was a bit older than me, in his early 60s.  He had been educated in Britain and traveled to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. He had the same concerns as any husband and father for his family and had lost his livelihood after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990.   He was a gentleman who provided for his crew and went out of his way to cooperate with us.  In our last meeting he said to me: “Someday I hope that like the Americans, British and the German soldiers at the end of the Second World War can meet after the war is over, share a meal and a drink in a bar and be friends.”  That is my hope as well.

In the final episode of the series Band of Brothers there is a scene where one of the American soldiers, Joseph Liebgott who came from a German Jewish family interprets the words of a German General to his men in the prisoner compound.  The words sum up what the Americans had felt about themselves and likewise the bond that all soldiers who serve together in war have in common, if you have seen the episode you know how powerful it is, I ended up crying when I heard it the first time and cannot help but do so now that I have been to the badlands of Al Anbar Province.

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

As do we.

Peace

Padre Steve+

3 Comments

Filed under History, Military, shipmates and veterans

The Bond

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

From the Speech of King Henry V at Agincourt in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” 1599

In the midst of the petty politics surrounding the Afghan War so so ponderously and pompously purveyed by politicians and pundits of all strains I feel the need to speak up for that small band of brothers that has served in these wars. They are to steal a phrase applied to a previous generation the “New Greatest Generation” something that I am loathe to apply to much of the population at large.  You see the cost of these wars is finally beginning to sink in, at least the financial cost. I’m not so sure that the human cost factors in for most people because the tiny percentage of the population that serve in the wars. The fact is that the volunteer military is an insular community which for the most part is based on bases away from most of the population. We used to have big bases in or near major cities, the New York Naval Yard, the Presidio of San Francisco, Long Beach Naval Shipyard, Fort Devens Massachusetts near Boston, Fort Benjamin Harrison Indiana at Indianapolis.  But after the Cold War they and hundreds of other bases were eliminated and with them a connection to the active duty military.  That is not the fault of the people in the big cities it just happened that way, no the military with a few exceptions is based away from most of the population. As a result people may support the troops but most have no idea what they do, how they live and what they suffer.

In spite of that this new Greatest Generation’s accomplishments will largely go unheralded by history. Unlike the “Greatest Generation” of World War Two they will probably not receive the full honors and accolades due them.  This brotherhood of war who have served in the current War on Terror, Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns have now been serving in a war that is now twice as long as the American involvement in World War Two.  Many, like me have been in this since the beginning and many have made multiple deployments to the combat zones.  And many of us, if not most of us would go again. I know that I would because part of me is still in Iraq; for me this war is still un-won and un-finished.

The battles, Fallujah, Ramadi, Haditha, Mosul, Baghdad, Tal Afar, Marjah, Kandahar, Anaconda, Wanat and thousands of other places significant and insignificant are vivid in the minds of those that were there. Unfortunately for most of their countrymen they might as well be on a different planet.

With no disrespect to the Greatest Generation of World War Two, all of the current Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen volunteered to serve in time of war.  At any given time only about one half of one percent is in uniform.  In the three years and ten months of the Second World War about 16.1 Million Americans served in the military, the vast majority being draftees.  Likewise the current generation has fought the war alone.  The vast bulk of the country has lived in peace untouched by any inconvenience to daily life such as gas and food rationing, requirements to work in war industries and the draft as were citizens in World War Two.  In the Second World War Americans shared the burden which in large part has not occurred in this war.  While many have pitched in to help and volunteered to help veterans and their families the vast majority of people in this country are untouched by the war, not that there is anything wrong with that.  This is simply a comparison of the situation that those who served in World War Two and the present conflicts faced.  So I have to say that our current “Greatest Generation” is only a small part of the generation, as the line in Henry V “we few, we happy few who fought together….”

These Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen from the United States as well as our Allies who serve alongside of us are my brothers and sisters.  They too are volunteers and represent a miniscule portion of their countries population. I am friends with military personnel from the UK, Canada and Germany who have served in the various combat zones or at sea and met quite a few others from France, the Netherlands and Australia. Of course my Iraqi friends who I served with while with our advisers in Al Anbar province who are not only trying to bring peace and stability back to their country but have to worry about the possibility that their families become the target of terrorists.

There are a number of things that unite us in this relatively small brotherhood.  However, I think that this brotherhood could also be extended to our brothers who fought in Vietnam, French, Vietnamese, Australian, South Korean and American, the French who served in Algeria and the Americans and others that served in Korea.  All of these wars were unpopular. All had little support on the home front and often returning veterans found themselves isolated and their sacrifices ignored or disrespected.  For those Americans who serve in the current wars I can say that at least to this point the public has been much more supportive than they were to our Vietnam brothers, many of who were even disrespected by World War Two vets who had fought in “a real war.”  I cannot count the Gulf War in this list as it was hugely successful and the returning vets were hailed as conquering heroes with ticker tape parades.

Our shared brotherhood includes our scars, physical, psychological, neurological and spiritual.  Those who served on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those who served in Vietnam, French Indo-China and Algeria have a common shared experience.  All fought people who didn’t or don’t like foreigners no matter how noble our intentions and who by the way have a long history of outlasting people that they believe to be invaders or occupiers.  We have had to fight wars with no front lines, no major units arrayed against us, but rather asymmetrical threats propagated by creatively devious foes who use low tech easily available technology and a willingness to sacrifice themselves and others to force attempt to kill us.  Thus we have cleverly designed and often quite powerful IEDs or Improvised Explosive Devices which can obliterate a HUMMV.

These threats create a situation where there is no front line and thus where every excursion outside of a FOB (Forward Operating Base) or COP (Coalition Outpost) is automatically a trip into a potential danger zone.  Enemies can infiltrate bases posing as local nationals in either military uniform or as workers, rockets and mortars can be lobbed onto even the largest and most secure bases at any time and any vehicle driving by you on the road could be loaded with explosives and just waiting to blow you up while insurgents with automatic weapons and Anti-Tank Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) have taken down helicopters.  When you have taken fire on the road, in the air and had rockets whiz over your head you this becomes a reality that you never forget.

As a result we many men and women with physical wounds as well as wounds that have damaged the psyche or the soul.  PTSD is very common either from a direct encounter or the continual wear and tear of being in a danger zone wondering if you were to get hit that day every day of a tour.  I have lost count now of people that I know who have mild to severe symptoms of PTSD.  Traumatic Brain injury is another condition men and women attacked by IEDs, mortars and rockets experience. Likewise there are the injuries that shatter the soul.  These are the images of ruined buildings, burned out vehicles, wounded bodies, injured children, refugees and wars desolation that can leave a person’s faith in God, or ideals that he or she believes in weakened or even destroyed.  There are the smells of smoke, death, diesel, garbage and sewage that when encountered far away from the combat zone send us back.

The wars have been costly in lives and treasure.  The “up front” casualty numbers are below; they do not include those with PTSD or mild to moderate TBI. They also do not count those that have died later after their service in VA or other civilian care, those that did not report their injuries and those that have committed suicide.

Iraq                   KIA    US  4463       UK 179    Other  139           Total  4781

Afghanistan     KIA  US  1637         UK 374     Other 537        Total  2548

US Wounded   Iraq  32227      Afghanistan   11191

The financial cost: over 1.2 trillion dollars and counting.

As many idealistic and patriotic military personnel question God, their National Leadership and even themselves because of their experience in Iraq or Afghanistan.  I cannot get the image of a refugee camp on the Iraqi Syrian border full of Palestinian refugees who have nowhere to go; they had been invited to Iraq under Saddam and have been sitting on the border trying to get home for years now.  The Palestinian authority wants nothing to do with them. I cannot smell smoke or hear a helicopter or pass a freshly fertilized field without being reminded of Iraq.

These men and women are my brothers and sisters.   I have seen quite a few of my colleagues at the Naval Medical Center and Naval Hospital deploy and deploy, the medical personnel don’t get much of a break.  These are my friends and I do get concerned for them and pray earnestly for their safe return.  I wish that I could go with them because I know them and have already walked with them through the dark valley of the shadow of death in the Medical Center ICU or the wards and clinics of the Naval Hospital.  We already have a bond that will not be broken.

It is now four years since I was in the process of leaving for Iraq and three years since my PTSD crash.  However, I still would do it again in a heartbeat.  There is something about doing the job that you were both trained to do and called to do that makes it so.  Likewise the bonds of friendship and brotherhood with those who you serve are greater than almost any known in the human experience.  Shared danger, suffering and trauma bind soldiers together, even soldiers of different countries and sometimes with enemies.  I remember the conversation that I had with an Iraqi Merchant Marine Captain on a ship that we had apprehended for smuggling oil violating the United Nations sanctions.  The man was a bit older than me, in his early 60s.  He had been educated in Britain and traveled to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. He had the same concerns as any husband and father for his family and had lost his livelihood after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990.   He was a gentleman who provided for his crew and went out of his way to cooperate with us.  In our last meeting he said to me: “Someday I hope that like the Americans, British and the German soldiers at the end of the Second World War can meet after the war is over, share a meal and a drink in a bar and be friends.”  That is my hope as well.

In the final episode of the series Band of Brothers there is a scene where one of the American soldiers, Joseph Liebgott who came from a German Jewish family interprets the words of a German General to his men in the prisoner compound.  The words sum up what the Americans had felt about themselves and likewise the bond that all soldiers who serve together in war have in common, if you have seen the episode you know how powerful it is, I ended up crying when I heard it the first time and cannot help but do so now that I have been to the badlands of Al Anbar Province.

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

As do we.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, shipmates and veterans, Tour in Iraq

A Global Force for Good

A Global Force for Good: A Sailor holds the hand of a Haitian Child

The Navy A Global Force For Good TV Spot

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DriBYQvG_4

“I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.’” President John F Kennedy 1 August 1963, at the Naval Academy

“It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.” George Washington 15 November 1781 to the Marquis de Lafayette

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” President Theodore Roosevelt 2 December 1902, second annual message to Congress

“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 CNO 1 August 1961 at the Naval Academy

USNS Comfort off of Haiti

The newest Navy recruiting and public relations campaign features a comment “America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good.”  When it first came out some expressed their dislike of the new slogan; however as a Navy and Army veteran as well as a long time “Navy Brat” I found the slogan and the accompanying commercial inspiring and I can be extremely jaded and cynical when it comes to such advertisements and slogans.  See my post Memorable Recruiting Slogans and the All Volunteer Force. http://https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/memorable-recruiting-slogans-and-the-all-volunteer-force/

Neurosurgeons from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth operating on a patient aboard the Comfort- Baltimore Sun Photo

Maybe it is because I serve with a lot of great people who make up the Navy that I think this way. I have served with the brave souls of our EOD force, the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, the crew of an elite Guided Missile Cruiser, the USS Hue City CG-66 and the professionals of Navy Medicine.  All these professionals be they war-fighters or care givers give so much of themselves to serve this country and protect others while at the same time laying their lives on the line to defend the people of the United States and others around the world.  For me this understanding of the Navy being a global force for good is relational and it goes beyond the crass cynicism of so many in the world who find little good about our nation.  I know that we have our faults but I really do believe that the good that we have done over the years and now outweighs our sins of commission and omission.  I was really offended when I saw some of the comments from some people in other countries condemning our efforts in Haiti.  I know of no other country that will empty itself to care for the people of a devastated and impoverished nation without expecting any form of repayment even while it is still in difficult economic straits.

Comfort receiving casualties- Baltimore Sun Photo

In the forefront of the humanitarian effort are my friends and shipmates in Navy Medicine on the USNS Comfort and ashore who are caring for the injured, sick and dying Haitian people.  These men and women were pulled out of our medical treatment facility and others with as little as 24 hours notice to deploy on a mission of incredible difficulty and undetermined length.  The emotional toll can be difficult as many of these professionals, physicians, nurses, corpsmen and others have deployed at least once if not two or three times to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Navy Pediatric Intensivist performs a procedure on a Afghan child

While the staff of the Comfort and those ashore toils to save lives others serve in Afghanistan running medical facilities often in conjunction with our allies.   These professionals are deployed from 7 months to a year and include some of the finest clinicians in the Navy.  Serving in Afghanistan the care for American wounded and sick, those of our NATO and Afghanistan National Army allies as well as the unfortunate civilians including children who are victims of terrorists acts, IEDs or military action mostly initiated by Taliban or Al Qaida forces.  Serving in harm’s way they see their compounds bombarded by incoming rockets, mortars and occasional artillery fire.  They also know that the vehicles that they travel in and helicopters that they fly in are targeted by Taliban forces and they care for those who are injured by IEDs on the same routes that they travel.  Having experienced this in Iraq I can say that it is a sobering and often eerie feeling that you get after you have been with Marines or Soldiers wounded by IEDs and ambushes on routes that you travel.  These men and women see the worst that humanity can do and still care about the victims.

USS Carl Vinson arrived quickly and began relief operations

Others serve in Iraq now supporting our Army troops with medical care working alongside Army and Air Force medical personnel, others are in the Horn of Africa and still others involved with other humanitarian missions or operational support of US Forces abroad.

One has to remember that these medical professionals do not just come out of a vacuum but are normally assigned to medical treatment facilities in the United States. As they depart to serve abroad those left behind continue the mission of caring for our military, their families, and military retirees going back to the Greatest Generation and other combat wounded veterans still entitled to medical care.   The workload back at home does not let up and the professionals back here work harder and longer to provide the quality care that our beneficiaries deserve. Dealing with patients and families I always hear about how much they appreciate the kindness and superior care that they get from our physicians, nurses, corpsmen and other medical professionals.

Boarding Team from USS Hue City

If you do not believe that these men and women are a “global force for good” then I am sorry that you cannot see the labor of love that these men and women provide to those entrusted to their care.  I am ashamed when I hear prominent media personalities call these “meals on wheels” missions. Personally I think it is hateful and demeaning towards the proud professionals who serve in these human tragedies and care for God’s people.  Likewise those that claim that this is being done to further US influence in Haiti are so clueless, in Haiti there is no payback even from a military or strategic point of view and even with our forces stretched thin around the world we still go out and do what no other country can do when we use our military to care for those afflicted by disaster.

In Haiti we are working hand in hand and side by with numerous Non-Governmental Organizations and other military medical professionals from the United States, Canada and other nations who are giving of themselves to serve the Haitian people.

USS Hue City 565 Feet of Naval Power on Patrol

I think that for once a recruiting phrase actually captures the essence of the Navy.  This is not about just being a better individual or improving your life or getting an education and experience.  It is about serving our nation and people as well as others around the world whether that mission is combating terrorists, pirates, protecting our vital interests or like in Haiti, or during the Indonesian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina or at the World Trade Center and hundreds of other places, this Navy is a global force for good.

Tonight as you go to bed and sleep soundly after eating well and spending time with family, friends or enjoying some form of entertainment remember those of our Navy who serve at sea, in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, the cities of Iraq, the desolation of the Horn of Africa and around the world defending our interests, caring for our military personnel and their families and deploying to serve in harm’s way and in areas of devastation.  They are America’s “Global Force for Good.”  They are my shipmates.  They are the United States Navy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under Military, national security, US Navy