Olmsted was determined to make a difference in Iraq. "The sooner the Iraqi government doesn't need U.S. support to provide security for its people, the sooner we will probably be asked to leave."
But the training program here has one major advantage: Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl. LTC Nagl is the commander of 1-34 Armor, one of the battalions directly involved in training MiTT teams. LTC Nagl is also the author of Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife, one of the best books on counterinsurgency ever written by an American. LTC Nagl is one of the Army's new breed of soldier-scholars, and having him here means we can learn directly from him. LTC Nagl came in to give us a talk a few weeks back as the capstone to our counterinsurgency training, and it was one of the most valuable experiences we've had here. I would be doing LTC Nagl a disservice if I tried to summarize his thesis, so I won't try. Suffice it to say LTC Nagl is not only a very smart guy, but an excellent teacher, and we are very fortunate to have him here. I confess that I did wonder if the Army was better served with him here where he can train MiTT team members as opposed to having him in Iraq where he can be where the rubber meets the road, but I have no idea what the right answer to that would be. One of the major advantages the U.S. ended up with during WWII in the Pacific was the fact we rotated veteran pilots back to the U.S. while Japan kept their best pilots in combat, leading the U.S. to slowly but surely thoroughly outclass Japanese pilots as better-trained Americans faced off with the increasingly attrited Japanese veterans and poorly-trained rookies. Finding that balance is extremely difficult, and I'm glad I don't have to figure it out.
In addition to three full days of counterinsurgency training, we have been provided with a number of resources we can use on our own time. We were all given copies of David Galula's seminal counterinsurgency text Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, a book American officers would have done well to read when it was published, as it might have done them a lot of good in Vietnam. That and Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency, give an excellent overview of how insurgencies work and how counterinsurgencies can counter them. There is no one-size fits all template for counterinsurgency, it should be noted, but the materials do help to establish baselines for us to build on. Add to that the practical exercises we worked in training where we attempt to deal with real-world insurgency situations, then compare our proposed solutions to what actually happened, and we at least have a good idea of the complexities involved in the counterinsurgency fight.
Of course, that still leaves us with the issue of how to communicate that information to our Iraqi counterparts. And that's another part of our training I'll talk about another time.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 09:26 PM | Comments (1)
The team was all supposed to arrive at the beginning of April for two weeks of in-processing and initial training before our primary training began. Unfortunately, only six of us were there on time. Of the other five members of the team, some were slated to arrive later and other slots hadn't been filled yet. Worse, one of the six of us had a medical issue that rendered him non-deployable, so after three days together our eleven-man team was down to five. Not an auspicious start, but we were prepared to make the best of it. And, while it has taken some time, we're now up to ten of eleven, with the eleventh man on post set to join us shortly. Human Resources Command (HRC) has to juggle the careers of hundreds of thousands of officers and NCOs to fill all these slots, and they've done a pretty good job of balancing those competing requirements to fill these teams.
The biggest task of our first two weeks was getting all the equipment we would need for our mission in Iraq. That meant drawing new uniforms, body armor, helmets, weapons, and countless lesser items deemed useful in country. That could have been a really painful process, as issuing a large number of items to a lot of people can mean a lot of sitting around if it's not planned right, but I'll give credit to the logistics people at Fort Riley. While there was some down time, we drew our gear remarkably quickly.
And what an impressive amount of gear it was. I joined the Army when we were given used equipment that looked like it was leftover from Vietnam. At Fort Riley, almost everything we were given was new, and most of it looked like it was pretty close to the state-of-the-art. A lot of the reason for this is the Rapid Fielding Initiative, an Army program that allows the military to buy useful gear faster than normal procurement. While some of us have bought a few additional items to augment the gear we've been given, the basic load of equipment we've be given is more than adequate for our mission.
At the end of our first two weeks we moved down to Camp Funston, where soldiers trained to deploy for the First World War. Fortunately, the housing is of much more recent vintage. We are billeted in eight-room buildings with four to five people per room. It's a little crowded, but not intolerably so by any stretch, and it puts us into a good environment for team-building, as we all get to learn each other's foibles and habits. The only real down side to Camp Funston is that it is on a flood plain, so when it rains it gets really sloppy, but that's an inconvenience that doesn't undermine our training.
In the five weeks since we arrived at Funston, we have been doing little more than training. We've fired hundreds of rounds through our weapons, learning how to engage targets in varying terrains and circumstances while being sure we identify our targets before firing. We've learned about Arabic and Iraqi culture, and tried to learn at least some basic Iraqi so we can work with the people more smoothly. We've learned how to operate the various high-tech equipment we're being given, from radios to global positioning systems and more, all of which is designed to maximize our ability to perform our missions without mundane problems distracting us.
The training hasn't been perfect. Too often the class sizes are too large, making it difficult to get as much hands-on time as we'd like. But the information provided in the classes has been excellent, and the willingness of 1-5 Field Artillery (FA), the unit assigned to shepherd us through this training, to find time and instructors to give us additional training when we ask for it makes this training very valuable. As the team leader, it is my responsibility to make sure that we're ready to go to war, and I am very confident that the opportunities we've been given here at Fort Riley will have us more than ready.
Which catches us up to where we are now. Next up, I'll get into some of the details of the training we're in now.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 06:55 PM
The real easy stuff: I'm a Major in the United States Army who has spent the last ten years living in Colorado Springs, home of Fort Carson. I have been in the military in one shape or form since 1988, when I joined the National Guard. In college I earned a degree in History and a commission as Second Lieutenant through the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). I am an Armor officer, which means I used to work with tanks, specifically the M1A1 Abrams. I served as a tank platoon leader and tank company executive officer (XO) at Fort Hood from 1992-1996. After I was promoted to Captain in 1996, the Army sent me to Korea for a year where I served as a Battalion S3 Air, a position which roughly translates as the assistant operations officer for a tank battalion. I returned to the U.S. in 1997 at Fort Carson. There I served as a brigade planner in a heavy brigade for about 18 months before taking command of a company in a tank battalion. Unlike most of my brethren, I didn't command a tank company, but instead spent a year and a half as commander of a headquarters company (HHC). HHC owns all the battalion's other assets: trucks to move fuel and ammo, cooks, scouts, mortars, medics, mechanics, and the staff. It was a great challenge, although I still regret not having the chance to command a tank company. After command I moved into the AC/RC world. AC/RC stands for Active Component/Reserve Component: it's a program designed after the first Gulf War to help ensure that Army Reserve and National Guard units are prepared for war. I spent about a year there helping to train various National Guard units in the western U.S. In 2002 I decided to try something else and left the active force to try my hand in the civilian sector. That didn't last long, and in 2003 I mobilized to help support the global war on terror (GWOT). Over the next four years I worked at Fort Carson, Fort Bliss, and Fort Riley to train active and reserve units heading to Afghanistan and Iraq. In late 2006 I decided I liked the Army too much not to do it full time, so I rejoined the active force.
Now I've been selected to serve as a Military Transition Team (MiTT) Team Commander. MiTTs are small teams of senior officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) designed to help the Iraqi Army, police, and border guards learn how to serve their country effectively. In a very real sense, MiTT teams are a large part of the U.S.'s plan for leaving Iraq, as the sooner the Iraqi government doesn't need U.S. support to provide security for its people, the sooner we will probably be asked to leave. My job will be to serve as the advisor to an Iraqi battalion commander, helping him to train his forces. Our job, ultimately, is to work ourselves out of a job by helping the Iraqi forces develop sufficient capabilities that they don't need us any longer. This work is vastly different from anything else I've done in the military to date, but that's part of what makes it fun and interesting: there are no easy solutions to the problems we'll face, and while this type of mission has a long history, local conditions and personalities guarantee that we'll have to be well-trained, knowledgeable and creative to make progress. And that is what I'll be writing about here for the next year or so: my experiences as a representative of the thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who have and are performing this mission in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That is an important point I want to highlight: I am by no means unique. The military has been performing this mission in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years and a lot of people have performed this mission during that time. But the mission isn't well known in the United States even after all that time. There are several reasons for this. I'm not convinced that the military does a very good job of selling its story, for one thing, although we are trying to do a better job of it. By their nature, MiTT teams are difficult for regular media to report on because a MiTT can't provide much security for reporters looking to learn about the mission and to do the story right would require visiting a number of MiTTs across the theater, not an easy job even for the biggest papers. And MiTT training is difficult to report on effectively because what they do is very incremental. We're not going to change the Iraqi Army into a completely new entity in a week or a month or a year. If I'm extremely successful, I still don't expect to see huge changes in how my assigned unit operates on the day I leave; that's not how progress works in that kind of environment. A reporter simply can't spend the kind of extended time with an Iraqi unit to see big improvements; no news organization could afford to detail out its limited resources to such a long-term assignment.
Which brings us back to this blog. I won't pretend to be objective. It's my job to help the Iraqis improve, and when I see success you'll read about it here. But because I will be on the scene, I hope to bring a snapshot of what so many U.S. troops are doing back for the average American to read about and understand. My specific experiences will be unique to me but I hope that they will serve to bring a picture of the war that is sometimes hard to bring into focus for the people back home.Posted by Andrew Olmsted at 09:01 AM | Comments (2)