Monday, June 13, 2016

The Luxury of Back to Basics

The Army is returning to living in the field as the way it trains soldiers:

While some American military personnel, in particular Special Operations forces and a number of Marine and conventional Army units, operated out of small, spartan outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bulk of Army troops lived on bases that had running water, electricity and housing units. Some larger bases even had wireless internet, televisions, gyms and coffee shops. Civilian contractors guarded the bases, cooked meals and transported ammunition, food and fuel.

But now that the American footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan is far smaller, the Army has begun planning for its next conflict. No matter where and when it occurs, it will almost certainly be fought under more austere conditions. To prepare for this, nearly all Army units are refocusing their training on being self-sustaining, or “expeditionary,” as their commanders put it.

What that means is that a generation of soldiers with more battlefield experience than any since World War II is getting back to basics: learning how to cook their own meals, cover their faces in camouflage paint, dig foxholes and latrines, lay concertina wire and live out of their rucksacks.

Although one can cringe that the Army decided that normal soldiering had to be given an acronym: Decisive Action Training Environment, or D.A.T.E.

God help us all.

But I would like to defend the so-called luxuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were for the purpose of sustaining the troops in combat without succumbing to PTSD.

Days in combat--which is much more steady in a counter-insurgency than in conventional war where combat is not so steady over a longer period--could get a soldier into danger territory in a single one-year tour of duty in the combat zone.

As I pointed out when this was an issue in Afghanistan during our surge there:

Our wealth has allowed us to cushion our troops from the stress of combat with fast food, entertainment, and air conditioning. Some have viewed this level of support as a sign of our weakness. You'd think that after 8 years of kicking our enemies' asses that this view would decline. Sadly, it survives and many think our warriors should be happy with ammo, plenty of enemies to kill, and a poncho to live under. ...

I understand that we can't short-change ammo, fuel, and basic warfighting supplies so Dairy Queen can serve ice cream to troops, but don't go thinking that this is anything but a necessary evil. Those so-called luxuries are vital to battling the onset of PTSD among our troops over there. But with many more troops in Afghanistan and the inability of our logistics people to expand the tenuous supply lines enough to continue business as usual, cutting the "amusement park" amenities may be necessary but it is not ideal.

I could understand saving access to such luxuries to those combat troops who spend much of their time outside the wire, and limiting access of rear echelon troops to those luxuries, but cutting them altogether? That's a bad idea.

For conventional war it is different. For one thing just surviving long enough to develop PTSD will be an achievement, so the amenities can get in the way of fighting.

But in counter-insurgency, the amenities are fully part of the war effort to keep soldiers in the fight.