Monday, August 11, 2014

Lawrence Of Afghanistan, The Toll Of Over A Decade Of War, And The Culture Of Bureaucracy In The Military. All Anecdotally Of Course.

I ran across this interesting article with accompanying video this morning.

The Amazing Story Of The Green Beret Who Fought The Taliban His Way

The story is done by Brian Ross of ABC News who is one of the very few of mainstream journalists that I will listen to. 

There is a related book to this story as well: American Spartan.

I am not writing a review of the book. There are plenty enough out there already. I am just putting down some thoughts after seeing the interview and reading some of the other articles and reviews. 

The whole legend of "going native" is a big one in military circles. We see it portrayed all the time in books and movies, whether fiction (Dances With Wolves or Apocalypse Now) or non-fiction (Lawrence of Arabia). When I was young I used to collect old National Geographic Magazines from second hand shops. One of my favorite issues was the January 1965 issue

Full Scans of the Article here and here.

In the article it shows SF guys being adopted into Montagnard tribes during their time there. This sort of cross cultural adoption is nothing new within military history and MAJ Gant utilized it during his career, and it worked. It seems like during every war we have to relearn to make the wheel yet again. Which leads me to another part of my title.

After a decade plus of war, one would have to be extremely dense to not understand that our military, especially the tip and blade of the spear...strike that...the whole damn spear, staff and all, is worn out. I have long argued that there will be a reckoning for the personal and relationship damage that it has inflicted on our troops. We are beginning to see it publicly now with the ongoing VA scandal and the statistics of returning war veterans. Too many of my fellow brothers and sisters in arms struggle with just getting by day to day. Some have better days for a while then something happens and they start back through the cyclical mind traps of being depressed for a myriad of reasons. Of course, not wanting to look weak, some do not seek help through official channels. Some chose not to due to concerns about their future endeavors being affected by having it on their permanent records. Most of the troops I know are also fed up with the "take this cure all pill" that seems to be thrown at every problem. 

All this is anecdotal of course, but where there is smoke, there is fire. Now, with the military draw down that is occurring, many troops are feeling like their years of service and sacrifice mean nothing at all. I remember well during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm that one of the focuses of the American public was not to treat the Soldiers like many were treated returning from Vietnam. The popular culture of the 1970s and 80s portrayed that the average Vietnam Vet was "damaged" in some form or fashion. There was a backlash to that portrayal by the American population during and after Desert Shield/Storm. But today, after dealing with a war that has gone on longer than the Vietnam War, there seem to be whispers again of "damaged" veterans pushing in from different corners of the culture and government agencies. 

So, I fully understand why MAJ Gant did some of the things he did in order to cope with the mounting stresses of stacked deployments. I personally see some of the same things in the daily lives of some of the guys that I work with. I am not defending their choices. I want to defend them from the soulless and faceless bureaucratic machine that is chewing away at the edges of their careers, lives, and souls. 

Here I am not talking about the common sense military standards and regulations (common sense and military? Yeah, right). What I am talking here is the increasing use of "gotcha" tactics that seem more and more prevalent in the military community. Again, I am only talking anecdotally here. I am sure that any current or former service personnel who read this could supply copious stories from their own experiences. The Culture of Bureaucracy in the Military as I have experienced it suppresses positive creativity and destroys the motivation of a lot of excellent Enlisted Soldiers and Officers to stay in. When someone tries to positively fight the bureaucratic BS through "proper" channels, they are mostly shot down. So when out of desperation of trying to do the right thing for the soldier or soldiers under them, they are forced to stretch the limits of the rules, or even skirt them altogether, when often leads to those leaders being crushed by higher authorities. I am not talking about sweeping legitimate crimes under the rug, but too many leaders are worried about their own careers to appear as too weak on infractions of regulations. Again, I am only talking anecdotally here.

Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes of the past? Maybe so. I know when I share some of my stories with my father, he often remarks how nothing has truly changed in the military. He has shared with me some of the reasons why he ultimately left the military mid career and sought a life and career outside of it. 

I have been feeling the same way for quite awhile now.

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