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The war in Iraq and unofficial internet sites.

Michael OLeary

Army.ca Fixture
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An interesting (though lengthy) article from the New Yorker on the war in Iraq and the usefulness of "unofficial" military internet sites:

What the generals don't know
The New Yorker.

During the early weeks of the Iraq war, the television set in my office was
tuned all day to CNN, with the sound muted. On the morning of April 3rd, as
the Army and the Marines were closing in on Baghdad, I happened to look up
at what appeared to be a disaster in the making. A small unit of American
soldiers was walking along a street in Najaf when hundreds of Iraqis poured
out of the buildings on either side. Fists waving, throats taut, they
pressed in on the Americans, who glanced at one another in terror. I reached
for the remote and turned up the sound. The Iraqis were shrieking, frantic
with rage. From the way the lens was lurching, the cameraman seemed as
frightened as the soldiers. This is it, I thought. A shot will come from
somewhere, the Americans will open fire, and the world will witness the My
Lai massacre of the Iraq war. At that moment, an American officer stepped
through the crowd holding his rifle high over his head with the barrel
pointed to the ground. Against the backdrop of the seething crowd, it was a
striking gesture-almost Biblical. "Take a knee," the officer said, impassive
behind surfer sunglasses. The soldiers looked at him as if he were crazy.
Then, one after another, swaying in their bulky body armor and gear, they
knelt before the boiling crowd and pointed their guns at the ground. The
Iraqis fell silent, and their anger subsided. The officer ordered his men to

It took two months to track down Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hughes, who by
then had been rotated home. He called from his father's house, in Red Oak,
Iowa, en route to study at the Army War College, in Pennsylvania. I wanted
to know who had taught him to tame a crowd by pointing his rifle muzzle down
and having his men kneel. Were those gestures peculiar to Iraq? To Islam? My
questions barely made sense to Hughes. In an unassuming, persistent Iowa
tone, he assured me that nobody had prepared him for an angry crowd in an
Arab country, much less the tribal complexities of Najaf. Army officers
learn in a general way to use a helicopter's rotor wash to drive away a
crowd, he explained. Or they fire warning shots. "Problem with that is, the
next thing you have to do is shoot them in the chest." Hughes had been
trying that day to get in touch with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a
delicate task that the Army considered politically crucial. American gunfire
would have made it impossible. The Iraqis already felt that the Americans
were disrespecting their mosque. The obvious solution, to Hughes, was a
gesture of respect.

Hughes made it sound obvious, but, shortly before the Americans invaded
Iraq, the Army had concluded that its officers lacked the ability to do
precisely what he did: innovate and think creatively. In 2000, the new Army
Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, was determined to shake up the Army
and suspected that about half of a soldier's training was meaningless and
"non-essential." The job of figuring out which half went to Lieutenant
Colonel Leonard Wong (retired), a research professor of military strategy at
the Army War College. At forty-five, Wong is handsome and voluble, with the
air of a man who makes his living prodding the comfortable. Wong found that
the problem was not "bogus" training exercises but worthwhile training being
handled in such a way as to stifle fresh thinking. The Army had so loaded
training schedules with doctrinaire requirements and standardized procedures
that unit commanders had no time-or need-to think for themselves. The
service was encouraging "reactive instead of proactive thought, compliance
instead of creativity, and adherence instead of audacity," Wong wrote in his
report. As one captain put it to him, "They're giving me the egg and telling
me how to suck it."

Wong's findings impressed Shinseki, who in February of 2001 sent him into
the lion's den of a two-star generals' conference to present his research.
Some of the generals were suspicious, others openly hostile. "I sympathize,"
Wong told me. "When you allow people to innovate and to lead, you invite
failure." Wong's report generated no policy changes, but, by stating plainly
what many knew instinctively, it started the Army thinking about how to free
up its junior officers' decision-making.

Then came Iraq. Every war is different from the last, with its own special
learning curve, but there is a growing sense within the Army that Iraq
signals something more significant. In the American Civil War, Army manuals
taught Napoleonic tactics, like close-order formations, even though they
were suicidal against rifled muskets that could kill accurately at three
hundred yards. In the First World War, the French, British, and German
troops persisted in attempting to storm trenches before recognizing the
defensive supremacy of the machine gun. In Iraq, the Army's marquee
high-tech weapons are often sidelined while the enemy kills and maims
Americans with bombs wired to garage-door openers or doorbells. Even more
important, the Army is facing an enemy whose motivation it doesn't
understand. "I don't think there's one single person in the Army or the
intelligence community that can break down the demographics of the enemy
we're facing," an Airborne captain named Daniel Morgan told me. "You can't
tell whether you're dealing with a former Baathist, a common criminal, a
foreign terrorist, or devout believers."

Wong flew to Baghdad last April, a year after the supposed cessation of
"major combat operations," to find out how the "reactive" and "compliant"
junior officers the Army had trained were performing amid the insurgency. He
and an active-duty officer flew to bases all over Iraq, interviewing
lieutenants, who lead platoons of about thirty soldiers, and captains, who
command companies of one to two hundred. These officers, scrambling to bring
order to Mosul, Fallujah, and Baghdad, had been trained and equipped to
fight against numbered, mechanized regiments in open-maneuver warfare. They
had been taught to avoid fighting in cities at all costs. Few had received
pre-deployment training in improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, the
insurgents' signature weapon. None had received any but the most rudimentary
instruction in the Arabic language or in Iraqi culture. They were perhaps
the most isolated occupation force in history; there are no bars or brothels
in Baghdad where Americans can relax, no place off the base for Americans to
remove their body armor in the presence of locals. Every encounter was
potentially hostile. The chronic shortage of troops and shifting phases of
fighting and reconstruction forced soldiers into jobs for which they weren't
prepared; Wong found field artillerymen, tankers, and engineers serving as
infantrymen, while infantrymen were building sewer systems and running town
councils. All were working with what Wong calls "a surprising lack of
detailed guidance from higher headquarters." In short, the Iraq that Wong
found is precisely the kind of unpredictable environment in which a cohort
of hidebound and inflexible officers would prove disastrous.

Yet he found the opposite. Platoon and company commanders were exercising
their initiative to the point of occasional genius. Whatever else the Iraq
war is doing to American power and prestige, it is producing the creative
and flexible junior officers that the Army's training could not.

There may be a generational explanation. While most high-ranking officers
are baby boomers, most lieutenants and captains are of Generation X, born in
the mid-sixties or after. Gen X officers, often the product of single-parent
homes or homes in which both parents worked, are markedly more self-reliant
and confident of their abilities than their baby-boomer superiors, according
to Army surveys of both groups. Baby boomers moved up the ranks during the
comfortable clarity of the Cold War, but the Gen Xers came of age during
messy peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, and Haiti. Gen Xers
are notoriously unimpressed by rank, as Donald Rumsfeld discovered in
December, when enlisted soldiers questioned him sharply about the lack of
armor on their vehicles. This turns out to be a positive development for the
Army, because the exigencies of the Iraq war are forcing the decision-making
downward; tank captains tell of being handed authority, mid-battle, for
tasks that used to be reserved for colonels, such as directing helicopter
close-air support.

The younger officers have another advantage over their superiors: they grew
up with the Internet, and have created for themselves, in their spare time,
a means of sharing with one another, online, information that the Army does
not control. The "slackers" in the junior-officer corps are turning out to
be just what the Army needs in the chaos of Iraq. Instead of looking up to
the Army for instructions, they are teaching themselves how to fight the
war. The Army, to its credit, stays out of their way.

Prior to the Second World War, officers heading into combat buttonholed
veterans or gleaned what they could over evening beers at the Officers' Club
to fill holes in their training. After Guadalcanal, the Army knocked
together the insights of soldiers in combat and published them in cheap
newsprint booklets called "The Mailing List." The booklets were imprecise,
slow to arrive in the field, and unidirectional. "Teach not to waste
ammunition," wrote one Marine colonel. "The Japanese fire is not always
aimed," a sergeant wrote. "It is harassing fire and scares recruits." The
system for recycling combat experience didn't improve much for the next
forty years.

Then, in October, 1983, came Operation Urgent Fury, against the government
of Grenada, which should have been relatively straightforward but instead
was a mess. Communications were so poor that soldiers had to rely on pay
phones. Intelligence was so spotty that troops used tourist maps to find
their way around the island. Nineteen service members died in the operation,
some needlessly. In response, the Army opened the Center for Army Lessons
Learned-or call-at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. call was supposed to gather and
distribute more efficiently the insights that soldiers glean from battle.
Colonel Larry Saul, who says he is "one of about a hundred Vietnam vets
still on active duty," is call's director. Dark-haired at fifty-four, he
shares with most of his colleagues a strikingly direct manner of speaking.
For efficiency of conversation, Army officers are tough to beat. Trained to
convey critical information under stress, they enunciate like radio
announcers, in complete, unhesitating sentences. Moreover, they tend to be
good listeners, with a refreshing ability-and willingness-to get to the nub
of a difficult issue. Ask an Army officer a painful question and he or she
will answer it, provided it doesn't involve secrets, with a kind of Boy
Scout candor all but unknown in, say, the corporate or political realm. I
asked Saul what lessons the Army has learned in Iraq, and he said, "Not
much, because lessons learned, in past tense, means you've modified
behavior. Until you demonstrate changed behavior, you haven't learned a

In its early days, the lessons came not from combat but from the training
centers in California and Louisiana where troops go to experience a week or
two of lifelike combat. call would ask trainers what mistakes were being
repeated and would write up the results in four bulletins a year, which were
then filed away and largely forgotten. The Web changed everything. During
the battles of Bosnia and Kosovo, in 1993 and 1999, call placed
"embeds"-full-time liaison officers-with the soldiers; it now has two in
Afghanistan and five in Iraq, and also receives a flood of daily "after
action reviews" from line officers. The reviews contain tips on everything
from running field kitchens to avoiding mortar attacks. At Fort Leavenworth,
thirty analysts, all of them military retirees, digest the reviews, identify
trends, and reconcile the lessons with established Army doctrine. call still
distributes lessons on paper-in binders, in booklets designed to fit in the
cargo pocket of a soldier's fatigues, and on plasticized pocket cards. But
the centerpiece of call is its Web site, which is restricted to military
personnel, Defense Department civilians, and coalition allies. Mostly,
officers use it before they are deployed, to train soldiers in Iraq-specific
tactics. One call lesson on I.E.D..s, for example, opens with a video-game
graphic of a Humvee hitting a mine and being fired upon by guerrillas: men
scream, blood splatters. The segment ends with a cartoon sergeant grading
the answers to a test: "That's a go, soldier!" or "No go, soldier!" "Some of
our soldiers are nineteen years old," Colonel Saul explained. "This has to
be aimed at them." When call wants to distribute highly sensitive material,
it uses the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or siprnet. siprnet is
walled off from the civilian Internet; its messages travel over separate
wires, and only special computers can reach it. (In Iraq, it is available at
the battalion level, but rarely at the company level.)

The Army is struggling to figure out the Iraq war even while it's up to its
neck in it. Lieutenant Colonel Ernie Benner is one of about eighty members
of the Joint I.E.D. Defeat Task Force, which the Defense Department created
in July to analyze the insurgents' maddeningly simple yet deadly homemade
bombs. "There is no technology silver bullet," Benner told me when we spoke
in a windowless conference room at the Pentagon. The task force posts on
siprnet intelligence that it gathers from all four military services and a
hundred and thirty-three different government and private agencies, ranging
from the F.B.I. and the Agency for International Development to Kellogg
Brown & Root. It uses F.B.I.-style forensics on bombs and fragments to trace
their makers and financiers, and it looks for techniques that soldiers can
use to spot and disarm them. I.E.D.s first appeared in large numbers along
roadsides during an insurgent offensive in Baghdad, in November, 2003,
during Ramadan, Benner said. They have also been found in the carcasses of
dogs, in venders' carts, and strapped behind highway guardrails. Benner
showed me a picture of a road sign that had a big bomb hidden inside it. The
sign read "Welcome to Fallujah." Lately, suicide bombers have driven I.E.D.s
into control points and Iraqi police stations, and, in September, the
tactics for delivering I.E.D.s mutated into what Benner calls
moving-vehicle-on-moving-vehicle attacks: a car zips between two vehicles in
a rolling convoy and explodes. "The field team investigated and wrote up
what tactics, techniques, and procedures could defeat that," Benner said,
"and within twenty-four hours they were disseminated into training for units
going to Iraq."

The problem with both call and the I.E.D. Task Force is that their
information is as unidirectional as "The Mailing List" in the Second World
War. The Army identifies a need, prepares a response, and hands it down from
the top. Officers in the field can e-mail questions to call, and usually get
a response within twenty-four hours, but most officers told me that the
information often seems stale or, having been processed in the maw of Army
doctrine, irrelevant. The war in Iraq is so confusing and it changes so fast
that there's often no time to wait for carefully vetted and spoon-fed
advice. So officers look for help elsewhere.

Majors Nate Allen and Tony Burgess became friends at West Point in the
nineteen-eighties, and at the end of the nineties they found themselves
commanding companies in separate battalions in the same Hawaii-based
brigade. Commanding a company is often described as the best job in the
Army; a company is big enough to be powerful and small enough to be
intimate. But the daily puzzles a company commander faces, even in
peacetime, are dizzying, and both Allen and Burgess felt isolated. "If I had
a good idea about how to do something, there was no natural way to share
it," Allen said. "I'd have to pass it up, and it would have to be blessed
two levels above me, and then passed down to Tony." Luckily, they lived next
door to each other and spent many evenings sitting on Allen's front porch
comparing notes. "How are things going with your first sergeant?" one would
ask. Or "How are you dealing with the wives?" "At some point, we realized
this conversation was having a positive impact on our units, and we wanted
to pass it along," Allen told me. They wrote a book about commanding a
company, "Taking the Guidon," which they posted on a Web site. Because of
the Internet, what had started as a one-way transfer of information-a
book-quickly became a conversation.

"Once you start a project, amazing people start to join," Allen said. Among
them was a captain based at West Point who was familiar with a Web site
called Alloutdoors.com, which lets sportsmen post questions and solicit
advice about everything from how to skin a squirrel by yanking on its tail
to how to call a turkey by blowing on a wing bone. Burgess and Allen liked
the Alloutdoors model, which allows for lots of unmediated, real-time
cross-chat and debate.. They figured that such a site for company commanders
would replicate, in cyberspace, their front porch.

In March of 2000, with the help of a Web-savvy West Point classmate and
their own savings, they put up a site on the civilian Internet called
Companycommand.com. It didn't occur to them to ask the Army for permission
or support. Companycommand was an affront to protocol. The Army way was to
monitor and vet every posting to prevent secrets from being revealed, but
Allen and Burgess figured that captains were smart enough to police
themselves and not compromise security. Soon after the site went up, a
lieutenant colonel phoned one of the Web site's operators and advised them
to get a lawyer, because he didn't want to see "good officers crash and
burn." A year later, Allen and Burgess started a second Web site, for
lieutenants, Platoonleader.org.

Part 2 follows .....
Part 2 .....

The sites, which are accessible to captains and lieutenants with a password,
are windows onto the job of commanding soldiers and onto the unfathomable
complexities of fighting urban guerrillas. Companycommand is divided into
twelve areas, including Training, Warfighting, and Soldiers and Families,
each of which is broken into discussion threads on everything from mortar
attacks to grief counselling and dishonest sergeants. Some discussions are
quite raw. Captains post comments on coping with fear, on motivating
soldiers to break the taboo against killing, and on counselling suicidal
soldiers. They advise each other on how to kick in doors and how to handle
pregnant subordinates. Most captains now have access to the Internet at even
the most remote bases in Iraq, and many say they'll find at least ten or
fifteen minutes every day to check the site. They post tricks they've
learned or ask questions like this, which set off months of responses: "What
has anyone tried to do to alleviate the mortar attacks on their forward
operating bases?" Here are snippets of conversations posted on
Companycommand and Platoonleader in the past year:
Never travel in a convoy of less than four vehicles. Do not let a casualty
take your focus away from a combat engagement. Give your driver your 9mm,
and carry their M16/M4. Tootsie Rolls are quite nice; Jolly Ranchers will
get all nasty and sticky though. If a person is responsible for the death of
an individual, they do not attend during the three days of mourning; that is
why if we kill an individual in sector, we are not welcome during the
mourning period. Soldiers need reflexive and quick-fire training, using
burst fire. If they're shooting five to seven mortar rounds into your
forward operating base, whatever you're doing needs to be readjusted. The
more aggressive you look and the faster you are, the less likely the enemy
will mess with you. It is okay to tell your soldiers what the regulation is;
but as a commander, you should make the effort to get the soldier home for
the birth. A single wall of sandbags will not stop any significant
munitions. Take pictures of everything and even, maybe more importantly,
everyone. The right photo in the right hands can absolutely make the
difference. It's not always easy to reach the pistol when in the thigh
holster, especially in an up-armored humvee. If they accept you into the
tent, by custom they are accepting responsibility for your safety and by
keeping on the body armor, you are sending a signal that you do not trust
them. If tea or coffee are offered, be sure to accept the items with the
right hand. Do not look at your watch when in the tent. Have the unit invest
in Wiley X's-these sunglasses also serve as sun-wind-dust goggles. Supply
each soldier with one tourniquet; we use a mini-ratchet strap that is one
inch wide and long enough to wrap around the thigh of a soldier. Cotton
holds water. Even with the best socks, and plenty of foot powder, your feet
are likely to start peeling like you've never experienced. You're more
likely to be injured by not wearing a seatbelt than from enemy activity. You
need to train your soldiers to aim, fire, and kill. The average local is
terrible at trying to read a map; however they do understand sketches-the
simpler the better. The second you see your soldiers start to lose interest,
or roll their eyes, or not pay attention, your S2 has failed and you, your
soldiers, and the mission are in danger. Vary the departure and return
times, vary the routes even if the route includes a U turn, doesn't make
sense, etc. Let's talk about what not to bring: perishable food, lighter
fluid, porn, alcohol, or personal weapons. But you might be able to get away
with a Playboy or two as long as you're not stupid about it. The 9mm round
is too weak, go for headshots if you use it.

Captain Stephanie Gray was a twenty-four-year-old communications officer in
Baghdad when, in January of 2004, she was abruptly ordered to serve as her
battalion's adjutant, whose job is to manage pay, evaluation reports, and
other personnel issues. She'd had minimal training. On Gray's first morning
on her own, a call came in at nine-thirty informing her that one of her
battalion's convoys had been struck by an I.E.D. in Sadr City. The
commander, executive officer, and sergeant major-the battalion's entire
leadership-jumped up and sped to the site, leaving Gray in the command tent.
She got a call saying that Sergeant First Class Ricky Crockett had been
killed-the unit's first death. "I knew there were a lot of things an
adjutant needs to do when a soldier dies," she told me, "but I had no idea
what." She logged onto Companycommand and clicked feverishly through the
site looking for guidance. Finally she clicked "contact us" and explained
her situation. "Within thirty minutes, I got my first response, and all day
I got e-mails," she said. "Some were from active military and some retired.
One was a chaplain. 'Look at this regulation,' they told me, or 'Here's what
I tried.' I learned how to report it up, then look in the soldier's file and
generate letters from the company commander, the battalion commander, and
the brigade commanders to his family. . . . There were death-benefit papers
to fill out, and on and on."

Two months before deploying to Iraq, Captain Raymond Kimball, of the Seventh
Cavalry, learned from Companycommand never to send a vehicle bound for Iraq
to the docks before checking its hydraulic lines for leaks. "Even a little
trace of hydraulic fluid means it can't be loaded on a ship or train," he
told me. "The worst thing is, you deploy and find out in Iraq that your
vehicle is still on the wharf in Jacksonville." Captain Jason Miseli learned
to stuff a medic into the scout Humvee that travels miles ahead of his
tanks, even if it meant hanging gear on the outside to make room. It was a
nuisance, but it saved the life of Specialist Timothy Griffin. Lieutenant
Brittany Meeks, who chose the military police as a woman's back door into
combat and is in Baghdad, was advised by Platoonleader to memorize the
"nine-line" procedure for summoning medical-evacuation helicopters. She took
the precaution of writing the procedure on a slip of paper. In a hellish
attack on a convoy last April, a soldier was gravely wounded by a
rocket-propelled grenade that exploded close to his head. Amid the blood,
the screaming, and two burning fuel tankers, the wounded man's buddies were
having trouble remembering what to do, but Meeks pulled her notes on the
procedure from her pocket.

Though Companycommand and Platoonleader require passwords, they could
presumably be hacked, and a determined enemy could learn a good deal about
how officers think. A lively discussion thread that began with a plea for
"information, advice or comments . . . on convoy training" went on for
months, with contradictory views on whether to lay sandbags on the floors of
vehicles (they offer protection from mines, but wear out Humvees),
admonitions to look upward as well as to the sides (guerrillas may shoot
from rooftops and overpasses), and suggestions for replacing vehicles'
canvas doors with 8-mm. steel ("It will stop AK-47 and most frag"). "Hey
guys," one captain wrote. "Remember this is an open-source Web site.
Everything you type is being read by the enemy."

Beyond the how-to details, the Web sites offer the comfort of connection to
a brotherhood of officers who are trying to master the same impossible job.
"Their stories prepare you mentally for what it is you'll be facing when you
get here," Meeks wrote in a long e-mail from Iraq. "What they actually did
is of limited value," Miseli said. "It's the why, and the thought process."
Companycommand's membership more than doubled last year, to ten thousand, or
more than a third of all captains in the Army; they went to the site
sixty-seven thousand times and looked at more than a million pages.
Officer after officer told me that they use call when they have the leisure,
but it's Companycommand or Platoonleader they check regularly and find most
useful. call's director, Colonel Saul, wondered if "maybe captains shouldn't
be spending so much time in front of their computer, but should be with
their soldiers." He pointed out, however, that call itself has found
Companycommand useful; earlier this year, call posted a request on
Companycommand for advice on using interpreters in Iraq, eliciting replies
that became a call lesson on the subject. Saul's ambivalence about the Web
sites is emblematic of the Army's attitude. "Institutional education has
three components," said Lieutenant Colonel Kelly Jordan, an active-duty
officer who also runs the R.O.T.C. program at Notre Dame. "It's got to have
a common curriculum, a dedicated cadre of trained instructors, and common
experience." Companycommand and Platoonleader are free-for-alls of shared
experience, with no designated interpreter. "What you get out of it may not
be what I get out of it," Jordan said. "You may get the occasional Napoleon
or Alexander the Great out of it, but it does nothing to raise the
educational level of the officer corps."

Little by little, the Army is absorbing Companycommand.com and
Platoonleader.org. In 2002, West Point put Platoonleader on its server, and
a year later added Companycommand; both sites now have military addresses.
The Army also began paying the Web site's expenses. It sent all four of its
founders to graduate school to earn Ph.D.s, so that they can become
professors at West Point, where they will run the sites as part of their
jobs. And the Army is starting to pay the Web sites the sincerest form of
flattery: in April, the commanding general of the First Cavalry Division,
Major General Peter Chiarelli, ordered up a conversation site for his
officers. Cavnet, as it's known, exists only on siprnet, and is vetted, as
an official Army site. "We had a guy put up something that wasn't within the
rules of engagement," Major Patrick Michaelis, who created the site, told
me, "and within half an hour the staff judge-advocate guys put a response
up." But, of all the Web-based means of sharing combat information, Cavnet
is the most immediate. While call is used mostly in training units in the
U.S., and both Companycommand and Platoonleader are intended to build
leadership skills and share general tips and tricks about fighting in Iraq,
Cavnet is oriented, Michaelis said, to "the next patrol, six to nine hours
out." Lieutenant Keith Wilson, for example, read a "be on the look out"
posting about insurgents who were wiring grenades behind posters of Moqtada
al-Sadr, counting on Americans to detonate the explosives when they ripped
the posters down. He spread the word among his men, and a few days later a
soldier whom he'd sent to peel a poster off a wall peeked behind it first.
Sure enough, a grenade was waiting.

"There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader," Alexandre
Auguste Ledru-Rollin is said to have remarked during the 1848 revolutions in
France.. The Army finds itself in a similar relationship with its
junior-officer corps. Leonard Wong worries that an institution as
hierarchical and doctrinaire as the Army will have trouble reining in its
young officers after the war. "Iraq has released the capabilities that our
leaders had, but that we'd dulled and numbed previously," he said. "It's one
thing for individuals to be nimble mentally. But can the Army as an
institution be nimble enough to leverage them? Do we now sit these captains
down and treat them as we used to? They all wear combat patches. Have we
changed anything in the organization to respond to that? If you go to any
school or unit, they'll say, 'Yes, we're doing things right,' but, really,
the Army is struggling."

No matter how clever its captains and lieutenants are becoming in the face
of the insurgency, the Army may never be able to declare victory in Iraq.
Thirty years after the fall of Saigon, the military finds itself thrust into
another war with limited public support, insufficient resources, and a murky
definition of success. It remains to be seen whether its appetite for
learning the lessons of Iraq will extend to analyzing how it got into such a
war in the first place. When General Shinseki failed to persuade Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to allocate more troops to the initial effort, he
appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where, under cover of
answering a senator's question, he went public with his estimate that the
war would require "several hundred thousand" troops. His move failed. Deputy
Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz called Shinseki's estimate
"wildly off the mark," and the Army invaded Iraq with about a hundred
thousand soldiers.

Marybeth Ulrich, a professor specializing in civil-military relations at the
Army War College, said it's too soon for the Army to be analyzing whether
Shinseki could have played his hand better, or whether generals might lobby
more forcefully in the future. "The Army's pretty busy right now," she said.
But the lieutenant colonels and colonels who attend the War College will
eventually find themselves analyzing those early days of 2003, to learn, as
she put it, "what steps were taken to get the Army's point of view across."
Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution makes the military subordinate to
the civilian leadership, and there's an undefined line between the two that
the Army never crosses, Ulrich said. "Was the Army ten steps behind the
line? Or did the Army go all the way to the line? I don't know."

Thomas White, who was fired from his job as Secretary of the Army in May of
2003 for clashing with Rumsfeld on a number of issues, including how many
troops would be needed, told me that the lesson the Army needs to take away
from the run-up to Iraq is precisely the one no officer wants to learn. "If
I had it to do again, what Shinseki and I should have done is quit, and done
so publicly," he said. White called it a measure of Rumsfeld's contempt for
the Army that he didn't name a permanent Secretary of the Army to replace
him until this past November. "To spend more than a year at war without a
Secretary of the Army is unthinkable," White said.

A week before the Presidential election, the Association of the United
States Army held its annual convention in Washington. Membership in the
association is open both to Army personnel and the corporations that sell
things to the Army, and the gathering transformed the lower level of the
Washington Convention Center into an arms bazaar. Attractive women posed
fetchingly beside Bradley Fighting Vehicles, Volvo displayed its trucks,
Barrett Firearms showed off its new .50-calibre sniper rifles, and the
Gallup Organization offered an array of "business improvement services."
Upstairs, professional-development experts gave officers tips on everything
from "actionable intelligence" to unit finance. Officers mingled in the
hallways in dress-green droves, those who had been in combat distinguished
by unit patches on the right arm rather than the left. The talk of the
convention was a book published in 1997 that the officer corps has recently
rediscovered. Many carried the volume under their arms, and no fewer than
six urged me to read it: "Dereliction of Duty," written by an Army major
named H. R. McMaster. Using once classified Vietnam-era documents, McMaster
finds fault not just with Robert McNamara, then the Secretary of Defense,
who dismissed warnings from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Vietnam War
would be hard to win, but with the four Chiefs themselves, who were
complicit, because they failed to publicly voice their misgivings. "Each one
of those four went to their graves thinking they didn't do enough to
protest," White told me. "They should have put their stars on the table and
said, 'We won't be part of this.'"

The officers fighting in Iraq are, most of the time, remarkably
enthusiastic. This is their war, the only one they may get in their careers.
It follows an attack on the United States, even if the connection between
the attack and the war has been questioned. Within the tiny sliver of the
war each sees, examples of brilliance and bravery abound. They're proud to
be a part of "the most beautiful Army in the history of the world," as one
recently returned captain put it; he praised his immediate commander for
wisdom and compassion, and his company for being so disciplined and
professional that it could turn off the violence "like a good hunting dog."
They brag about the Q36, a computerized weapon system that is so
sophisticated it can spot an enemy mortar or rocket in midair, trace its
trajectory backward, and fire a response before the enemy round lands. But
they will also tell you that the war is excruciating. Despite their Buck
Rogers technology, they are losing friends to weapons made from RadioShack
gizmos, and the people they've been sent to help seem to hate them more
every day. They can't imagine when or how they will earn a victory parade. 
Great catch, lots of scope for thought there.

Thanks Michael.
Careful, now.  I rather prefer the great unwashed - here and abroad - to go on believing that the US Army is a hidebound organization dedicated to re-fighting the VietNam war and incapable of learning.