The Army Stance: What it Says About You

Shakespeare apparently once said that, “Clothes make the man.” Well, in the Army, we all have to wear pretty much the same thing: colorful pajamas. And there’s not much you can do to accessorize – barring our hair, but that’s another story entirely. Which leaves us only a few ways to express the individuality that we have managed to preserve despite the Army’s best efforts to crush it out of us.

One of the ways we can demonstrate this is how we stand. Consciously or not, everyone displays their personality by their stance. Observe a group of leaders watching training or soldiers attending a briefing and you will see a whole multitude of subconscious attitudes on display. You can learn a lot about a soldier’s personality just by watching the stances. There are five key stances that you will see.

1. The Power Stance

This is most commonly seen from those in command. Feet spread apart, arms crossed, the whole body radiating, “I am in control, I have no emotions, and don’t even think about approaching me to discuss your measly little problems.” This is prevalent among captains in command, lieutenant colonels, colonels, sergeants major, first sergeants, and drill sergeants. Sometimes you’ll even get a whole group of power standers together, vying to see who can look the least approachable. The power stance is perfectly paired with some overpriced Oakley sunglasses and it easily transitions into a knife hand stab.

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Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley projecting power. (US Army photo)

2. Belt Grip

Since the Army says that our pockets are off limits to any part of the body, we’ve taken to a modified position of hands in pockets. The most popular is the belt grip. Assume a wide stance and grab your belt just outside the belt buckle. This is another type of power stance, but more suitable for sergeants, staff sergeants, and sergeants first class. It presents a slightly more approachable demeanor that is also well adapted for leaning forward, spitting, and delivering some choice words on a soldier’s performance during training. It is also handy for keeping one’s hands warm in cold weather, since gloves are for wimps.

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Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey, demonstrating the thumbs-in approach and not thinking about his pockets. (Fort Bliss Bugle photo)

3. Thumbs-In

A modified version of the belt grip is the “thumbs in the waistband of the trousers at the hip” stance. This is the preferred version for those soldiers who really wish to use their pockets but are trying to set a good example in case sergeant major comes by. This is most often seen in junior officers who are struggling with their competing wishes to be cool but also toe the line. These soldiers want to show that they are approachable and are listening attentively, i.e., that they still even care.

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As always, Enlisted manages to provide me three out of my six examples. Damn you, Fox, for cancelling this show. And for Firefly…#neverforget (Fox)

4. Hands-on-hips

There’s something about the simple act of placing hands on hips that radiates the essence of, “Come at me bro.” This is essentially the most combative of all Army stances. Like the U.S. Army itself, it projects power, confidence, and leadership. Which can be a bit of a problem when the projector has neither power nor confidence nor leadership. Thus, when a private first class attempts to place hands on hips, an NCO will usually catch them in the act and berate them forcefully.

5. Perennial Parade Rest

There are soldiers who just cannot get out of basic training mindset, no matter how hard they try. They are usually privates, who exist in a constant state of confusion and move around with a look on their face that reflects their internal chaos. Upon being interrupted in their attempts to place one foot in front of the other while also trying to remember every word of what their sergeant just told them while also worrying that they might be in trouble, they will default straight to parade rest, no matter who addresses them. They can be seen furtively shifting about at perennial parade rest, guiltily moving their hands, even though they are in the field among their peers. PRR wears off over time as privates advance in rank and confidence. This stance is a source of amusement for all NCOs. It is most often paired with a regulation haircut.

6. Pockets

There’s a part of every soldier’s subconscious that is at all times preoccupied by the awareness of pockets. Specifically, that we have them, but cannot put our hands in them. With the exception of Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey – who has, through superhuman effort, managed to purge all thoughts of pockets from his mind – every single soldier undergoes this struggle. It reaches metaphysical levels, as soldiers project their hopes and dreams on this unattainable prospect. Why are they there? What is their meaning? Why could the Army, in all its infinite wisdom, provide us these glorious assets with which to keep warm, but not allow us to use them? Is there even a supreme being that governs this universe? What is the meaning of life?

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General Dwight D. Eisenhower – the perpetual offender. CSM’s everywhere have epileptic fits of rage at this picture. #Freethepockets (DOD Photo)

Which leads us to our final – and most heinous – stance: hands in the pockets.

This stance is most often found with first lieutenants and specialists. These ranks share a special bond: they have been found capable enough to be promoted at least once, so therefore the Army must really place a lot of trust in us – I mean, them. If soldiers have deployed, this stance becomes even more prevalent. It is carried out with a sardonic lean, as if to say, “Yeah, I know there are rules, but I have superseded these rules: I am become the rules.” In officers, this stance is most often paired with “officer hair,” or “pilot hair,” both being about the same. Like the stance, the hair presses the three inch limit as prescribed in Department of the Army Pamphlet 670-1.

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Former Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno – hand in pocket. I’m sensing a trend… (US Army Photo)

And speaking of pilots, they treat their hair, their uniforms, their stance, and their pockets as theirs, and theirs alone. For they have broken free from the surly bonds of earth and have touched the face of God.

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(US Army Photo)

Geez. Pilots.


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Dealing with a Teenage Global War on Terrorism

If the Global War on Terrorism ever became sentient, chugged a RipIt, donned a reflective PT belt, lit up a Marlboro Red, and rose up in human form, it would turn fifteen today.

And it would be an ornery little punk.

Fifteen years ago – on September 20, 2001 – President George W. Bush breathed the Global War on Terrorism into life, as he told the American people that we would pursue Al Qaeda and it would not “end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

But the GWOT is not a human. It is an ideology. Actually, it is an undeclared war on a tactic based on a strategy used by an ideology, which is kind of like making war on a “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” basis. It runs along the lines of America’s other classic wars on abstract ideas: poverty, crime, and drugs. All four have been…well, you know the old adage, don’t speak ill of the federal program that has met its demise.

This is tongue in cheek, but there is a lot of truth in the old adage, “Perception is reality.” And what the American people have perceived over the past fifteen years is that abstract ideas can’t be JDAM’d to death. The problem is, we haven’t come up with a decent ideology to counter that of our enemies; probably because most people in the U.S. don’t even know who our enemies are, what drives them, or – hell – even where they come from. Instead, we’ve created the convenient, easily-absorbed, amorphous being of an inhuman Islamic fundamentalist that is intent only on death and destruction.

And when you’ve removed the human being from any part of the conversation, it all just becomes propaganda. The GWOT – yes, I know we renamed it Overseas Contingency Operations, but it is still GWOT – has boiled down into this pre-Enlightenment idea of the “good” West against the evil “Muslim World.” Hell, there’s no such thing as a “Muslim World,” just as there’s no such thing as a “Buddhist World” or “Christian World.”

What remain after all this reductionism are people – all driven by unique motivators, which combine culture, economics, religion, and all the basic tendencies that humans share. But since people are complex, and – stay with me here – people don’t like complexities (self-loathing, eat your heart out), this is not an acceptable answer. I suppose it comes down to, “Can we shoot it in the face and end the problem? If not, can we throw money at it until it goes away?”

This has essentially been the way we’ve been handling the GWOT from the beginning, which has resulted in a lot of people trying to pronounce unpronounceable place names and bomb them. The military has done its damnedest to carry the fight to the enemy wherever possible, but again, where the enemy has to be reduced to individuals, our economy of scale has become fundamentally tilted. We’re dropping ordnance that costs more than a sergeant will make in a decade of service on a dude with an AK-47. Thus is the price of security.

The greater price – as if the blood and treasure weren’t enough – has been incalculable: it bears the shape of the Syrian Civil War. Because of the backlash against GWOT, America was reluctant to get involved in any sort of conflict in the Middle East when the unrest began back in 2011. And we have remained reluctant, as the Syrian Civil War turned five years old. It is now the single most destabilizing event on the planet, threatening to toss the entire region into a big ol’ shooting war, and flooding the African, Asian, and European continents with refugees – the largest refugee crisis since World War II, in fact. In the meantime, we pretend that it is an isolated incident and was unpreventable.

Would we have intervened back in the beginning, had not the Ghost of GWOT Past been looming in our collective memory? I guess we’ll never know. However, the cost of our non-intervention continues to grow every day. Perhaps it’s time to look GWOT right in the face and talk terms, as one would do with a surly fifteen year-old:

“Look, kid. We’ve made some poor decisions with you. Perhaps you were a mistake. We didn’t raise you the right way. But we’re going to fix that. We’re going to stop treating you like a mistake, and start treating you like our own creation. We’re going to handle you the way we handled Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, back before you were born. You may not like it, there are going to be growing pains, but it’s time to put the past behind us and look to the future. Generations depend on us to make the right decision. Now go to your room and think about what you should become.”

We’d better get on it before GWOT turns sixteen, because we definitely don’t want it driving in its present state.


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Full Spectrum Professional Development

 

Like many junior officers, I hear a lot about “professional development.” We hear about it from senior leaders, it is almost always on our officer evaluations, we are told to develop our subordinates, and we assume that leader development exists…somewhere. Some of us have even been developed professionally, apparently. Most often, however, it seems to be a buzzword, like “METT-TC dependent.” A catch-all for the way that leaders will develop their subordinates.

My personal experience with professional development has been spotty. It ranges from roundtable discussions on Message to Garcia (how ‘bout “no”) to mind-melting PowerPoint briefings on writing evaluations. But hey, at least they were trying. Many never do.

Our doctrine states, “Every Army leader is responsible for the professional development of their subordinate military and civilian leaders.” (ADRP 7-0, 2-3) But the stark truth is that leaders find themselves sucked into so many other things that leader development often falls into the pile of, “Things I Was Totally Going to Prioritize When I Eventually Took Command But Now Can’t Get Around To Because I Don’t Even Have Time to Sleep And Where Even is My Family, I Haven’t Seen Them in a Year.” Intentionally or unintentionally, leader development at the unit level often leaves a lot to be desired.

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How do you know it’s an Army product? That you need a picture like this to say that leaders are developed through on-the-job-training, military schools, and self-study. (ADRP 7-0)

The Army provides plenty of examples of leader development. It even has an online professional development toolkit. Doctrine paints a lovely picture of leader development as a triad, with three domains: operational, institutional, and self-development. However, operational development can be hindered by a poor assignment or a neglectful commander. If a Soldier is lazy or – as in most cases – just doesn’t know where to start because self-assessment is hard – self-development can more often than not result in watching Band of Brothers and trying to act like Major Winters. But you can’t really shoot and maneuver your way out of a command supply discipline program inspection.

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“I’ve got a bead on our unsatisfactory kitchen inspection program..” (Image: HBO)

The only real aspect of leader development that the Army can control is institutional, i.e., Army schools like officer basic course, captains career course, etc. However, even these schools can only provide a minimum baseline because the content is not tailor-made to students and, well, let’s be honest: TRADOC schools teach the science of leadership, not the art. And it is most often underwhelming. But that’s another piece all together.

Which gets us back to leader development at the unit level. Simply put, it is the single greatest moment of influence a leader can have on shaping their subordinates’ careers. By electing to not field a robust leader development program, a leader is – consciously or not – undermining the Army’s crop of future leaders. Imaginative leader development increases retention, raises morale, and – most importantly – creates critical thinkers.

Most leader development is Army-centric, however. An article from ARMY magazine in 2013 addressed the issue of leader development and provided examples of professional leader development that junior officers appreciated. It is all recognizable stuff: book assignments, physical training, informal get-togethers (21st century code for beer call), counseling, and the ever-present “Watched Band of Brothers and talked about it.” These all have their place, and they are all a technique.

But if we are going to practice full-spectrum operations, we should bring that same mentality to our leader development. What is our endstate? To create critically thinking and engaged leaders. Yes, we should also be teaching our new leaders how the Army operates. That is a fundamental aspect of professional development. But we should also be teaching our leaders how to think outside the box. We should be bringing in historians, economists, national security professionals, law enforcement officers, business leaders and others from the surrounding community to be guest speakers. How do law enforcement officers teach and train on close quarters tactics? How do economists view our process of evaluating adversaries through PMESII (political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, information systems)? National security professionals can provide a top-down look at how the Army fits into the geopolitical space. How do business leaders retain talent and manage careers? The perspective of those outside the organization can be invaluable in teaching our leaders how to think, rather than what to think. And it also goes a long way in developing ties with civilian agencies and individuals, overcoming the civilian-military divide.

This technique also takes some of the pressure off of leaders at all levels; rather than prepare a class or develop a PowerPoint (God forbid), they merely have to bring in a guest speaker and provide a kickstarter for discussions. Because the best leader development takes place in the arena of open and informal discussion, where junior leaders feel that they can speak without repercussions (within reason).

So rather than assign a book that no one will read or subject everyone to an afternoon spent daydreaming about running off to join the Navy as someone drones on and on over a PowerPoint presentation, consider doing full spectrum leader development. The payoff is incalculable as we move towards of future of doing more with less.


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Donald Trump’s Generals Comments, Explained

Today’s guest post comes from Barefoot Boomer. Boomer is a career Army officer and strategist. He is also a historian with an emphasis in American and German military history.  The content and opinions of this article are the author’s only and do not reflect the opinions of the United States Army or the Department of Defense.
*disclaimer: The term “generals” used throughout this article covers both generals and admirals for simplicity in explanation

At Wednesday’s NBC Commander-in-Chief Forum, Donald Trump answered questions about national security experience, the generals that supported him, and current military leadership. What he said in response was shocking, confusing, and wrong.

Trump told NBC’s Matt Lauer that the current legion of generals under President Obama are “a pile of rubble” and that once he was President “they’d probably be different generals.”

Trump is big on touting the list of general officers and admirals who support him. He brags about their support and how he’d use them and their vast experience in crafting his foreign policy. Trump insinuates that he’ll use his position as Commander-in-Chief to fire the bad ones and put his own trusted leaders in place. Unfortunately for him, he can’t necessarily do that.

Could a President Trump fire all the generals?

The simple answer is no.

Like all other military officers, generals and admirals cannot be summarily fired from their job just based on their boss, in this case President Trump, not liking them or their opinions. There must be cause for them to be removed, either some type of criminal misconduct or a loss of confidence in their ability to lead or do their job. Any general Trump would want to get rid of would have to retire.

A good example was General MacArthur during the Korean War. MacArthur differed with President Truman on how the war was being waged and he spoke out publicly, including by sending a disparaging letter to Congress. Truman convened his national security advisors and decided to fire him based on disobeying a direct order, a criminal offense. Relieving a general officer of their job is rare, and outright firing is even more so.

The threat of a Trump purge of generals once he takes office is pretty slim to none. He’ll get the ones who are there now.

Could a President Trump appoint anyone he wanted to be a general?

The answer is not really, but he does get a say in the process.

No matter what part of the military they are from, general officers are promoted like any other officer under Title 10 of US Code. They are chosen by the military to fill certain jobs based on their experience and qualifications, sent to the President for approval, and then confirmed by the Senate. So a President Trump could not just place anyone he wanted to into positions of power because, even though he can nominate by approving them, Congress gets the final approval.

Could a President Trump bring a retired general back onto active duty? He could, and there is precedent for it. During the Iraq war in 2003 retired General Pete Schoomaker was brought back by Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld to become the Chief of Staff of the Army. So while it’s happened before the chances of it happening again are small. The talent pool of active serving officers is large enough to make it unnecessary.

Also, if you’re worried about Trump appointing a civilian he likes as a general you can rest easy. Generals are not political appointees. During the Civil War, President Lincoln appointed numerous politicians and men seeking power and glory as generals in the Union army. How the army was organized and the political implications of the Civil War made such appointments feasible, but the military of today is no where close to the one we had in the 1860’s.

Generals, like the rest of the military, are not political. We have personal opinions but do not serve based on who the Commander-in-Chief is. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dunford gently reminded the military to stay out of politics so we don’t seem to favor one candidate over the other. Retired generals are free to do what they like, but ones that serve must remain agnostic and professional to be able to give the best advice.

A professional military like ours requires professional leaders, not novice political appointees. A General Ivanka or Eric Trump is not in our near future.

Would Patton truly be “spinning in his grave?”

Unlikely.

In one back and forth exchange with Matt Lauer, Trump attacked the military leadership under President Obama and their perceived failure to destroy ISIS by saying “ And I can just see the great, as an example, General George Patton, spinning in his grave, as ISIS we can’t beat.” <citation needed> This is a fundamental misunderstanding of not only ISIS as an enemy but also how our national security system works and how wars are fought today.

Invoking the memory of a great leader such as General Patton makes for a good soundbite and plays well with those who yearn for strong leadership. But the fight against ISIS is not the same as the fight against Germany in 1944. Our current campaign against the Islamic State is nuanced and takes into account the difficult geo-political situation in the region. The next Commander in Chief must understand that and act accordingly.

There is also the fundamental idea of civilian control of the military. Generals are not political and don’t only follow orders of the President they voted for. In our system, the civilian leadership sets policy and generals execute that policy, regardless of party. Generals advise their civilian bosses, give them their best military advice on situations, and then execute whatever the President decides.

Patton may be spinning but if he were here he’d do what his Commander-in-Chief ordered him to do.

So, should we really be worried about a President Trump firing and appointing generals as Commander in Chief?

No, it’s not something to worry about.

In the end, a President Trump would have the same powers to appoint and remove generals as every other President has. If he wanted to replace generals with ones he liked better there are no real ways for him to do so outside the established process. Any generals he would get to nominate would not necessarily be “yes men” who would follow his orders blindly. They would still be obligated to give their best advice, even if it’s not what he wants to hear.

But the thing that will prevent Trump, or any other Commander-in-Chief for that matter, from firing and appointing generals if he gets elected is the military bureaucracy itself. The way the military works, the built-in process of promoting, job placement, and firing service members will baffle him (because it’s not like the private sector) and stifle any attempt at changing leadership pell mell.

The convoluted federal bureaucracy may finally be useful for something.

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The Real Army Mob: The E-4 Mafia

Battles are planned by generals and won by sergeants, so the saying goes. The saying didn’t include anything about who runs things in the meantime. That’s because the people who run things were very keen on ensuring that their names are left out of popular sayings.

Those people are the specialists of the U.S. Army.

For the uninitiated, specialists are those soldiers that bridge the gap between privates and sergeants. They are not yet non-commissioned officers, and they are not privates. They live in a nebulous zone that everyone finds confusing. And specialists take advantage of that to create an environment of barely controlled chaos.

Who am I? Oh, I’m a nobody. Once upon a time, I was somebody. I was part of something pretty big. But then I strayed and took a commission as an officer, leaving the E-4 Mafia. The Godfather looked at me askance when I left, but didn’t put a hit on me. That was kind of him.

The Sergeant Major of the Army may be a scary man, but he’s got nothing on the Godfather of the E-4 Mafia of the Army. Ever see specialists do work? Neither have I. And yet the Army runs.

It’s spooky.

I’ve only seen the Godfather in action a few times. Once was when a staff sergeant came in and told Specialist Godfather to mop out the latrines. Godfather stared at him for a second, then slowly shook his head, murmuring, “This thing you ask of me, I cannot do it.” The staff sergeant seemed surprised, then confused, and walked away scratching his head. It was the damnedest thing I’d ever seen.

Woe betide to those who crossed the Godfather, however.

I once watched a private first class be hauled in, guilty of some minor crime, such as not sharing tobacco or not stealing 2nd Platoon’s guidon. The PFC was white with fear, and said, “I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your barracks on the promotion of your brother. And may their first child be a masculine child.”

“Is this guy an idiot?” asked the Godfather, looking around. “Rest of you, get out of here. You,” he said, pointing to me, “can stay.” He put in a thick lip of tobacco and got right up in the PFC’s face.

“Now you come to me and say, ‘Specialist, give me justice!’ But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me ‘Godfather’. Instead you come into my barracks on the day my brother is to be promoted, and you ask me to do work. For money.”

The Godfather glanced at me. I looked back, wondering what would happen. The PFC was shaking with terror.

“What will you do?” I asked.

“I’ll do what I always do,” said the Godfather; “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

“And what would that be?”

The Godfather furrowed his brow and spit into an empty water bottle. “Well…if he doesn’t toe the line he could sleep with the fishes.”

“Ah,” I nodded sagely. “KP duty.”

“Yeah; or I could have the other E-4’s give him a sock party,” mused the Godfather.

“That might get the sergeant involved,” I said, never one to rock the boat.

“Sergeant!” spat the Godfather. “The NCOs may tell us what to do, but we have the power. Who cleans the weapons? We do. Who empties the garbage? We do. Who stands roadguard during brigade runs? We do. Who cleans the motor pool? We do.”

I pointed out to him that it was actually the privates who did all that, but he merely looked at me with the familiar pitying glance in his eye. I guess it was then that I knew I was going to be an officer.

E-4’s do run the show. They are the lifeline, the conduit, between the non-commissioned officers and the private soldiers. They are Legion, yet they are rarely all seen at once. Like the Warrant Officers, they have never been spotted working. They will lead working parties, but when you come to check on them, the specialist is somehow nowhere to be found and an enterprising E-2 has taken charge.

If you go out to the motor pool late at night, and are very quiet, you can sometimes catch wind of the secret Specialist’s Creed. It is spoken softly, out of cigarette-clenched jaws, through gulps of Monster energy drink:

“No one is more unprofessional than I. I am a specialist, a shammer of Soldiers. As a specialist, I realize that I am a member of a time honored corps, which is known as ‘The E-4 Mafia’. I am proud of the Mafia and will at all times conduct myself so as to bring no attention to myself, the military service and my country regardless of the situation in which I find myself. I will totally use my grade or position to attain pleasure, profit, or personal safety, preferably all of the above.

Competence is my enemy. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind—sleeping and the messing with other Soldiers. I will strive to remain technically and tactically illiterate. I am aware of my role as a specialist, I think. I will fulfill my responsibilities inherent in that role. All Soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership; I will notprovide that leadership. I know my Soldiers and I will always place my needs above their own. I will communicate inconsistently with my Soldiers and usually leave them uninformed. I will be neither fair nor impartial when recommending both rewards and punishment.

Officers of my unit will have zero time to accomplish their duties; they will be babysitting me. I will lose their respect and confidence as well as that of my Soldiers. I may be loyal to those with whom I serve; seniors, peers, and subordinates alike, providing it is in my best interest and it comes with controlled substances, such as alcohol or tobacco. I will exercise initiative by making things up in the absence of orders. I will not compromise my integrity, but I might forget about it if sex is mentioned. I will not forget, nor will I allow my comrades to forget that we are shammers, specialists, E-4 Mafia!”

I shared this with you at great pains to my own safety, as behind any officer is usually a gang of specialists, who can make that officer look great, or look like a complete moron.

And what of that PFC?

He’s a specialist now. And is probably sleeping in the back of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the motor pool, while some privates do his work. Because that is the way of the specialist.

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How do I Talk to my “Boots” About Politics? Retaking the American Narrative in the Marine Corps

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates talks to Marines deployed to Camp Leatherneck located on Field Operating Base Bastion, Afghanistan, during a recent trip the southwest Asia May 7, 2009. DOD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison(RELEASED)

This is a guest post from Peter Lucier.

Peter Lucier is a Marine veteran (2008-2013) and student at Montana State University. He writes as a member of the Council of Former Enlisted for The Best Defense blog, and is the editor of the soon to be launched Return to Base (rtbmag.com) You can follow him on Twitter @peterlucier

In the empty deserts of Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, as the shadows of the mountains grew longer, and the cold of night began to creep, we’d put out the trash fires we’d started with cans of JP-8, carried on the sides of the LAV’s. We would fire up some UGR’s, and a box of coffee and hot chocolate, and figure out the post schedule for the night. I was a smart ass boot lance corporal, but out there, when it was just the twenty or so of us, sipping bad coffee and eating worse food, my platoon commander might indulge me in some political debate.

The question isn’t what can government do, to alleviate problems, he’d say, but what should government be in the business of doing. And if it’s not listed in the Constitution, we probably shouldn’t be doing it, regardless of the good it might do. And I’d misquote Toby Ziegler back at him, that government can be a place where we come together, and no one gets left behind. For seven months off and on, we’d chide or joke each other. This kind of deployment political talk is a funny thing. On the one hand, it’s lighthearted. Out there, in the middle of nowhere, with only each other, political differences on domestic issues seemed so far away as to be laughable, and laugh we did. Everything was a punchline, everything was funny. Whatever differences we had didn’t matter. On the other hand, we were all men who might be dead tomorrow. And the import of matters of principle could not be higher.

Most importantly though, was that he as an officer, and I was enlisted. When you are deployed, in combat, certain distinctions are erased, certain formalities forgone, and there is an intimacy that transgresses rank. When you come back, boots might be jealous of the way a lance calls a corporal or sergeant by the first name, or rolls his eyes at a command, and gets away with it. But at the same time, rank is never more important than when deployed. The incredible burden he must have carried, with our lives in his young hands, is still, to me, unimaginable. We joked. We laughed. But he always ate last. He never, ever bummed tobacco off of the junior enlisted, but did provide us with quite a bit. He led. He commanded. There were hard and difficult things we had to do while deployed, and the structure, discipline, and legacy of the Marine Corps was what allowed twenty or so men, all under the age of thirty, to accomplish what we had to. We all knew our place. He was an officer. I was enlisted.

I remember another Marine, the point man for our section. He was incredibly talented, and only nineteen years old. Raised in the Wisconsin woods, he fearlessly walked in front of our section, our team leader close behind, picking out safe paths for the rest of us to walk. And he hated the locals. Hated them. I can’t blame him for the worldview he took. He was dodging bombs with his feet every day, so much more exposed than the rest of us, who walked in his footsteps.

Angry Staff Officer wrote a fantastic piece about reclaiming the American narrative of multiculturalism, self-published on his blog recently. He wrote the piece based on a conversation he had with a young NCO, who claimed multiculturalism was destroying America.

I see my own juniors, who I led after I got back from Afghanistan, now posting on social media things I disagree with. I wish I had spent more time talking to them about politics, at least as much as I had spent talking to them about tactics. I was responsible for their moral and professional development, as much as I was responsible for their training and tactical employment. And when the military is pretty much the only trusted public institution left in America, and veterans words carry so much weight, as we saw at the conventions, reclaiming what I and others believe to be the American narrative could not be more important.

But then I think about that point man, who had an incredibly dangerous job to do, and I think about our platoon commander, and the incredible weight he carried through our work-up and deployment. I think about the cavernous distance between my platoon commander and I, that not even combat could disrupt. That point man may have held political beliefs I find abhorrent. But he kept me safe. It is not overstatement to say that he is the reason I am alive, and that I owe him my life. We are going to see each other again this fall for a reunion, and I hope I have the balls to tell him that, although I’ll probably chicken out, and we’ll just laugh and joke, just like we used to on those nights, in the shadows of the Afghan mountains, with all the fervor and intensity of men who might die tomorrow, but also the blithe uncaring of men for whom politics doesn’t matter.

And that might be the most pernicious thing of all, the thing that worries me the most. When we use our veterans, or our generals, to talk politics, and we make reclaiming the American narrative a mission of our senior NCO’s and officers, when the only institution trusted by the American public is the military, we rob the ability of those still out there, in the shadows of the mountains, to laugh about the craziness of the world, and go to sleep at night, guarding each other zealously, ready to go out on a dangerous mission the next day, confidently walking in each other’s footsteps, no matter what they think about Cheeto Jesus and Putin.


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Retaking the American Narrative: A Challenge to the U.S. Army

So, the other day I was talking with a noncommissioned officer within my organization. We were having an interesting discussion about different issues facing the Army right now, when he made the somewhat alarming remark that he thinks multiculturalism is destroying this country.  

This line of thinking isn’t new at all; in fact it’s been around for hundreds of years. And unfortunately, it has been responsible for some of the darker moments in U.S. history.

You can look at every single wave of immigration that’s come to this country and see the discrimination that they have met. And not just because of their ethnic backgrounds, but against their cultures, as seen with the Germans, the Italians, the Greeks, the Poles, the Chinese, the Japanese, the list goes on. You can see it through successive waves of immigration even up to the present day, as refugees are seeking to escape the increasingly volatile Middle East.

But these cultures are some of the ones that literally form the framework of American society today. Take German culture, for example. When the Germans first arrived in the United States back in the 18th century, they were viewed with deep distrust, because many of them were Catholic, they didn’t all learn English immediately, they had strange customs, and they didn’t drop those customs upon arrival to the U.S. Customs such as Christmas trees, Christmas carols, even Santa Claus… things that we today take for granted as being part of a traditional American Christmas. These came from a culture that was completely condemned by the 18th and 19th century Anglo-Americans. Roman Catholics were viewed as being potential revolutionaries and could possibly destroy American society because they might be loyal to the Pope. Yet, in the American Civil War, thousands of German immigrants and their children were fighting on the side of the Union to preserve a country that in some places still considered them second-class citizens.

What happened with the Germans is indicative of other waves of immigration into the United States, as well. Like the Irish. When they first arrived, their culture was condemned because the Irish drank too much, they were too loud, they were too rowdy – and again, they were Catholics. Fast forward to today when we in our American culture have one day per year that is set aside to drinking heavily and being loud and rowdy  – including by people who are not of Irish descent. How does that fit into the narrative of a so-called purely American identity?

The danger, of course, in this anti-multiculturalism, is that it can lead us down some incredibly dark paths that we have collectively tried to forget about. Rounding up the Japanese in the wake of Pearl Harbor and putting them in camps, comes to mind. There’s the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1917, where to have a German last name and mutter anything remotely construed as being anti-American could have you end up in prison or at the very least under watch by the local authorities. It’s a dark past that also contains the history of our treatment of American Indians, our treatment – obviously – of Africans by enslaving them, and then the eventual Civil War that it took to erase that horrible institution. And then the campaign for Civil Rights that has been going on for the past hundred and fifty years.

If you’re going to say that the American way of life is something that anyone who comes to this country needs to conform to, you also need to understand that in the early 1900s – just the past century – white Christian Americans were lynching black Americans because of the color of their skin, and because of their culture. So if you come to me and talk to me about creeping Sharia law and are ignorant of this part of the white Southern Christian background, I’m going to laugh in your face and tell you to read your history.

Because if we don’t read our history, this is a very bad, violent, immoral, unethical, and, at its heart, un-American past that we need to be cognizant of.

I live down the street from a large Muslim community. I have not seen any mass stoning of women, nor have I seen any large terrorist organizations emerge from this community. What I see instead are very hardworking people from Somalia, Sudan, and Burundi who take America at its face value – that it is the land of opportunity. It is a place where you can come from nothing and your children can become President. It is such a powerful idea that is it has sustained this Republic for hundreds of years in the face of incredible opposition; through a civil war and through multiple armed conflicts. This idea is what is at the heart of what it means to be American.

Instead of pointing at these people as a danger to our community, shouldn’t we be looking at them as the next wave of Americans and helping them along in their lives? Because that’s what they came here for. They came here to have a better life, and like all waves of immigrants, the first wave does take a while to learn the language; it does take a while to learn the culture, to learn the mores of American society. And then it is their children who can speak better English than most of us, who take the American dream to heart, who enlist in the armed forces, enter civic government, go to universities, and end up becoming some of the great inventors, artists, and innovators that we see in our nation’s history.  This cycle repeated over and over and over again is what makes us the greatest country in the world.

In my wife’s church, there is a large population of Africans from Burundi. They are political asylum seekers and what they have seen he is absolutely unbelievable. It is literally hard to believe that you can be in your home, your place of work, your place of worship, or your place of education and have men enter with machetes and select individuals  – your friends, your family – and execute them in front of you. Or even seek to execute you. It is a kind of violence that we cannot understand. But because we do not understand it, we instead only see the “other.” We do not see our fellow human beings in need of help.

So, when I hear a non-commissioned officer in the United States Army stating that he thinks that multiculturalism is destroying America, when multiculturalism in fact created the America that he knows today – because the original America is not one that he would recognize – I become fundamentally concerned. Concerned that the narrative that we created in the wake of 9/11 to fight the global war on terror has taken on a new, radical, and essentially evil form.  It is opposed not only to American values, but also to the Army Values, especially those of respect and integrity. Those two Army values are linked inextricably with how we, as American Soldiers serve and protect our nation.

If this is the case – that we have created a new narrative, one that is filled with hate, for fear of the other – then it is incumbent upon us in the United States Army to go back to our original narrative. There is no need to create a new narrative, there is one that exists already. And that is the one that we state all the time: whether it be in the Soldier’s Creed or in the Army Values or, hell,how about the oath we took to enlist in this great institution?  It’s our job to reclaim that narrative and spread it far and wide. Because I can tell you that the other narrative – the one that is being carried on right, now that multiculturalism is the death of American society, that Muslims should be feared, that refugees should be rejected – that is entirely the narrative of our enemy in the Islamic state and the radical terrorist world.

Additional Duties? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Additional Duties! Ten Tips for Executing the Role of Executive Officer

This post first appeared on the blog Point of Decision and has been reposted in its entirety with permission.

So, you’ve pinned (or rather, hook-and-loop fastened) your black bar to your chest. Gone are the days of people calling you “Butterbar” and ignoring what you have to say. It’s a new era, right? Wrong. You’re a lieutenant, get used to being commonly ignored. However, that has its upsides, as you will eventually learn.

With that black bar, though, your time as platoon leader is drawing to a rapid close, and therefore your life is about to take a dramatic turn for the worst: you are either going to the staff or to be an executive officer. Both are a far cry from the down-in-the-dirt fun of being a platoon leader, and both involve the intense application of your new Combat Power: PowerPoint. If you’re going from platoon leader into an executive officer (XO: hint, does not mean hugs and kisses, that could get you in some SHARP hot water) billet, then maybe these words will be of some use. If you’re coming from the staff, it will all seem eerily familiar and yet better.

So here, from my just under two years of XO time, both in garrison and deployed, are my nuggets of wisdom. Take them or leave, them, because what do I know, I’m a lieutenant.

10. Executive Secretary

You’ve arrived in your office. You’ve met the commander and the platoon leaders, and the 1SG has crushed your hand in a grip like a vice, just to set the parameters of your relationship. Congrats, you’re the XO. Get used to that title, because you’re going to hear it a lot. XO this, XO that, where’s the XO, I need the XO now, XO these slides are late, etc, etc, etc. You’re going to begin to feel like you are like an executive secretary rather than the executive officer. Well, you’re not wrong. Your job is to synthesize ALL the data that comes in from the company and give your commander a snapshot of the company, whenever he asks. You will also be writing memos. So many memos. Do yourself a favor, get out AR 25–50, and learn how to write a memo. This is going to pay dividends when instead of the S-1 kicking your memos back, you’re able to call the S-1 and tell them that the margins on their LOI are all wrong. It’s the little things.

9. Mentorship

As always, Doctrine Man has answers to all of life’s persistent questions.

Look at you. You are the XO. A senior lieutenant. You are like the god of the lieutenants. You have at least three, and they exist to serve you, right? NO. Bad LT. It’s the other way around. Yes, they may be young, and confused, and ask the stupidest questions in the world, and NEVER understand that there are regulations which give all the answers, and are always making mistakes, but remember, just a year ago, you were them. So shut your ego off, and do your job, which is to mentor. Not just talk at them. Sit down, get to know them. Offer advice. Get them involved in organizations that will help their careers. If they’re good stuff, let everyone know about it. If they need work, well, work on them. It can be a hard road to travel because there’s not a huge age difference, but in the end, they will thank you.

8. PowerPoint

Let this be your motto.

Remember how you used to brief? Out in the field, maybe with a sand table, but probably not, usually with a notebook and something to point with (because sticks are symbols of power). Not anymore. Now you brief with PowerPoint. More importantly, you prepare briefs for the commander. The better his slides, the less the staff will pick on him. And by better, I don’t mean fancy transitions or graphics: I mean content. The bare bones, the essentials. Anything else is just decoration that is meant to disguise that you have no idea what’s going on, and a sharp S-3 will be all over that. So do your boss a favor, and make some damn good slides.

7. Additional Duties as Assigned

When you were a PL you probably had a few extra duties, like safety officer or environmental officer. And that was probably a bore. Well, there’s this line in most officer’s job descriptions: extra duties as assigned. And oh brother (or sister), you are going to be the poster child for additional duties. Let’s see, so you will definitely become lead Safety Officer, Maintenance Officer, Operations Officer, Combined Federal Campaign Officer, Voting Assistance Officer, Container Control Officer, Equal Opportunity Officer, Historical Officer, Victims Advocate Officer, Guy Who Makes the Coffee Officer, Mess Officer, Color Coordination Officer, We Should Get That Guy Who’s Retiring a Plaque Officer, Ooh I Saw Something Shiny Officer, and…well, you get my point. If it’s not in the commander or first sergeant’s job description, you own it.

6. Sense of Humor

You will have days like this. And they will make no sense.

Laugh. Daily. Make jokes at meetings. Play pranks on your staff (not your supply sergeant though. Never piss off the guy or gal who can suddenly add $20,000 to your clothing record). Smile when your day sucks. Odds are, everyone else’s day sucks, too. You’re the head of the ops section, so set the tone from there. And if your humor eventually turns snarky and sarcastic, then you’re one step ahead of your peers for when you go be on staff.

5. Knowledge is Power (And you’ve got the power)

You are the person with their ear to the ground. You should have an intimate knowledge of what is going on in the company at all times. Eventually, you will get so in tune with it that you’ll know where everyone is at any given time of day, because you’ve synced the company calendar to your brain. It’s scary, but cool. With all this knowledge comes an element of power. Don’t use it to make people feel stupid. Use it to help people out. Granted, some of the knowledge is close-hold between you and the commander; don’t go spreading it around. Gossip can come back to bite you. Hard. So play nice.

4. The Commander is always right

This one is pretty simple and self-explanative. You can disagree in private, but don’t undermine your boss in public. Once they make the call, take a deep breath, and deal with it.

I would also add to this: learn from your CO. If they make mistakes, note them. If they are successful, learn what it is that makes them a success. Because in just a few years, you will be in their shoes. And the view from up there is very different from the view as an XO.

3. Protect the Property Book!

Yes, in this analogy, you are Milton, and the Property Book is the stapler.

This must be your mantra when you wake up in the morning: I will not lose accountability of the commander’s property. You and the supply sergeant are the two lone sentinels on the walls that protect the commander’s property. You had best protect it well, as EVERYONE is going to want it. Sure, you can give away that nice new OE-254 antenna to that squad leader who says that he’ll give it right back, but still hasn’t returned the range box and the range was three months ago. Or you can say, “Aw hell no” and risk making people upset. Hint: make people upset. The property book is your sacred trust. Guard it with your life, because the best way for you and your commander to get into trouble is from missing high value items. Does that mean you’re going to tick people off? Yes. Get used to it.

2. Your Ops Sergeant is Your Best Friend

Your commander may become your friend, but he or she is your boss. You might be friends with the first sergeant, but he is the boss’s right-hand man. The job of XO can be a lonely one, so that is why the Army, in its wisdom, gave you an Operations Sergeant. They have that thing that you lack: years of experience. They are also an NCO and can handle things in ways that officers aren’t supposed to. Work closely with your Ops Sergeant, develop a strong team, and nothing can overcome you. Not even the battalion command sergeant major, who dares you to touch his grass.

1. What Success Looks Like

Right about now, you’re thinking success looks like you getting pats on the back after meetings and maybe some new bling in the form of an ARCOM. Disabuse yourself of that idea, because it ain’t it, buddy. Yeah, once in a while someone will say “good work, XO,” in passing. It’s not exactly the most glamorous job. But what people will notice is when your boss looks good; also, the converse. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a hands-on commander or a “I’ll be in late today” commander. The commander that says in a briefing, “I’m not sure, sir, my XO didn’t tell me,” is sunk. They’ve lost all credibility, and guess what, so have you. Make your commander shine. The sign that you’re doing your job right is that they look good.

Captain America had a GREAT executive officer when he was in his command tour.


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A Veteran’s Response to Allen West

Guest post by Combat Cav Scout. His opinions as written here do not represent or reflect those of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army. Title photo courtesy Politico.

I don’t, as a general rule, give much mind to the opinions of war criminals. So imagine my astonishment as I sit here with a browser window open and displaying a blog post written by war criminal Allen B. West. The blog post, which you can read here, is about what I would expect from West in terms of tone and position. But the topic of discussion was what caught my eye and my attention. In this instance, West states that he has “a PERSONAL message for the Muslim father whose son was killed in Iraq.” So I decided that it was high time to get my hate-read on and I dove right in. And – surprise, surprise – it left me furious.

Let’s start with the headline: “I have a PERSONAL message for the Muslim father whose son was killed in Iraq.” Grammar and unnecessary emphasis via capitalization aside, this headline pisses me off. West, a former Army officer, decides from the very beginning that he will not name the Gold Star Father whose son gave the last full measure in Iraq. He does not call him “Mr. Khan” or even “Khizr Khan” in the headline, but reduces him to “the Muslim father.” The deliberate depersonalization of Mr. Khan in the headline is telling. It is a reflection of West’s readership, to whom he is pandering – hardcore right-wing Islamophobes who will have a visceral reaction to any mention of the word “Muslim.” Mr. Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention on national television and became an instant celebrity; there is no reason to avoid using Mr. Khan’s name in the headline other than to point out his Muslim faith to readers.

West asserts that “It appears things have devolved into such a level of immaturity relating to the speech that I believe there’s a need for a clear analysis of Mr. Khan’s address, and what he should have presented.” For those in the back who might not have heard, Allen West said that there is a need for him to educate the world on what Mr. Khan “should have said.” What a Gold Star Father whose son was killed in Iraq for this country should have said. “Hey, I know your son was killed saving his soldiers in a foreign country, but please sit down and be quiet so I can tell you how to feel and what to say.” According to West, Mr. Khan is thinking and feeling and saying the wrong things about his son’s death. Can you imagine, can you fathom a universe in which such an implication would be okay? Because I can’t. Shame on you, Allen West.

“Their son and I share an unbreakable bond,” West writes. Personally, I find it ridiculous for West to make such a statement. Captain Humayan Khan’s service to our country ended in an act of heroism which claimed his life, the life he sacrificed to protect his soldiers from a suicide bomber. Allen West’s service ended when he was forced to retire after committing a multitude of crimes against an Iraqi policeman being held as a detainee. The detained police officer was beaten in front of West, who then fired his pistol in the air, counted down from five, and fired his pistol again next to the police officer’s head. Every one of these actions is a crime. West’s service is marred by illegal and cruel treatment of a detainee. Captain Khan’s service is marked by courage, sacrifice, and heroism. For West to compare the two is unconscionable.

From here, West proceeds to harangue Mr. Khan, a man who immigrated to this country and then gave his son for love of it. And he does it in the standard way: with lies and venom and an assumption that he, West, somehow knows better.

West presumes much in his open letter to Mr. Khan. “Undoubtedly you would agree,” he writes, “we have witnessed a few unconstitutional actions from [President Barack Obama.]” Undoubtedly you would agree, Mr. Khan. Undoubtedly. West then takes the opportunity to use his presumptuous speech to Mr. Khan to attack Secretary Hillary Clinton for the scandal surrounding her use of a private e-mail server. “Perhaps Mr. Khan,” he goes on, you could have addressed the necessity for high standards of honor, integrity, and character in a commander in chief.”[sic] Here, I agree with West. These traits are incredibly important in a President. Honor – like when Donald Trump promised to give $6 million to veterans’ charities but had to be held to that promise by journalists. Integrity – like when Donald Trump has been caught in lies too numerous to mention. Character – like when Donald Trump made sexist statements about Fox reporter Megyn Kelly, publicly bullied a disabled journalist, or mocked a POW for being captured. I have to wonder if Allen West is wise to invoke these personality traits when the candidate he is supporting for President seems to have none of them. West asserts that Captain Khan would not have been treated in the same manner as Secretary Clinton had Captain Khan kept the same type of e-mail server as Clinton. I wonder what sort of sentence a junior enlisted soldier would receive for allowing a detainee to be beaten and then performing a mock execution, because I seriously doubt it would end at a $5,000 fine and a retirement with full benefits.

West then doubles down on the right-wing histrionics by writing that he finds it “interesting” that Mr. and Mrs. Khan “would take the stage to support a sitting president and one desiring to be president, who had abandoned Americans in a combat zone and lied about it.” Here, one can only assume that West is referring to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Except, according to the House Select Committee on Benghazi led by Republican Representative Trey Gowdy, President Obama actually did attempt to help the Americans under siege in Libya. “Despite President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s clear orders to deploy military assets, nothing was sent to Benghazi, and nothing was en route to Libya at the time the last two Americans were killed almost 8 hours after the attacks began.” (pages 141-142) The Secretary of State (that being, at the time, Hillary Clinton) doesn’t deploy military forces. That’s not her job. That’s the job of the Secretary of Defense, as directed by the President – both of whom ordered military forces to Benghazi to render aid. Neither the President nor Secretary Clinton “abandoned Americans in a combat zone.” Again, remember that these are the words from the official findings of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. This committee worked very publicly to find any possible blame which they could lay at the feet of President Obama and – especially – Secretary Clinton. If the Committee had found such evidence of betrayal or abandonment, one would imagine that it would have been shouted from the rooftops. This means that Allen West is either outright lying, or he is woefully and willfully uninformed considering that the report is available publicly online.

“Or perhaps, as it seems, your speech was politically driven, and not based on principle? After all, you did take the stage before a crowd that disrespected a Medal of Honor recipient…is that cool with you?” It’s funny to me that West would accuse a Gold Star family of using their son for selfish political ends, then immediately decry the disrespect which a small fraction of the audience showed toward Medal of Honor recipient Captain Florent Groberg. (By the way, Florent Ahmed Groberg is also an immigrant of French and Algerian descent, but no one from the Republican party is admonishing him for endorsing Hillary Clinton for President. It would be super nice if the GOP could at least spout consistent vile rhetoric.) Why doesn’t West reprimand General Allen for appearing on the stage in front of a crowd which disrespected Captain Groberg? Why doesn’t West rebuke Captain Groberg for appearing on the same stage, in front of an audience which disrespected General Allen? West is punching down in the most obvious way, but it couldn’t be because the Khans are Muslim, could it? I mean, it’s not like West has a history of abuse toward Muslim people… oh, wait.

Now come perhaps the most vile parts of West’s blog post. Addressing Mr. Khan, West writes that “those of us with knowledge could just as easily bring attention to SGT Hasan Karim Akbar and Major Nidal Hasan, both Muslims serving in the U.S. Army.” Sure, your son was a hero, but what about the two Muslims who committed acts of terrorism?! I don’t recall West ever mentioning men like Lee Harvey Oswald, Timothy McVeigh, Edward Lin, Charles Whitman, or any of the veterans who have joined the so-called militia movement. According to the Department of Defense, there are over 5,000 Muslims currently serving in the United States armed forces. But because West can name two, he insists that Captain Khan’s noble and heroic sacrifice – and the service of all the other Muslim service members – is cancelled out. I wonder how West would feel if someone were to pigheadedly suggest that we should cancel out all black service members’ deeds because of his misconduct.

The remainder of the blog post is spent informing Mr. Khan what he should have said during his speech at the Democratic National Convention. According to West, Mr. Khan should have explained how “humble and thankful” he is to live in America (which he did). According to West, Mr. Khan should have repeated the lie about President Obama abandoning “Americans in combat.” According to West, Mr. Khan should have expounded upon the incredibly bigoted words of Winston Churchill wrote about Islam. These parents stood on that stage in front of the world to honor their son – killed in combat against the enemies of the United States – and to state their opposition to Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policies. And West insists that, instead, they should have spent their time denouncing their own religious faith. The amount of gall it takes to contend such a thing is mind-boggling.

West decides to finish strong, of course, admonishing a Gold Star Father for having the nerve to speak his mind about his own son. “Mr. Khan, I grieve for the loss of your son. However, I grieve even more that you used his sacrifice and loss as nothing more than a damn politicized stunt. May God forgive you for it.” I eagerly await West’s blog post featuring a similar tongue-lashing to Patricia Smith after her speech at the Republican National Convention.

West is either willfully ignorant or a blatant liar. He is a dishonored criminal and a disgrace to all who wear or have worn the uniform. He is not fit to speak to the manner of Captain Khan’s service, nor to the opinions of Mr. and Mrs. Khan. He has a forest full of timber in his eye, and he has the nerve to dress down the parents of a fallen war hero who don’t owe anyone an explanation as to their opinions. Allen West should be ashamed of himself for daring to write this vile hit piece, and I hope he understands that he will never be half the American that Khizr, Ghazala, and Captain Humayun Khan are.

Shame on you, Allen West.


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Winning the Civil War, Finally

Today’s guest post comes from Barefoot Boomer. Boomer is a career Army officer and strategist. He is also a historian with an emphasis in American and German military history.  The content and opinions of this article are the author’s only and do not reflect the opinions of the United States Army or the Department of Defense.

The Army says it leads from the front.

 It needs to lead from the front, again, and this time finish what it started 170 years ago.

For most of its history, the Department of Defense, and the Army specifically, have been pulled forward on social issues by its civilian leadership.  Desegregation, gender equality, and now Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) rights.  And as our civilian leadership has pulled us forward we have helped pull the country forward.  But there is one issue that the military has let lapse which has had dangerous, far-reaching effects on the country.  That is its stance on the Civil War, its relationship with the Confederate Army, and the acceptance of the Confederate battle flag.

The Army’s torrid relationship with Civil War history began almost immediately once the last Confederate soldier surrendered in 1865.  After the assassination of President Lincoln, the plan for Reconstruction fell to a Southern sympathizer in Vice President Andrew Johnson.  Johnson continued the Reconstruction Plan of his predecessor, one that was liberal and equally forgiving to the South.  “With malice toward none, with charity for all” was Lincoln’s cry from his 1865 inaugural speech and so there was none.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

But as Reconstruction wore on it was clear that old had become new again; the old Southern systems and rules of society had returned, albeit now in the legal form of slavery backed by stringent racial codes.  The old cast of characters of Southern leadership was once again in charge and not much had changed since before the war.  By the time the occupying Federal army returned to their homes and the old Confederate states were readmitted into the Union it was like nothing had really changed.  The failure of Reconstruction ensured that the gains made by the North in those four years of bloody war were all but lost.

The Civil War, the Lost Cause, and the U.S. Army

After the Civil War was over most of the nation went back to some sort of new normalcy, tired and weary from four years of bloody fighting.  The North, victorious, looked to the West, and the future.  The South held a grudge.  That grudge forced them to look back to how their lives were prior to the war and yearn for rebuilding it.  Ideas that form the basis for what is now called the Lost Cause mythology began to coalesce in the minds of Confederate veterans and become a part of the South’s quest to “rise again.”

Attempting to justify why they lost the war and how their culture and society were destroyed, Confederates saw their defeat in terms of things out of their control and in reasons wholly devoid of historical fact.  The Civil War historian Gary Gallagher lays out the tenets of the Lost Cause very succinctly.  As Southerners saw it 1) the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery, but about Constitutional legacy and the rights of individual states over a powerful federal government, 2) it was a hopeless war that the South was never intended to win due to overwhelming Union power, and 3) that the valiant Southern armies were never defeated on the battlefield and fought gallantry and with honor against those overwhelming odds.¹

This Civil War historiography began to permeate every facet of teaching and understanding of the war, mainly due to former Confederates writing the bulk of the history of the conflict.  The Lost Cause became the default excuse for not only why the war was fought but also why the South lost.  Southern society latched on to the ideas of the Lost Cause and have inculcated them deeply into their psyche.  The nation preached reconciliation and rebuilding ties between former adversaries and held remembrance ceremonies featuring old grey-bearded veterans shaking hands.  The façade of coming together covered up the deep-seeded resentment of the South for losing and allowed them to write the history they wanted to, making themselves look good and attempt to absolve them of blame.  And it continues to warp our ideas and views of the conflict today.  New scholarship about the Civil War is still tainted with the propaganda of Southern veterans 170 years on.

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Gettysburg veterans shaking hands across the stone wall at the site of Pickett’s Charge, on the 50th anniversary of the battle.

These myths and ideas have infected not only Southern history and culture but the military as well.  The US military has a strong Southern tradition stretching back to before the Civil War.  After the war was over a good number of veterans joined the new US military and became part of the organization that they previously fought against.  Fighting in overseas operations like Cuba and the Philippines these old Soldiers distinguished themselves over and over and continued the Southern traditions of military service and honor.  Yet they also brought with them the same prejudices and ideas they had during their time in the Confederate army.  Teamed with the ideas of the Lost Cause this turned the US military into a safe refuge for Southern sympathizers which continues to this day.

The Army has done its best to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to Confederate veterans and military history.  Taking a cue from the government that wanted peace as quickly and painlessly as possible, the Army accepted Confederate veterans into its ranks after the war, identified Confederate service as part of unit lineage, and even recognizes Confederate veterans in the Veterans Affairs system.  You can have the VA place a Confederate marker over a relative’s grave with the right paperwork at no cost to you (but at cost to the VA).

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U.S. Army Soldiers in Vietnam display a Confederate battle flag

The tradition of Southern military service ensures that a large proportion of the US military comes from the South.  According to the Department of Defense’s 2014 report on population breakdown within the department it shows that almost 45% of all new enlisted acessions (recruits) come from the Southern states, a steady increase over the past few decades, while ascessions from other regions of the country have declined.  As the conclusion of the report notes:

“Geographically, the military continues to obtain its proportional share of AC accessions from the West and Midwest, but accessions from the South are overrepresented, and accessions from the Northeast are underrepresented.”

Partner this disproportional recruiting ratio with the mainly white, Southern officer corps that is also traditionally politically conservative, the continuation of support for a Confederate heritage within the Army has fruitful ground to grow in.

What the Army Must Do

If the Army is to lead on this issue again and uncouple the organization from Confederate history there are three things that they must do.  These three things are key to not only removing the specter of racism and hatred from our history but is necessary to finally “bind up the nation’s wounds” and finish the war once and for all.

1. Renounce any historical/heraldry ties to the Confederate Army and again side with the Union

The Army as an institution has a sense of history and honor.  We recognize unit actions, battles, and campaigns, as well as the bravery and valor of specific Soldiers.  There was a conscious decision after the Civil War to identify Confederate military history as part of the overall American military historical narrative.  This was in line with the government’s decision to re-integrate the South as fast as possible after the war.  Unit lineages were continued into the post-war Army and Southern exploits during the war were incorporated into the overall Army history.

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Shoulder sleeve insignia of the 116th Infantry Brigade Comabat Team, which traces its lineage to the Stonewall Brigade. (Patch is no longer worn; BCT instead wears the 29th ID SSI)

While understanding the war in its totality from a historical sense is wholly appropriate, the idea that the United States Army would incorporate the history of units in an army that fought against it for four years and killed hundreds of thousands of its Soldiers is incomprehensible.  There are still strong familial ties to those Confederate units that can be noted in other ways, but to formally identify current United States Army National Guard units, with Confederate units flies in the face of the sacrifice of the units that fought against them.

The Army should disassociate itself formally with any heraldry or ties to Confederate units that are still recognized in the official rolls.  They should have their service records reflect reinstatement into the Army after 1865 and have any battle honors or streamers for their part in the Civil War removed from their official records.

2. Identify the Confederate flags and related paraphernalia as hate symbols and ban them

The Army puts a lot of effort into its Equal Opportunity programs and tries to ensure that every Soldier is treated with dignity and respect and that they act in a professional, Soldierly manner.  There are codes of conduct and regulations that govern the display, support of, and voicing of racist and hateful speech or paraphernalia.  These are covered in Army Publication 600-20, Army Command Policy, which governs actions and activities of Soldiers.  Two chapters in this policy document, specifically, look at these areas.

Chapter 4, titled Military Discipline and Conduct, discusses how Soldiers will act while serving in the United States Army.  A specific part of the chapter, 4-12, Extremist Organizations and Activities, notes that “Military personnel must reject participation in extremist organizations and activities.”  It prohibits Soldiers from having any involvement in any organization or group that advocates violence against the government or against people of different races, creeds, religions, or national origin.

Chapter 6, in the same publication, governs the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program.  This program is designed to “ensure fair treatment for all persons based solely on merit, fitness, and capability in support of readiness” and ensures the Army “provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination and offensive behavior.”  The policy applies to Soldiers at all times, on and off post, on and off duty, and in all aspects of both their civilian and military lives.

As these two chapters note, the Army has clearly defined regulations against participation in extremist or hateful organization and the display of hateful and racist, discriminatory paraphernalia.  The Confederate flag, in particular the Confederate Battle Flag has long been identified as a symbol of hatred and racism.  Carried and displayed by the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederate groups, and ultimately being the symbol of the Confederacy, the display of or support of it is in direct contrast to service under the United States flag.

3. Rename all Army posts named after Confederate Generals or Soldiers

One of the most blatant homages to the Confederacy is the naming of Army posts after Confederate General Officers.  These names date back to the World Wars and America’s rush to prepare for conflict.  As the wars in Europe raged and it looked more and more likely that the United States would be pulled into them, the War Department began mobilizing and training Soldiers to increase the size of the Army.  There was a need for large expanses of land in order to train and the South had a lot of it, close to ports on the coast that would facilitate movement across the Atlantic.

The War Department negotiated with state and local officials to purchase the land and depending upon the post, either the local population voted on its name or the Army named it themselves.  These locations were in the South and the Civil War was only a couple decades removed so the obvious choice by all was to name them after Confederate heroes.

One of the biggest, and probably most meaningful, steps the Army can take to remove the Confederate stigma is to rename these posts.  Since they are Federal property it would be fairly easy to do so and would show that the Army is serious about moving forward instead of holding on to a controversial past.  The Army could have its heraldry organization put forth names and the Army could vote on which one they like best.  It would not only replace the name with one more fitting our values but also would ensure that the Soldiers got a say.  A list full of Soldiers who served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, and were awarded the Medal of Honor, would make a very promising and popular alternative.

Why It Matters

The question then becomes why?  Why take the time and effort to literally change Army culture?  Southern sympathy and Confederate heritage is rampant amongst the military, and why take any action that may cause controversy or become contentious?  The answer is a plain and simple “because it’s who we are.”  The Army.

1. Finish what we started.

In the months leading up to the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, President Lincoln worked tirelessly to ensure that the fight to preserve the Union was not done in vain and that the nation would be restored, not as it was but as a new nation of promise, hope, and liberty.  He drove Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution finally abolishing slavery, and follow-on amendments giving freed black Americans the freedoms they deserved as citizens.  He would have, one would hope, have been able to lead the nation through a Reconstruction that was more successful.  His assassination prohibited that.

The military has fought its share of insurgencies, with mixed results.  Winning or losing has come at the price of blood and treasure but the effects on America were negligible.  Not so with the Confederate Insurgency.  The fight switched from one with armies to one of ideas after 1865 and the North has since lost, badly.  The prevalence of Southern sympathies amongst many in service, the inclusion of the Confederate army history into our own, and the handwashing of the dichotomy between our values and those of the Confederacy show just how deep the insurgency has found its way into the military.

So, it falls to us, then to finish what we started and fully restore the Union.  That means we must fight the insurgency that continues unabated today.  And the Army must lead as we did in 1861 to 1865.  We must begin by ridding ourselves of the propaganda, heraldry ties, and historical fallacies that link the Army with the Confederacy and link ourselves with the Band of Brothers from the Union blue.  Their legacy is our own and we must honor their sacrifice and efforts by finishing their fight.

2. That “new birth of freedom.”

There were still dead from both sides scattered across the battlefield in mid-November of 1863 when President Lincoln made his way up to the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  The previous year, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation aimed more at militarily hurting the South than freeing the slaves.  But the comments of his Gettysburg Address, short and powerful, would link the idea of Union and ending slavery as co-reasons for continuing the war.

What Lincoln said in his barely two minute address established the moral bedrock of the Civil War and the Union cause.  Surrounded by citizens from the local area and Union Soldiers, he linked the birth of America, based on the ideas of freedom, to the fight they were engaged in at the time and implored them to not have let those who died during the battle, and ultimately those who died during the war, to “not have died in vain.”  His clarion call of giving all of America “a new birth of freedom” set the bar for how he saw America after the war.

His words were not just to those gathered on that hilltop in Gettysburg or their contemporaries.  Lincoln’s words were for all of us.  He recognized that in order for the Union to survive that we would have to extend the freedoms guaranteed under our founding documents to all American, regardless of color, creed, religion, or background.  And he spoke to not only the generation fighting then but to the subsequent generations of Americans to come.  To us.

The increased racial division and tensions that plague our nation are a direct result of us not fulfilling the task President Lincoln gave us.  The loss of the insurgency in the South after the war, the decades of racism and violence against African Americans, and the current political, social, and cultural problems may have been prevented had we as a nation listened to President Lincoln and fulfilled our obligation to ensure that every citizen, no matter what color, race, creed, or religion, enjoys the freedom offered them.  As the nation looks to the military as a trusted agent, we should use that trust to lead the way again and protect those freedoms that Lincoln

3. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Imagine you’re a Non-Commissioned Officer or Officer on your way to work on post.  It could be Benning or Hood or Stewart or Lee.  You drive past the “WELCOME” sign like you do every morning with hardly a glance.  Yet, this morning, you see the name.  Really notice it.  You’ve researched it or saw something about who the base was named for, who they were, and what they did.  You know that man and his history.

And now imagine you’re African-American.

That vignette may seem extreme or tongue-in-cheek but the Army considers itself a profession.  Professions have codes of conduct and rules that guide and limit behavior and establish a cultural norm.  The Army has our Army Values, steeped in the ideas of courage, sacrifice, and honor.  It is anathema for us as a culture or an organization to believe in this code of conduct and continue to accept anything having to do with the Confederacy or its legacy.  If we as a profession truly believe in our values, believe what we preach, and want to be taken seriously as an Army Family, then we are obligated to do the right thing and remove the stain of the Confederacy from our organization.

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The Army Legacy of Leading

The Army has the opportunity, now, to finally bring the darkest and most turbulent time in American history to a close by taking, again, its rightful place as the defender of the Union.  She must reject the ideas of the Lost Cause.  Reject the hatred and racism of the movement that tore this country in two.  She must remove traces of the traitorous Southern army from its rolls, and prohibit the owning or displaying of any rebel flags or symbols.  These are things the Secretary of the Army can do.  Should do.

If the Army is to live up her own values of Honor, Respect, Selfless Service, and Integrity she must take up this fight.  The Army models itself as a profession, with each Soldier held to a high standard of professionalism and standards.  If the Army is truly going to practice what she preaches regarding race relations, Equal Opportunity, and being a team then she MUST resolve to rid herself of the vile and disgusting specter of the Confederacy and its legacy.

It is up to us to make sure that she does this.  Not only for those Soldiers who are serving our nation today, sacrificing their lives for the nation, but also for those who have come before and fought for the rights that the Confederacy strove to refuse them.  It’s up to us to make sure that Soldiers in the future know the honor and glory of the Union, the sacrifices they made to keep America whole and to ensure that ALL Americans enjoy the freedoms that our founding documents and our service provide.

It’s up to us.  Now.  The time has come to finally win the Civil War.


Notes.

  1. Gary W. Gallagher, “Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War.”