Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wait...This Guy's in the WHAT?

A year ago, the white guy with the green helmet on was working as an Admiral's aide in New London, CT, while I was serving as the Admiral's N2 (an MI guy, or as the Operators might say, a booger-eater).

I left the Navy so I could serve as a Civil Affairs guy in the Mass. Guard, and he stayed in. And he took a one-year "in-between" tour (that's in between his Junior Officer 'shore tour' and his Department Head 'sea tour') as an Engineer on a Provincial Reconstruction Team.

In Farah Province, Afghanistan.

So the guy who cut his teeth getting qualified on the nuclear reactor aboard the USS Philadelphia, and stayed in the Submarine Officer pipeline is doing this amazing Civil Affairs job in a province bordering Iran, and the guy who bolted for Army CA is unsure if he's even going to get that qual before going back overseas next year.

So it goes.

I caught up with fellow blogger, neighbor and friend Kad Barma today and we got to talking about the growing civil-military divide in American society. That's not to say contemporary Americans don't appreciate today's servicemembers (just ask any Vietnam-era vet about that one) but they don't understand it in the way that people of past eras did when the military was much larger and more spread out geographically.

There are many pervasive myths about who serves (average enlistee is better educated than the *average* American his or her age), who fights (did you know a Navy guy would be running around the desert with all that cool gear?), and who dies (when the statistical *mode* casualty is far more likely to be Caucasian and to hail from a rural small town than any broad sampling statistic of his age cohort might suggest).

All that said, I'm going to try to more parts solution, less parts problem -- to the degree that I can, whether it's just here on this blog, in professional journals, mainstream periodicals, and maybe even some day between two hard covers, I am going to try to focus my writing a bit more on this issue.

Since "The Long War" commenced, plenty has come out describing the military side of things -- the tactics, the weapons, the triumphs, the blunders, etc.

But save for two excellent works by Robert Kaplan (Imperial Grunts, Hog Pilots & Blue-Water Grunts) not enough has come out about military culture -- who comprises our military and our military families and what it means in the grander scheme for our nation's long-term well-being.

As great as those books were, as was Dana Priest's The Mission, neither was written by a soldier who had trained and lived as such.

There have been plenty of "moments of glory" type books which usually involve some variant of how great the author and its subordinates are/were, but how clueless everyone above him in the chain of command was (and why that just forced him to 'drop his letter').

I don't need to rehash that, and it wouldn't even be genuine if I tried.

But if something could simultaneously capture the sustained dedication and brilliance of servicemembers who go "12 on/12 off" for 365 straight days alongside the barracks humor and ribald culture that helps keeps us going, I think it'd fill a niche.

1 comment:

C R Krieger said...

I agree with this post, in lots of ways, including the lack of understanding of who serves and who dies.  For example, in Viet-nam the profile of disproportionate KIAs was a Caucasian Catholic guy, not, as often is assumed, a Black kid from the Ghetto.

And, the question of Civil-Military affairs is a very important one in this nation, especially when our citizens are out doing the nation building in other nations (and not always our citizens—some of those people are immigrants, hoping to become US citizens).

Then there is the question of retired folks in politics.  Jim Oganowski and I are probably small fish and don't count, but questions have been raised about retired Generals and Admirals endorsing people for President, or even running.  We have at least one retired Admiral in the US Congress.

The separation of the military and the political has served us well for over 200 years.  We need to work to preserve that divide.  Anyone interested in that issue could check out articles by Dr Richard Kohn, who I respect immensely.

Regards  —  Cliff