14 June 2008

Class stretches on…

In the past couple of days we’ve covered culture (in three excruciatingly detailed classes), negotiations (in one brutal six-hour block), and a truly painful block titled “Coordinate With Interagency, Intergovernmental and Nongovernmental Organizations.” This last one involved lots and lots of discussion about how much we all value the United Nations and its contributions to building a better world.

Actually, the negotiation class was taught by a New Jersey cop and former SWAT guy who initially defined negotiation as a single sentence – Sir, could you move a little closer to the window, please?
Guaranteed laugh line in a room full of soldiers, that.

And again, although the course material is about as useful as the proverbial screen door on the submarine, the class interaction allows for us to reach consensuses on important issues for the Civil Affairs NCO.

Let me share some of those with you.

1 – Village cleanup projects are a giant waste of the American taxpayer’s dollars. Iraqis don’t care if their towns are ankle-deep in garbage. If they did, they’d ask for some of these projects. They don’t. It’s a common misconception of newly-arrived maneuver battalion commanders that paying for a bunch of some local bigwig’s cousins to pick up trash for a couple of weeks will enable these folks to see the light. They don’t care.

2 – Everybody likes to build schools because Children Are The Future. However, if there’s no system in place to hire and pay teachers, the utility of the new school is roughly zero immediately following the ribbon-cutting. If there is a system, but it’s entirely dependent on US dollars and contracting, it’s only slightly better than worthless.

3 – The nomadic subpopulation in Afghanistan is, apparently, the CA NCO’s worst nightmare, since this seems to be a group that travels around and has figured out they can get money and stuff from a wide range of US military units. Worst of all, they must be placated, since a large part of their economic heritage involves smuggling stuff across mountainous borders.

4 – Again, about the schools. Although economic growth initiatives don’t make for good ribbon-cutting pictures, we’ve decided that education without economic opportunity is bound to become either an expensive luxury, or the source of lots of well-educated Iraqis and Afghans working in other countries – neither of which is part of the overall goal.

5 – The Officer Efficiency Report should be changed to a GO/NO GO document in theatre. Far too many stupid ideas are initially conceptualized as “bullet points” on an OER. A good NCO can identify one of these ideas at 100 yards, but trying to stop one…well, imagine an armadillo on a Texas highway going toe-to-toe with a Peterbilt. Yeah. We know how that ends.

6 – The no-beer rule sucks. However, as dutiful noncommissioned officers in the US Army, we recognize that we are most effective when we train ourselves to live as warrior monks – rejecting personal comforts and vices in favor of an ascetic study of our field of expertise. Further, since we are, indeed, warriors, we must train our bodies and minds to accept deprivation. In that spirit, along with giving up beer, we have discarded mattresses, sheets and pillows in order to sleep on the ground outside the barracks. We have also taken to pouring sand and insects onto our food before eating it.

It appears that Those Who Know Best have decreed that we shall spend another week in the classroom getting made smarter. I can only hope it’s as illuminating as this first one has been.

(admin note - yes, I retro-posted this for ease of organization)