29 July 2009

Never an awesome moment here...

It was 8 million degrees, sunny and there was a mild breeze. Incidentally, the breeze here is not a cooling factor - there's no wind chill of course, there's just wind sucking the moisture out of your body even faster.

Anyway - another godawful afternoon, but perfect for one thing: handswashing some clothes and hanging them out to dry.

So I did three sports bras, eight socks and three t-shirts and hung them out on the line on my porch. I went inside to collect up some trash, drank a bottle of water, and then opened the door to go outside...and it was rapidly turning orange.

I pulled my clothes down before they attracted more than a thin coating of dust, draped them over various and sundry objects indoors, and spent the next hour muttering obscenities about this country.

28 July 2009

Worth reading

I know that all of us troops, and all of the folks who like troops, are supposed to disapprove of John Murtha and automatically categorize anything he says about our involvement in Iraq as utter defeatist tripe.

But, as the southern people say, even a blind hog roots up an acorn from time to time. Murtha is calling for closer scrutiny of how the Commander's Emergency Response Program has been used.

"A fundamental review of CERP, its purpose, use and scope, is overdue," Murtha wrote in the July 15 letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Murtha said he was disturbed by reports from Iraq suggesting commanders were in a "rush to spend" hundreds of millions of dollars by the end of the fiscal year.

War is not cheap. There's a reason it's known as a drain on "blood and treasure." But the CERP program is directed by a document we call "Money as a Weapons System," and flinging large piles of US taxpayers dollars at every problem, potential problem or confusing situation is every bit as silly as trying to resolve every kinetic problem with 155mm HE rounds.

In fact, it might be sillier, because I can't think of a single situation in which "success" was measured strictly in number of 155 rounds expended. And given the very real challenge of finding metrics to define success in a fluid counterinsurgency fight, the temptation to measure progress in terms of dollars spent or projects started can be mighty.
U.S. military officials say CERP has been invaluable in helping commanders get things done quickly, with little red tape. In recent years, they have used it to put insurgents on payroll, award micro-grants to business owners, compensate families of civilians killed in combat, and build schools and clinics.

Please understand that "very little red tape" is a relative statement. Our supported organization does pretty well with the CERP nomination and approval process, and it's a multi-step undertaking that even in the simplest circumstance (microgrants, if you're interested) moves in terms of weeks (and often, months), not days (qualifier: I have not handled a condolence payment on this tour, and I can't recall the timeframes when we did them last time around).

CERP has been valuable for building schools and clinics (and water treatment facilites and wells and roads and bridges and culverts and powerlines and hoophouses and corn silos). But have all of those been occupied, staffed and managed? Honestly, I don't know. I haven't been to all of them.

I do know that sometimes it's a challenge to get unit commanders to ask some of those harder questions when there's a pot of money that needs to be used by the end of the fiscal year/deployment/quarter and which battalion spends more of it is one of the few ways to measure who's done "more" during a given period of time.

If money is to be used a weapons system, it's imperative that we study its employment with the same diligence we apply to the use of armor in an urban fight, the employment of helicopter gunships in support of amphibious operations or the utility of gun trucks in base defense. It would be a valuable exercise, if for no other reason than that our experiences with money on the battlefield in Iraq may, if analyzed dispassionately and rigorously, enable us to leverage it to preserve the lives of our warriors in Afghanistan and future conflicts.

27 July 2009


One of the things we do differently under the Status of Forces Agreement, which was reaffirmed by the June 30 security "transition," is try to stay off the roads during peak times. That's a concept that primarily effects "support and sustainment" movements.

Alas, those movements (resupply convoys and the like) are one of the best ways for a small group of people in one truck to move back and forth between the Big Base and FOB McSleepy.

All of this means that going from Point A to Point B can lead to "getting home" at 0115 after a slow-motion convoy. At least, when we travel at night, there's really not much need for IV fluids.

The party never ends

We've been up at Big Base for a few days now, doing more preparing-to-leave stuff. There's also been some drama, since there was a very ugly collison of bad days between our admin workhorse and an overly sensitive senior NCO.

Drama is, of course, annoying. We've been doing our best to ignore that, knock out the tasks we came up here to deal with, and keep our heads down. We've been filling time by eating good chow, enjoying the wireless internet and, of course, giving each other IVs.

After the drive up here, our gunner was feeling a little pink and dizzy, so I took that as an opportunity to remember how to stick:

Always good to know one hasn't lost one's touch. I was, of course, quite pround of myself.

And yes, anytime you think you're having a bad hair day, try wearing a padded helmet in the heat with a headset squished around the base for a few hours. It's a damn sexy look.

The next day we gave the Bossman a couple of bags (I provided support and snarky commentary for that evolution). He enjoyed it so much that we wrangled a box of fluids and associated supplies out of the medic to take back with us. We kind of have to watch him, since although he walks around with a bottle of water, I'm not sure he ever actually drinks it.