Saturday, March 12, 2005

Nobody Asked me But...

The March 2005 issue of Proceedings from the U.S. Naval Institute has an article on pp 92-94 by Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, U.S. Army, entitled "The Army Can Fight Small Wars, Too" with which I have several disagreements. Proceedings has a regular feature column entitled Nobody Asked Me But... Here is my submission to the editor.
"I was quite disappointed by Lieutenant Colonel Gentile’s attitude regarding critiques of the Army’s performance in Iraq. He simply put on a historical rant to deflect criticism from the Army. As a civilian, here are some of my observations.
Attitude - The Marines have a clearly superior attitude toward the men from their officers. This is a natural outgrowth of their historical commitment to being a volunteer organization. The Army is a top down hierarchal organization. In the Marines, it is “Every man a rifleman”. In much of the Army, it is “Rank has its privileges”. To give Colonel Gentile a little perspective, I suggest he compare the disciplinary methods of our Army compared to the Russian Army. He would likely be appalled to have the corruption, beatings, bribery etc, in his Army. Why? Because the Russian army is built on an outdated model of attrition warfare. Our Army has been forced out of that model by the end of the draft. But the future is clear, an all volunteer force with respect for each individual. The Army’s tagline “An Army of One” can’t be just an advertising slogan.
Fire Discipline - Col. Gentile would do well to read Bing West's book, The Road Up, Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division. In it he relates a story of a tanker taking aim on a solitary mujahadeen and dispatching him with a single .50 caliber round. Note that he did not spray him with a full automatic burst or the main gun! Things got really bad in Fallujah when the Army sprayed the crowd with automatic weapons fire. Widespread complaints of indiscriminate fire were common, but undressed. Soon Fallujah became the center of an insurgency. It is also worth noting that it took Marines walking in Baghdad to encourage Iraqis to tear down the statue of Saddam on worldwide television. They only intervened to help the Iraqis when it became obvious that they could use a little help. If you want to win hearts and minds, you need to understand the common desire to say “Please Mom, I’d rather do it myself.” But accommodated such desires is quite difficult if your mindset is a top down hierarchy. And do you want to talk about which service the Abu Ghraib jail guards belonged to?
Creature Comforts- The Marines fought their way to Baghdad. The Army drove largely unopposed through an open desert. The main drama they encountered until they reached Baghdad was a sandstorm. Meanwhile, the Marines had to sit around cooling their heels while they waited for the Army to catch up. Do you think you could afford to travel a little lighter next time Colonel?
Clearance Operations - The simple truth is that the Marines led the way in subduing potentially hostile populations. Who was it that defeated the Sadr militia Colonel? It was Iraqis backed by overwhelming Marine firepower used only when needed. And Fallujah fell when the Marines went in backed by Army cavalry units and Air Force airpower.
Summary - I would suggest to the Colonel that the Army has much to learn from the Marines conduct of Operation Iraqi Freedom, rather than the Marines learning from some ancient army operation in the Philippines."
Update 3/13/05 - Corrected book reference from Gen. Mattis to Bing West.


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