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Five Monkeys and Fixing the Army

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

A writer going by the name of “Petronius Arbiter” recently posted a series of articles entitled How to fix the Army in 66 easy steps on Tom Ricks’ blog.  Although there’s been much discussion on the blog about many of his recommendations, I feel a few deserve some additional attention.

It’s probably best to being by asking “What is the problem?”  Not that I don’t think the Army has problems that need fixing (as it certainly does), however, the Petronius never defines what problem he is trying to fix.  The closest he comes is when he leads off his series with “A few small things, some annoyances, and some big fixes that could make a good Army better:”

Really?  Better at what?

He follows with his 66 steps, not all of which makes Ricks’ blog.  Some are ok; most are the kind of pointless drivel that essentially boil down to “Let’s go back to the way we used to do it.”  The “way we used to do it” is sacrosanct in the Army.  If it was done at some point in the past it must be good – nevermind that WHY it was done in the past is rarely known.

Among the more stupid:

  • “Since 75th Ranger Regiment is not an Infantry Regiment do not allow Infantry personnel in that organization to declare 75th Infantry as a regimental affiliation.”  Oooooooh.  Now there’s a HUGE problem.  (WTF, over?!)
  • “Re-instill drill and ceremonies so that units can at least have confidence in unit abilities to conduct a pass in review at ceremonies. Oh, and when supervised properly, it is a tremendous discipline builder and junior NCO developer, but most officers don’t know that.”  Really?  With all the time pressures on Army units, to suggest that they should waste time marching around and doing facing movements is, quite frankly, idiotic.  Soldiers are still going to war every 12-15 months.  They need to be training on mission-oriented tasks, not wandering around a parade field.
  • “Restore unit designations that make sense and are understandable. We know what an artillery unit is and does. We don’t understand what a Fires unit is and does.”  Go a mouse in your pocket?  Speak for yourself, bub.  “We” understand what a Fires unit does just fine, thanks.  Perhaps you meant YOU don’t understand.  Here’s a suggestion – pick up an FM and read a bit.
  • “Bring back the bayonet.”  Wow.  Between that and Drill/Ceremonies we could be just like the British in WWI.

Bottom line:  Let’s just go back to the way we used to do it.

http://doh-san.blogspot.com/2005/10/five-monkeys.html

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Be Careful What You Wish For: The Perils of Multilateralism

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The President has taken his lumps from both the left and the right on the Libya intervention.  The right accuses him of not doing enough, or alternatively, of not articulating a clear mission and end state for our military actions in Libya.  Of course, this is par for the course – the right is opposed to Obama’s actions simply because they are Obama’s actions – itself a commentary on the madness of our political dynamics.  The best example of the madness on the right has to be Newt Gingrich’s flip-flop – he was for the Libya no fly zone before he was against it… Read more…

Do You Like Leftovers?: Army Officer Attrition

March 24, 2011 1 comment

 

The debate over officer attrition, particularly in the US Army, continues.  An article by Tim Kane recently appeared in The Atlantic which made the case that the Army, and to a lesser extent perhaps the rest of the military, was hemorrhaging its best officers due to a lumbering, industrial age promotion system.

Kane’s article has now been rebutted by four senior officers currently serving as fellows at the Atlantic Council.  It’s become quite the subject of debate on Tom Ricks’ blog, and Starbuck has an entry at Wings Over Iraq as well.  I originally posted my thoughts on Ricks’ site, and below is the text”

It’s interesting to consider exactly what dog these officers have in this hunt.

Read more…

Victory: SECDEF Robert Gates

February 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Defense Secretary Robert Gates waves to West Point graduates on Friday.FOR THINKING CLEARLY ABOUT GRAND STRATEGY.

At least someone in the federal government is thinking about Grand Strategy.  Amid calls by some to put US troops in to Libya and other places in the Middle East and Africa, Secretary Gates bluntly responded, “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as Gen. MacArthur so delicately put it,” (Read the entire article at CNN.com).

If only we had Robert Gates around back in 2001 instead of that other guy….

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Strategic Thoughts Before Hiatus

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ll be off the net for a few days while I soak in some sun at an undisclosed, strategically insignificant location in the Caribbean.

Here are the strategic questions I’ll be pondering when not in a mai tai induced coma:

U.S. Grand Strategy.

  • After nearly almost a decade of “small wars,” the biggest question in U.S. grand strategy is not really whether we can, rather it is whether we shouldAfghanistan and Iraq have been long, bloody, and expensive.  Yet so far, there is relatively little to show in terms of strategic gains.  This should lead us to get beyond asking ourselves whether we can do small wars, guerilla wars, counter-insurgency, etc…  We have proven that with enough time, blood, and money we can do these operations.  We should now ask whether they are beneficial.  Are we getting enough back?

Safe Havens

  • Is territory, i.e. “safe havens,” really necessary for terrorism?  Is the primary battlefield cognitive?  Is this a war of ideas?  If so, what is the utility in trying to establish governance in ungoverned spaces which may serve as safe haven for terrorists.

More Safe Havens

  • Would it actually be better for terrorists to congregate in ungoverned spaces since airstrikes in those spaces would be less likely to arouse protests on the part of a sovereign state?

Reduced Budgets

  • How will the U.S. military, in what are sure to be leaner times ahead, balance the ends and ways of military strategy with reduced means?

The Next War

  • Does the U.S. military train for the next war to be a counter-insurgency type limited war?  Or, does it train toward a conventional war with a near peer?  Can it do both?  Is this choice a false dichotomy?

Middle East

  • What does the push for change in Egypt and the greater Middle East mean for the U.S.?  What if a country democratically elects a terrorist party/organization (ala Hamas)?  Do we REALLY support democracy?
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The (Not So) New Military-Industrial Complex

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Long-time defense reform advocate Franklin Spinney has authored a new article, “The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War” which examines the military-industrial complex in the context of the post-9/11 environment.  Here are the salient points:

  • Despite huge defense expenditures, we (Americans) don’t feel that much more safe.
  • Budgetary and debt pressures will soon bring the defense spending issue to a crisis point.
  • Our troops are stressed out by repeated deployments and our equipment is getting older rather than newer, even as we spend nearly three quarter of a trillion (with a T) on defense.
  • Continuous small wars serve the corporate strategies of defense contractors, who have failed to diversify following the Cold War.
  • Greater weapons system complexity is increasing rather than decreasing friction on the battlefield.
  • The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) process is broken.
    While Spinney does not make specific recommendations on a way forward vis a vis ends-ways-means, he does provide a good context for a wholesale strategic review of the defense budget.  His conclusions suggest that the U.S. should drop most of our complex weapons systems in favor of investments in our most important resource – people.

In Defense of the Doberman (and other dogs banned by the Army)

December 30, 2010 10 comments

File:Monument to Doberman, Military Working Dog (MWD), World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery. Navel Base Guam.jpg
In a quiet corner of Naval Base Guam, a Doberman Pinscher named “Kurt” sits quiet but alert atop the World War II War Dog Memorial. In reality, Kurt is a bronze statue. Kurt, along with 24 other Dobermans whose names are inscribed on the memorial, died fighting with the US Marine Corps against Japanese forces on Guam in 1944. Kurt was the first dog killed when he was mortally wounded by a Japanese grenade. These dogs served as scouts, sentries, messengers, and even retrieved wounded Marines on the battlefield not only on Guam, but on numerous battlefields in World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam. Countless Soldiers and Marines have been saved by these and other war dogs.

Fast forward to today.  In spite of the proud history of this breed, Dobermans are not allowed in Army family housing according to Department of the Army (DA) policy. The 2009 policy explicitly bans certain dog breeds, including Dobermans, despite evidence that breed bans do not make communities safer. This is a tragedy that DA should rectify immediately. The current policy is not only unfair to responsible dog owners, but more importantly, is unlikely to be effective.  As a dog owner, I am concerned that this policy unfairly targets specific breeds.  As an Army leader, I am concerned that this is a poor policy which fails to protect our Soldiers and Families.

Breed bans simply do not make communities safer from dangerous dogs because it is impossible to determine which dogs are dangerous based on breed alone. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill.”  The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) concurs with the CDC stating, “Breed-specific ordinances imply that there is an objective method of determining the breed of a particular dog, when in fact, there is not at this time.”  As a result, policy makers often resort to sensationalized media stereotypes and popular culture myths to decide which breeds to ban.

The current DA policy bans dogs which are stereotypically portrayed in the media as aggressive, or as “attack” dogs. Simultaneously, the DA policy omits breeds which should be of equal or greater concern. In fact, of the nine purebred dog breeds most often involved in fatal attacks, the DA policy only bans four.  The DA policy omits the German Shepherd Dog, Husky, Malamute, Great Dane, and Saint Bernard, all of which are large, strong and potentially dangerous dogs, and all of which appear in a CDC report on dog bite fatalities.  These dogs typically escape breed bans because they do not have sensational reputations, nor do they look like “attack” dogs. The DA policy also omits lesser-known but potentially dangerous dogs, such as Bull Mastiffs and Presa Canarios.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) asserts that breed-specific bans may actually diminish rather than enhance public safety. This occurs for two reasons. First, individuals who seek aggressive dogs turn to breeds which are not banned. Communities which enact breed bans often see dog bites increase from other, legal breeds. Second, breed bans may induce a false sense of security, leading communities to overlook more effective, breed-neutral “dangerous dog” policies. As evidence, the ASPCA cites studies in which dog bites remained high or went up in communities which enacted breed-specific bans, while breed-neutral policies were effective in reducing dog bites.

Another shortcoming of breed bans is that they focus exclusively on heredity to determine the potential danger of a dog. In reality, heredity plays a relatively minor role in dog aggression. According to the AMVA, there are multiple factors which influence a dog’s aggressiveness, including early experience, socialization, training, and health.  Additionally, reproductive status plays a large role in dog aggressiveness. According to the ASPCA (as cited from research), unneutered male dogs are responsible for an estimated 70 to 76 percent of reported dog bites, and are 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs. Unspayed females attract potentially dangerous roaming males.

The empirical evidence all points to a conclusion that responsible dog owners have known for many years: the problem is at the other end of the leash. All communities, the Army included, would be better off targeting bad dog owners than bad dogs. The truth is that any large breed of dog can become a dangerous dog in the hands of a bad owner. Accordingly, the Army should replace its flawed policy with the following guidelines, which are based on guidelines from the CDC and other organizations:

1. Enact a breed-neutral dangerous dog policy based on the “Model legislation for the identification and regulation of ‘dangerous’ dogs” found in Appendix 4 of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s report “A community approach to dog bite prevention.” (http://www.avma.org/public_health/dogbite/dogbite.pdf) All dogs should be considered potentially dangerous, and each dog should be judged according to its behavior rather than breed.

2. Enact mandatory behavioral evaluations of certain breeds by a veterinarian or other animal behavior specialist. While wholesale breed bans are ineffective, it is common sense to pay special attention to certain animals. Dog with a combination of size, strength and temperament that would pose a high risk of catastrophic injury to humans in the event of an attack should be screened for aggressive behavior prior to being allowed in Army housing. The list of breeds should be put together with the help of knowledgeable experts to ensure that breeds are selected based on science rather than stereotypes.

3. Enact a strict neuter/spay policy. A strict spay/neuter policy would not only make Army communities safer, but would decrease the population of unwanted and potentially dangerous dogs.

4. Enact strict and immediate penalties for owners with dangerous dogs. Penalties for violating any of the above policies should be swift and severe, up to and including action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Breed bans are not the answer to aggressive dog problems.  The answer is to address poor dog owners directly by strictly monitoring and enforcing breed-neutral dangerous dog policies.  Hopefully, the Army will update its pet policy to a more reasonable and effective one.

Sources:

Special Report, “Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998”, http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf

ASPCA Position Statement on Breed-Specific Legislation, http://www.aspca.org/about-us/policy-positions/breed-specific-legislation-1.aspx

CDC Dog Bite Fact Sheet, http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/dog-bites/dogbite-factsheet.html

“A community approach to dog bite prevention”, American Veterinary Medical Association, Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions, http://www.avma.org/public_health/dogbite/dogbite.pdf

Categories: Policy