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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Contrasting attitudes 
Here's a passage from a pretty cool warblogger I don't think I've linked to yet: a helicopter pilot in Kuwait who happened to be present during the Rumsfeld town hall meeting:

SPC Wilson is one of those soldiers who likes to take shots at authority figures. His ex-wife said of him- "It wouldn't matter if it was Bush himself standing there. He would have dissed him the same." This does not mean he's a bad soldier. It does mean that he's probably not a good choice to be an Army spokesperson, which is exactly what he became yesterday. As I mentioned earlier, I had a soldier like him working for me in Korea- the guy who unloaded on SECDEF Cohen for downsizing. I thought it was a fair question- I just wish he would have run his question by me before asking my boss's boss's boss's boss. We had a talk about it- my policy was not unusual, and he was well aware of it- if you have a gripe, ask me about it. If you don't like my answer, then go to the next level. If you feel uncomfortable talking to me, then fine- talk to my boss. Of course he didn't feel uncomfortable talking to me (I'm a pretty nice guy), he just said, "Sorry, Sir- I really don't like the Clintonians. I had an opportunity shot and I took it."

I'm not saying that SPC Wilson has an anti-Bush agenda or anything like that- I think he was probably frustrated about things he either didn't understand or didn't agree with, and just wanted to take a shot. And I can tell you that his platoon leader and everyone else in his chain of command felt betrayed if he didn't voice his complaint to them first- from my experience, I'm guessing he did not.

Obviously, this process of "information dissemination" doesn't always happen like it's supposed to- and so we have uninformed soldiers (who think they're going to drive into Iraq in unarmored vehicles) taking shots at our nation's most powerful leaders. It happens all the time, and it's another reason why America is such a unique country. There are many places in this world where a soldier would not survive asking such a question.


I've never understood this attitude. Rumsfeld, presumeably, wanted a town hall meeting format so he could get some raw, unvarnished interaction with the troops, without his information being filtered through layer after self-serving layer of command.

There's value in this.

The Secretary of Defense wants commanders to be working hard to resolve these issues. But he does NOT want the chain of command to be suppressing his communication with the troops.

Believe me, the uparmor issue is not a new issue. The chain of command was NOT blindsided by it, and neither is Rumsfeld. 2slick's post, in divulging that we're now at a stage where we don't use unarmored vehicles off post, tells me that we've made TREMENDOUS progress since my guys were tying their Viet Nam-era flakjackets to the sides of their trucks.

Ok, so there's always a chance that a soldier, given a chance to air a grievance with a senior official, might say something his command might find embarrassing.

Get over it.

What invariably happens is that the commander might have to answer a couple of difficult questions. Well, if the command is at fault, maybe he SHOULD get a little embarrassed. But more often, what happens is the Big Guy's staff contacts the command and says 'hey, what is the problem, exactly, and what do you need from us to help you solve it?

In the end, the Army, the troops, and the mission is better off for it.

A little embarrassment is sometimes the grain of sand that turns into a pearl.

Moreover, 2Slick's a helicopter pilot. He's not going to be doing much time in unarmored trucks on the roads in Iraq. He's not even IN Iraq. He lives in Kuwait, and just flies OVER Iraq.

My sense - and judging from the cheers in the ranks when this specialist asked the question - is that a lot of guys had the same thing on their minds, and were damned glad it was getting aired out at the Secretary of Defense level.

If this command can't handle a rough-and-tumble town hall meeting, well, tough titties.

Splash, out

Jason

UPDATE: 2Slick just emailed me with some corrections for the record:

-I was NOT at the meeting- I was well south of Beuhring in a cozy little camp called Arifjan. I wish I coulda been there- I certainly would have asked SPC Wilson a few tough questions.

-I don't fly in my current assignment (I'm flying a desk right now), but I used to fly all over Iraq!

-I have logged over 1500 miles driving around Iraq (the entire country- not just Mosul) in unarmored humvees.

Of course we all would prefer to have armored humvees- when the enemy decided on IEDS and VBIEDS as their weapons of choice, the powers that be started making the up-armoreds and shipping them as fast as possible. If someone can prove that we could be getting them faster, but just aren't for some reason- then we have an issue. I haven't seen anythign like that, yet- so I don't think there's an issue.

I think that kid was used by an anti-Bush journalist to "stir some shit up." If that's the case, he should be absolutely ashamed of himself for screwing his chain of command with a false indictment to the SECDEF on a world stage. I'm in the process of debunking the validity of his question. He implied that they were having to go through scrap yards in order to meet the level 3 standard so they could drive up north. I strongly doubt it. We'll see.


I appreciate the correction.

I don't think the soldier "screwed his chain of command," though. And if he really was ordered to dig through the trash to find scrap metal and windshields, it's not even a false indictment. Even if the question was planted, I still think it's a fair question in a town hall setting.

What I'm concerned about is an attempt to intimidate soldiers from speaking up candidly in similar town hall style meetings in the future.

Jason



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