Saturday, August 26, 2006

Meatgrinder Metrics, Revisited (and why Lieutenants rock) 
The Washington Post takes a look at the mortality figures among troops serving in Iraq.

The Man Bites Dog story: Mortality among servicemen and women in Iraq is less than half of mortality in the United States, overall.

Which is why we can get good rates on SGLI, I guess.

I'm amazed it's taken so long for the media to get around to doing what looks to me like a no-brainer quant story. But the conclusion that Iraq mortality, even among Marines, is lower than the population of the United States at large doesn't fit in too well with the desired effect, I guess.

(Longtime readers may recall my post Meatgrinder Metrics, back in December of 2003. When I had, you know, traffic!)

Further, I'm sure that the 100th Infantry Battalion, based at Fort DeRussy, will be interested to learn that Reservists are not assigned to combat positions.

The most interesting statistic: Lieutenants have the highest mortality of any rank, 19 percent higher than the rest of the Army combined. It doesn't surprise me. America, once they climb that initial and steep learning curve, your lieutenants are doing yeoman's work. More than any other rank, it falls to the lieutenant to say "follow me."

Us captains have to fight the radio battle and control mortar fire and tell platoons where to go. It's that lieutenant that has to get it there. And in a fire-and-maneuver fight, he's got to lead that assault element.

The squad leader of the squad that's second in the order of march has to lead the assault element, too, usually. But if the LT rotates his marching orders (as he usually should) that squad leader doesn't draw point or assault element all the time. But the platoon leader always has to lead the element that closes with and destroys the enemy.

And smartmouthing in the ranks and good natured jib-ing aside, in the final analysis, that's why our lieutenants warrant a salute.

Splash, out



American LTs have always had a higher mortality rate in war, for all the reasons you mentioned. I choose to believe it is because they are more idealistic, more dedicated, and love their countrymen more than their non military peers do. American officers have always been taught that you must lead from the front. And they usually try to lead their charges by example. They die because they are younger and less experienced than the SGTs and haven't had time to learn all those lessons.

I am always proud and amazed by what they accomplish today. I am particularly proud of the NCOs who step up when the officers get hurt, who train them to be better leaders in the time they have, and who are the reason so many young officers find the courage to step up and take the lead in bad situations.

All of you deserve a tremendous hand, and the undying respect and affection of all Americans. And there is not another profession or vocation that warrants such a statement.

Keep training them up, Jason. We need them every day of our lives. And we count on you older guys (especially the NCOs) to teach our officers to be Great Men and Outstanding Leaders. Thanks.

Thanks for pointing this out, Jason, about the LT. I've got many close friends out there who are in their butterbar state, a few mustangs. But they really are the ones to step up to the plate. One of my closest friends is having to act as the CO for the time being, with recent events in his unit, and they are freshly on the ground.

I'm proud to have the honor of calling him my friend.
As a former NCO I always thought LT's had a pretty tough job. Most of the LT's I served with were smart and asked the NCOs for schooling, but also knew when to go out on their own. A few didn't, with harsh results. This isn't a terrible system, and almost all the officers I served with at least had the potential to be really good leaders, the only thing that stood in the way of some of them was character flaws. I'd compare the experience to the way steel gets beaten on an anvil during the process of sword-making. The beating with a hammer knocks out a lot of impurities in the metal, strengthens it to its core, and results in a much stronger metal. Occasionally, a steel blank breaks or is otherwise unsuitable, and it gets discarded; but you generally get a good product. It's not a bad system, nor is the post-VolAr system for developing NCO's. The focus on character development is the key aspect of it; the quality of the metal is the essential element, IMNAAHO.
The article noted that the death rate of troops in Iraq is triple the death rate of American males ages 20-39. The comparison you used, double the civilian death rate, includes babies from the moment of birth and the elderly.
Error on my part: the death rate of military personnel in Iraq is 2.5x the death rate of American males 18-39.

The statistic that really stands out is that the Iraq death rate is 18% of the Vietnam death rate. This makes me wonder whether the U.S. operation in Iraq is actually too cautious. Not that I want more dead, but are commanders being too risk-avoidant?

I have read elsewhere that U.S. troops in Iraq tend to use 100 bullets where one will do, to the point that a bullet shortage appeared and commanders had to tell troops to fire less often.

I've also read that U.S. troops in Iraq are more likely than, say, the British troops there to call in an airstrike when under fire from a sniper somewhere. I don't know if any of these criticisms are accurate, and I'm sure that the chest-beaters of the U.S. military will call me a friend of the terrorists for asking the question, because tough questions are the very last thing they want to face.

But if the military is being too risk-avoidant (an outgrowth of Rummy's not sending as many troops as the generals wanted in the first place?) the consequences could be expected to be pretty similar to the ones that are now going down in Iraq, such as daily disorder and a wide gap between the local people and the U.S. forces.
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