Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Navy in Afghanistan at Flood Tide: PRT Khost - on Midrats

 

Afghanistan is a land locked nation, but in the USA’s two-decade presence in that country, her Navy was there from the beginning to end serving along with her sister services.

Many are familiar with the untold number of Individual Augmentation (IA) assignments Navy active duty and reserve component personnel filled, Navy Corpsmen serving with USMC units, and even SeaBee deployments to Afghanistan, but there were other units with a large US Navy presence, a few of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT).

This Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern we’re going to take a snapshot of this part of the Afghanistan conflict from its high-water mark - 2010 and 2011 - with our guests Captain Steve Deal, USN (Ret.) and Command Sergeant Major Alexander “Beau” Barnett, USA (Ret.). They  served together as the Commanding Officer and Sergeant Major of Provincial Reconstruction Team Khost in 2010 through 2011.

Captain Deal had extensive experience in command. In addition to his tour as Commanding Officer, PRT Khost, he commanded Patrol Squadron 47 in Ali AB, Iraq (2007-2008) and Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing TEN in Whidbey Island, WA (2012-2013).

Command Sergeant Major Barnett impressive experience as senior enlisted leader in addition to his tour in Khost included Operations Sergeant Major and Command Sergeant Major at Battalion level and as a USASMA Instructor, Command Sergeant Major for the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and concurrently the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His final assignment prior to retirement the 189th CATB CSM at JBLM Tacoma Washington.

Join us live if you can, but it not, you can get the show later by subscribing to the podcast. If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here. You can find us on almost all your most popular podcast aggregators as well.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Fullbore Friday

Barely six-weeks old, our retreat and national humiliation in Afghanistan for many of us has been

I wrote the below almost exactly six years ago when we left a base that in my professional swan song, I had a lot invested in. 

Yep, that's my picture to here put as a reference point in time in late '08/early '09.

Intersting to read how my feelings were in 2014 almost a warm-up for the feelings I continue to have about what we did to the effort as a whole in AFG. I'm still not fully settled on the issue.

Anyway, if you are so inclined, join me in a quick return to OCT 2014.


I will be, uncharacteristically perhaps, brief for today's FbF.

I actually had a rather long post written, and then deleted it. Most of it really didn't need to be published, and the public consumption part most of the regulars here know; know my view of what was done to move the difficult but winnable Afghan war in one speech in DEC09 to a hopeless cause.

Don't try to fight it out either way in comments. I'm in no mood to play with tired arguments from people are at best are just temporally disjointed, ignorant, or at worst just petty trolls.

Instead of all that non-productive crap, I decided to think of the good memories of Camp Bastion/Leatherneck as I knew it here. That cross between the surface of Mars and Moon Base Alpha. 

Two visits stand out the most. The two days of heartburn when I had following my overly enthusiastic breakfast with the Brits after not sleeping for the better parts of two days. Beans, stewed tomatoes, butter soaked dry toast and some kind of sausage on a stomach like that only prepped with black coffee in a dehydration was ... well ... what it was.

In a little more than four months before I hung up the uniform for good, Bastion was the pivot point in my last, "Screw the USAF, I'll figure this out myself" adventure.

Being stuck in Qatar after a conference; needing to get back to Kabul yesterday; a "two week delay" to get a flight back; staying all night after most everyone else gave up, and convincing a C-17 loadmaster in the middle of the night to open just a few seats in their "cargo only" flight - in a few minutes he came back after checking with the aircraft commander with a thumbs up. Had 5-minutes to get on. It was one of those, "Yes, I need to get to Kabul, but for now I just need to get in to AFG. I'll find my way to Kabul from there." moments.  

On the way, with a smug, "I told you I could do this" grin on my face, I walked around the lost souls hanging on hope in the wee hours I had met that day, grabbed a SEABEE CO and CMDCM who needed to get to their command who I told to wait with me as I was "feeling lucky," another lost O-5 Navy type who, like me, refused to accept that we had to wait two weeks, and a female USAF E-4 who was just lost not knowing what to do. With my team of misfit toys in tow, we followed the loadmaster to the C-17 and, like the cat who ate the canary, just nodded at each other as wheels when up, and fell asleep. Only the SEABEEs actually needed to get to Bastion - the rest of us other places. 

Sure enough, we got to Bastion in that C-17, shook hands and went our separate ways. My plan was that I had no plan, but hey - at least I was in AFG. Thing is, when alone and needing help - always look to family. The USMC was there. I knew right where to go.

Walked over in what was in '09 just a tent next to the taxi way, to USMC flight ops to see what was going to Kabul or Baghran - and generally to hang out in a place I knew I would be welcome, even if I was just a USN terminal O5 staff weenie a log way from his desk. 

"Nothing due today." Said the Marine looking at the ink board for today's flights, when all of a sudden we heard the distinct sound of a recently landed C-130 in beta. "Who is that?" I asked. "We have no idea."

Funny but longish story later; an ANG C-130 was dropping off one pallet and then flying empty to Baghran. I asked if I could have a ride, the nice Major said, "Sure." They said as long as I was willing to do a "combat dropoff" or whatever it is called when they keep all four burning and drop the ramp for people to run off; they'd stop in Kabul to drop me off. Just me.

And so, I found my way back to Kabul, not only two weeks earlier than the pogues in Qatar said I would - but 10-days earlier than the US Army Majors I traveled to Qatar with - but didn't think I could work the system, so headed off to the tent to snooze. They may have been SAMS graduates, but they didn't have that Navy, "I'll figure it out when I get there." sense of adventure. 

What a way to return to Kabul; a special flight in to Kabul all by myself, with a big sh1t-eating grin trotting off the back of a C-130 that didn't even bother to shut down - and before I was even past the tail of the aircraft, the ramp was coming up and the plane was taxiing. 

That was the last C-130 flight I would take, heck of a way to end that run. Still makes me smile.

A call to HQ ISAF, a USAF E-5, a Kiwi and a RAF guy pick me up in a Land Rover, and back to the HQ to finish up what was, in hindsight, thrown away by small, blinkered men. We tried.

Sigh. That was when we were in the middle of getting everything up to speed for the surge and we were all optimistic about the future. Few of us thought that Obama would quit later that year.


The days of SEABEEs, Red Horse, Rhino Snot, worldwide shortage of airport matting, and the Karzai family's cornering of the rock crushing market. Good times, good times.


That is my small, insignificant, staff weenie memory of Bastion/Leatherneck - but that isn't the story of that base. 

You could fill up years of FbF with the sacrifice of the US, UK, and allied servicemembers who served there. Doing their job as best as they were allowed - but largely untold by a bored nation, distracted leadership, and a largely indifferent culture.

Yes, the above is the short post. I'm just going to end it with the videos below. I frankly, just don't know what else to say. 

All that fighting, great fighting, that so few know about, and even fewer care. BZ to all - we did what we could and at least some of us, those who served with you and others who didn't but made the effort to find out, know. 

The rest can go pack sand.

Pause, ponder, and reflect.



This.

Staff Sergeant Kenneth Oswood, of Romney, West Virginia, is one of the few members of the squadron who participated in both the Iraq withdrawal and Monday's Helmand airlift.

"It's a lot different this time .... Closing out Iraq, when we got there, we were told there hadn't been a shot fired in anger at us in years. And then you come here and they are still shooting at us," Oswood said.

"It's almost like it's not over here, and we're just kind of handing it over to someone else to fight."

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Diversity Thursday

After a summer where more and more people’s eyes have been opened to the divisive, sectarian, and even racist nature of Critical Race Theory and have risen in opposition to it and similar race-essentialist world view in to our schools, the next logical step is how people feel about it becoming an essential part of taxpayer supported public education.

As we’ve discussed it in detail here, we know there is a problem in the US Navy where the Chief of Naval Operations has enthusiastically supported the works of one of the most high-profile advocates of the most cancerous forms of Critical Race Theory, Ibram X. Kendi. With that top cover, it was only a matter of time until its advocates came out of the shadows to inject it elsewhere in our Navy.

As we covered last week, one of the fellow travelers of Kendi has become rather popular at the United States Naval Academy. Could it get worse? 

Of course it could get worse. With the Diversity Industry, that is their job. Remember, they have paychecks and world views to justify. No one wants to solve anything – indeed – the goal is to not only continue the crisis they describe, but to create it if it does not exist and to grow it if they can.

What would you think about USNA, 

“…integrating Claudia Rankine’s work into the USAN teaching and learning community?”

Oh yes … and there will be theater.


BEHOLD!



Sadly, we missed it and there doesn’t seem to have been a recording made of this glorious event. If any readers here saw it, drop me an email … I’d love to hear how it went.

I can’t seem to find a full reading, but I have something better. Here is the author discussing her play.

Is this really the mindset we want Midshipmen to bring to the fleet? Is this how we foster good order and discipline?

 

I'm not sure what is in her heart, but it isn't healthy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Economic Power is Global Power


Want to get a more wholistic view of what is and what is not worth the investment of strategic effort, sacrifice, and investment?

Follow the money.

Pondering a great graphic over at USNIBlog.

Come by and puzz'l your nogg'n with me for a bit.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Drydocks Matter


We've spent a long time here and on Midrats discussing the almost criminal neglect of the "unsexy but important" parts of our maritime national security infrastructure by our uniformed and civilian leadership over the last three decades.

It goes beyond the wholesale destruction of our base, shipyard, and repair facilities. Over and above our under-resourced auxiliaries from ice breakers to command ships. We have a moribund merchant marine, almost non-existent war reserve, and our repair facilities are so incredibly delicate they cannot meet the well planned peace time repairs, much less any realistic wartime requirements.

And yet ... we continue to mindless drift in history's currents - making  no effort to look for shoals, obstructions, or even what direction we are going in - though we fully know we have a place to go and the path there is full of hazards. 

Over at Forbes, Craig Hooper has an incredibly important peace about the story the USS Connecticut (SSN-22) is about to lay out over the coming weeks.

We may not get many more clear warnings than what CONNECTICUT is giving us. We should listen.

Perhaps this will be a clear call to those who still refuse to hear all the warnings about the fragility of our support infrastructure.

Perhaps;

 In 1995, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, reflecting Department of Defense disinterest in basing ships in the Marianas Islands, ripped the heart out of the U.S. Navy’s shoreside establishment at Guam. Along with closure of Guam’s Ship Repair Facility, the Fleet and Industrial Supply Center and Naval Activities were shuttered in 1997—and in an ironic sense of timing, the repair yard the USS Connecticut desperately needs was closed 24 years ago, the very same month the powerful sub was launched. 

The Navy’s shore establishment on Guam has failed to keep pace with America’s focus on the Pacific. Naval ships are back. The Marinas Islands are now home to an Expeditionary Sea Base, two sub tenders, four nuclear submarines and a host of ten or so Military Sealift Command Vessels associated primarily with U.S. Marine Corps or Army prepositioning programs. 

Even as new ships arrived, the shore maintenance support has dwindled.

Once Guam’s Ship Repair Operations Facility was privatized, the Military Sealift Command—the yard’s primary customer back then—shifted a good amount of refit work to more cost-effective foreign yards. 

The green eye-shade cult of efficiency is, more than any other movement, damning our navy's ability to operate and setting the nation up for strategic failure.

From domestic supply chains, to selling finite STEM research positions to foreign nationals, to having a repair infrastructure needed to fight and win wars - the MBAs and CPAs - and the leaders who listen to them, are a greater threat than any foreign power.

Guam’s two aged dry docks are gone. The World War II-era floating dry dock Richland (YFD-64) was sold off in 2016 to a Philippine maritime service provider. The Machinist (AFDB-8), a large auxiliary floating dry dock known locally as the “Big Blue,” was a relatively young platform, delivered to the United States in 1980. Damaged after a 2011 hurricane, the dry dock was sent to China for modernization in 2016, and is, apparently, still there. 

Workers have drifted away, too. The original pool of 800 workers that supported the shipyard in the early 1990’s has shrunk down to a few hundred at most. 

In 2018, with naval activity at Guam at a post-Cold War high, the Navy inexplicably mothballed the repair facility, with no apparent plan to recapitalize it. 

Yes, let's pull that out again;

 ...the dry dock was sent to China for modernization in 2016, and is, apparently, still there. 

We can't fire everyone - but I understand the emotion to do so.

If the damage to the sub is severe, it will be a real struggle to patch up the USS Connecticut enough so it can make a safe transit to the Navy shipyards in either Hawaii or Puget Sound—over 6,500 miles away. 

It is almost criminal what has been done to what was at one time the world's greatest maritime power.

Read it all. Get angry. Ask hard questions. Demand action.

We can start by building some new floating dry docks. 


Monday, October 11, 2021

Sea Power is American Power - and we are Throwing it Away

 


“Divest to Invest” is the lie a declining power tells itself when temporary leaders decide to shrug the hard work today to enable a more secure tomorrow, in order to have a comfortable and pleasant tour for themselves today – forcing others to have to play catch up later. It is that, or it is just plain wrong.

We’ve seen this play before in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and it failed so well last time, it is back again.

The Terrible 20s does not have to happen, but it is. Decline is a choice, and one we seem to be making … but it is reversible if a nation and its leaders have the will to stand athwart the declinist drive and yell, “Stop!”. 

While it is easy to become frustrated, now is not the time to become demoralized. We are not in a dark room surrounded by the unknown – no – we are on a well-worn path.

We should start this week by having a visit with two old friends: Claude Berube and Jerry Hendrix.

First, I’d like you to take a moment to look in detail at this essential graph from Claude. It speaks for itself.

Next, if you have not already, head over to Foreign Policy for Jerry’s superior ringing of the bell.

Now, with defense budgets flat or declining, leading Defense Department officials are pushing a “divest to invest” strategy – whereby the Navy must decommission a large number of older ships to free up funds to buy fewer, more sophisticated, and presumably more lethal platforms.

China, meanwhile, is aggressively expanding its naval footprint and is estimated to have the largest fleet in the world. Leading voices simultaneously recognize the rising China threat while also arguing that the United States must shrink its present fleet in order to modernize. Adm. Philip Davidson, who led U.S. Into-Pacific Command until he retired this spring, observed in March that China could invade Taiwan in the next six years – presumably setting the stage for a major military showdown with the United States – while Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, has argued that the Navy needs to accelerate the decommissioning of its older cruisers and littoral combat ships to free up money for vessels and weapons that will be critical in the future.

Taken together, these views add up to strategic confusion and an obliviousness to history.

Throughout history, large naval and merchant fleets represented not just a power multiplier but an exponential growth factor in terms of national influence. All historical sea powers recognized this – until they didn’t.

As I alluded to in the opening, we are not in uncharted waters. Other people and nations have been here before.

In October 1904, Adm. John “Jackie” Fisher was appointed first sea lord of the Royal Navy. He arrived in office certain who the enemy was – Germany – but also with clear direction from civilian leadership to tighten his belt and accept declining naval budgets. Fisher’s solution to this strategic dilemma was to dramatically shrink the fleet in order to pay for modernization while also concentrating the remaining ships closer to Great Britain. His investments in modernization were breathtaking – most notably the introduction of a steam-turbine, all-big-gun battleship, the HMS Dreadnought, which would lend its name to all subsequent battleships that followed, transforming global naval competition.

Today, Fisher’s strategy would be recognized as a divest-to-invest modernization plan. And the lesson is clear: Britain found that it was unable to preserve even the façade of being a global power; it was quickly reduced to being a regional maritime power on the periphery of Europe.

The ensuing conditions of international instability, shifting alliance structures, and the global arms race contributed to the outbreak of World War I and the end of empires, including Britain’s.

There is a comfortable delusion a navy at peace can fall in to; filter upon filter takes out the hard answers to difficult questions – giving favor to soft, comforting answers resting on a platform supported by delicately crafted, untested, and fragile assumptions.

…the overarching U.S. naval strategy, stated repeatedly by defense leaders during this spring’s round of congressional hearings, is to “divest” of older platforms in order to “invest” in newer platforms that, although fewer in number, would possess a qualitive edge over those fielded by competitors. As history reveals, this strategy will produce a fleet too small to protect the United States’ global interests or win its wars.

When soft answers gain too many advocates, it steers the nation into dangerous waters. That is when the hard answer advocates must raise their voices.

To avoid the mistakes of the past, Congress should follow its constitutional charge in Article 1 and allocate funds sufficient to both provide for a newer, more modern fleet in the long run and to maintain the Navy that it has today as a hedge against the real and proximate threat from China. Such an allocation requires a 3 to 5 percent annual increase in the Navy’s budget for the foreseeable future, as was recommended by the bipartisan 2018 National Defense Strategy Commission.

Both steps are crucial. Weapons like hypersonic missiles and directed energy mounts like the much-hyped railgun are changing the face of warfare, although not its nature, and the United States must invest to keep up with its competitors in China and Russia, which are already fielding some of these systems in large numbers. … Great powers possess large, robust, and resilient navies. Conversely, shrinking fleets historically suggest nations that are overstretched, overtasked, and in retreat. Such revelations invite expansion and challenge from would-be rivals. To meet the demands of the current strategic environment, the U.S. Navy must grow – and quickly

Now, in this third decade of the 21st century, the United States must not ignore the rhymes of history, repeating the mistakes of the sea power that came before it – Britain – by lulling itself into the false belief that it can divest to invest in a brighter future while China maneuvers to overtake it. It must have larger defense budgets that will allow for a sea power-focused national security strategy in the face of rising threats. The United States must recognize yet again – as other have before it – that on the world’s oceans, quantity has a quality all its own.

The United States is a maritime and aerospace power. A strong maritime strategy is a strong national strategy. Say it. Speak up. Repeat until you tire of the argument, then repeat it more. Support those who do likewise. This will take a while.

Like the next war, this is will be a long fight. 



Sunday, October 10, 2021

October Natsec Free-For-All - on Midrats

From the fleet parked off Long Beach, to the already forgotten Afghanistan, to the particular aspirational desires of the latest 30-year Shipbuilding Plan - and whatever else comes across then quarterdeck - Eagle One and Sal are back LIVE for an October maritime and national security discussion.

As with all free for alls, the chat room will be open as will the studio phone lines … come join us this Sunday starting at 5pm Eastern. 

Join us live if you can and roll in with your preferred topic in the chat room or call the switchboard number right here on the showpage.

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.