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Thread: Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife

  1. #61
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    May 2007

    Default Good points, Steve.

    Progress is a two forward, one back process. Should we improve the basic competence of NCOs in Afghanistan and /or Iraq, when we leave -- and we will someday -- I'd expect regression. However, I'd also expect that the younger guys who saw the real benefits for a period would oppose total return to old ways and gradually reassert a new model. The cycle would then repeat.

    My perception is that your final light bulb idea is very slowly gaining traction throughout the ME -- and that in relation to many things, not just wars...

  2. #62
    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    DeRidder LA


    Quote Originally Posted by Rank amateur View Post
    They're not the only ones. The Sunni insurgency seemed relatively decentralized and relied a lot on what I'll call "local initiatives" or "independent action." Do you think that the Lions of Iraq will be more effective at whatever level they have that compares to NCO? Will that have any influence on the Iraqi Army?
    True and I take your point on charisma. But the Arabs love the dramatic and the grand gesture even if it is a complete myth. They go so far as to create myth in order to prove its truth: I once had a senior Egyptian officer give me a two hour staff ride (battlefield tour) on a fight in Sinai that did not happen. They eve n wrote a chapter in a key book on the 73 War about that "battle." They left out that chapter in the English version. As for SOI, those are essentially tribal militias and as such relay on traditional leadership models.

    Steve: Thing is, though, it can be done. Look at the Bacevich, et al. monograph on El Salvador. Something of the same situation--no NCO tradition. We kind of crammed it down their throat, and it eventually worked out.

    I'm not as familiar with the Arab context but it sure would seem that the lightbulb would go one in someone's head and they would say, "Let's see--no Arab state has won a major war for several centuries. Maybe it might be time to consider some innovation."
    Yes it can and it has been done. I have seen it work in Rwanda first hand. But the Rwandans did it themselves; they studied other armies and fought inside other armies, learning as they went.

    In the case of the Middle East, some units have done quite well. The SARNG did well at Kahfji in 1991--with a lot of Marine support. But it has not been performance centered on NCO competency. That to me is the breakthrough that as yet has not happened; when they see their NCO competency as the strength of their military, they will be getting somewhere.


  3. #63
    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Oct 2006
    Fort Leavenworth, KS

    Default Environmental factors

    I think its worth while to consider the conditions in which the Iraqi Army is being "re-built". Its a mixed bag of sorts (to a certain degree like our own). While Basra might be seen at one end, the day to day security operations a good chunk of the IA conducts consist of small unit "patrol" type actions.

    For my part I saw a transition from loyalty and authority based solely off of kinship to one based off of demonstrated reliability and proficiency. This was primarily occurring at the low tactical level, but was to a lesser degree happening at the staff level - and even at the more senior CDR level.

    A BN that consistently takes the fight to the enemy, makes the hard choices, and delivers performance gets recognition and improved relations with the Americans its partnered with, and as a result, it often gets recognition from higher. This was the case with 1/2/2 IA who once 2nd IA DIV got a good CDR in BG Moutah was recognized as a solid BN - it even gained a good rep in IGFC all the way to Baghdad.

    That recognition was eventually felt down through the ranks - it showed in the way each patrol prepared, and fought - it became part of their honor. Out of the staff officers, it was a fairly mixed bag between Sunni Arab, Sunni Kurd, a sprinkling of Shiite, and on or two Turkoman. While the companies started out segregated by ethnic and tribal lines, by the end they were starting to blend with new recruits - the ability to go out with a full patrol became more important then maintaining kinship integrity.

    That is the environmental part - there was also the role exposure to Americans has had. From the formation of the ING in late 2003 and 2004 to 2008, Iraqis have had pretty consistent exposure to U.S. forces. The quality and type of exposure has evolved, and the nature of the relationship with regard to security has changed - from manning static defensive positions along CF MSRs, to being respected for their ability to patrol, identify insurgents and their operations, quickly generate opportunities and catch the enemy unprepared, willingness to engage an enemy, etc.

    There has also been a great deal of additional training sponsored by the BCTs on their FOBs -much of it geared at small unit leadership as well as some advanced individual skills. Taken in stride with combined patrols between U.S. and Iraqi squads, sections and platoon, combined larger operations, etc. Iraqi leadership has made some great strides. For some time they have seen firsthand the quality of our junior leaders and what that has allowed us to do. The majority of the IA officers I know desire like quality in their forces - they see it essential in order to conduct sustained (not much rotating for them unless its to another part of Iraq) operations.

    Some good work has been in an effort to institutionalize OES and NCOES - interestingly, a great deal of the formal, more permanent pieces of this is starting to migrate to contractors. Iraq, should it choose, will have the means to sustain these efforts through oil revenues, and I suspect much more should it choose - I suspect in 2-5 years they may be among the better equipped and trained forces in the region.

    I would also submit that because of the growing level of sustained cooperation between U.S. and IA forces in combat, they will enjoy a different relationship, a bond if you will, then most others in the region - soldiers and jundi have connected in a personal level that you don't get by doing a 30 day operation in a foreign country- but you do get by sharing dangers, and having somebody show up with more guns when they are needed most. The fact that I've lost both American and Iraqi friends in the last few years has created a strong relationship for me with that country.

    I bring all this up not to discount any body's particular view based on their experiences, but to point out that there are other considerations with regard to change.

    Best, Rob

  4. #64
    Council Member ODB's Avatar
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    Apr 2008

    Default Personal relationships

    A personal experience to add to what Rob was saying about the relationship between US and Iraqi forces. During a recent PDSS to Iraq as I was walking around the FOB we would be operating from I ran into an Iraqi soldier I had trained and fought with 18 months earlier on a previous deployment. He was excited to see me and to know we would be back training them. This personal relationship helped tremedously in gaining the IA Bn's trust and willingness to fight. I can only see this continuing to improve over time.

    One of the hardest things I have had to deal with is an IA unit who lost it's will to fight due to it's leader being shot. Many of the soldiers in the IA units I have been with are in that unit because of the unit's leader. They have close ties through tribal or family relationships. The soldiers under these leaders would follow these guys into hell soaked in gasoline, they are that loyal. Unfortunately when one of these repected men are incapacitated many of the soldier lose their will to fight and want to give up. Many times this has been aleviated by providing care for the leader as if he is still alive, it is a short term fix but has gotten us out of some sticky situations.

    Exchange with an Iraqi soldier during FID:

    Why did you not clear your corner?

    Because we are on a base and it is secure.

  5. #65
    Council Member clayton's Avatar
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    Sep 2007
    Occupied Virginia

    Default Understanding the military that's being advised

    It seems that the last few pages of this thread have highlighted an important factor that limits the effectiveness of any advisory effort but that never seems to get the importance it deserves: the internal dynamics of the host nation military. In other words, we can send in as many advisers as we want, but some militaries will not be able to noticeably improve their performance and this is due to internal factors ranging from cultural biases, societal cleavages (whether tribal or class), insufficient education, or interference from other host nation governmental institutions.

    In terms of culture, it has been noted quite well in this thread that the failures of many militaries to adapt to the our advice can be traced to certain cultural beliefs or societal structures. Correct me if I'm wrong, but we are advising them on the creation of a western-style military which is characterized by such things as a strong NCO corps. There was an interesting little book published in 1990 called [I]Importing the European Army: The Introduction of European Military Techniques and Institutions into the Extra-European World, 1600-1914[[I] by David Ralston. In the book, he argued that as certain developing countries (Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, China, and Japan) adopted reforms to improve their armies by making them into a more European-like force, they then had to implement changes to their government, economy and society to ensure the success of the military policies. You can't just force an modern institution onto an underdeveloped country. While globalization has changed many of the conditions that affected the countries in the book, the fact remains that many countries today still harbor internal conditions that aren't that receptive to our style of military.

    Nagl's legions of advisers ignores the fact that devoting that many people to the cause may not necessarily ensure a corresponding increase the military capacity of our partner nations. There needs to be an understanding of the needs of the targeted nation as well what can be accomplished with that country (and what it is willing to accept). Success stories seem to be in cases where the country is willing and able (Rwanda as mentioned by Tom Odom) or where we devote money, time and education (Colombia, El Salvador). We can't afford to do the latter in every country so we have to be sensible about the advisory effort. The advising debate seems somewhat similar to the economic development debate of the 1950s and 1960s (I'm not that old, but I do remember reading about it in my graduate poli sci classes. However, this was before the Navy when most of my brain cells saw fit to escape for some fresh air and never bothered to return). We assumed back then that we could help countries develop their economies if we provided them with enough loans, grants, and advice. That didn't seem to work well back then (or even now) because among many other things, some countries weren't ready or capable enough. I think the same thing holds true for building partnership capacity. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try, but we should seek to target our efforts a little more wisely.

    One last thing about Nagl's proposal (I'm going for Rob Thornton-like length with this post). We always talk about what we can do for the country being advised, but we rarely talk about what the advisory effort does for us (the US Military). If we want our Soldiers/Marines to be able to function in these new hybrid wars, then what better way for them to learn some cultural understanding than by going out and working with foreign soldiers in their own environment. You can't learn every culture but you can learn how to adapt quickly to other cultures. Additionally, advising provides a warfare education to our people by allowing them to see what other militaries do and what types of conflict/adversaries that they must face. If you want worldly soldiers, then you must send them out into the world and you want to do this before the war starts. This has been the exclusive province of SF and SOF, but this needs to change (or continue to change) so that the conventional military can reap these benefits. I do like the USMC FMTUs in that they're using regular combat MOSs to fill these slots. These guys can take what they learn and bring it back to the fleet.

    Sorry, enough rambling for tonight. Hopefully, this made some sense.

  6. #66
    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Dec 2007
    The State of Partachia, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean


    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    Wilf's correct that class and Edwardian attitudes play a part in that (even in the US) but that has also been diluted a great deal by the experience of the World Wars and societal changes since the '60s. NCOs in the British, Canadian and US Armies (as well as in most NATO Armies to one extent or another) today really draw any power to get things done from tactical and technical competence. That competence counts far more in how they are viewed by superiors, peers and subordinates than any other factors
    I agree that the British Army NCO gains his status from technical competence, but that in itself is a reflection of the class system and the Yeoman tradition of British soldiering. The Bowman at Agincourt were mostly educated, skilled craftsmen, such as carpenters and blacksmiths.

    The main differential today is the level on education on entry into the Army. The exception being the Royal Marines, that, in my experience attracts at disproportionate amount educated and skilled enlisted men.

    Again, an object lesson is the IDF, in that it is a generally successful Army with no western NCO culture, though they do have professional and competent NCOs, but not in the way most here would recognise. An IDF platoon or company commander is generally the most skilled and competent man, and has already been an NCO. - to quote an IDF Colonel, I know "why would you choose to do otherwise?"

    I would also warn against assuming that there is one type of NCO culture. I believe there are two or three successful models, but they are all dependant on how respect is gained in the varying cultures. The UK model would fall flat on it's face in the IDF and the IDF model would be unwelcome and uncomfortable for the British Army.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

  7. #67
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    May 2007

    Default Heh. Little fear of that...

    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    I would also warn against assuming that there is one type of NCO culture. I believe there are two or three successful models, but they are all dependant on how respect is gained in the varying cultures. The UK model would fall flat on it's face in the IDF and the IDF model would be unwelcome and uncomfortable for the British Army.
    I go a lot further than two or three; there are a half dozen or so in the US Army alone, not least the three major Infantry type units which differ.

    The USMC replicates some of them and has a couple of its own. The British Regiment; Scottish (Lowland and Highland subsets) Regiment and the Para Regiment as well as several others crew give the British Army a pretty diverse set as well. As you say, the IDF is a whole different ball game. There are probably as many types of NCO cultures as there are Armies -- or close to it.


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