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Old 04-21-2012   #1
JMA
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Default Understanding our wartime experiences...

When I came across Karl Marlantes' book 'What it is like to go to war' in a bookstore I was thrilled to find a discussion on how Marlantes - a Vietnam veteran - was trying to come to terms with his war experiences (both on a personal and a broader level).

I was looking for a more recent equivalent of the earlier seminal work of Lord Moran 'The Anatomy of Courage' covering his WW1 experiences. Marlantes' work does not rank alongside Moran's work but its valuable nevertheless in that it is written by one who has experienced actual warfare - was awarded the Navy Cross - even if for only a year.

A study of both Moran's and Marlantes' works - in tandem - would, I believe, benefit those who have been exposed to combat to try to 'make sense of it all'... and help those who have not to understand the effect this most horrific pursuit of man has on the soldiers themselves through the accounts of people who have personally 'been there'.

The work of those who have written about the effects of war but not personally experienced it - such as Keegan, Holmes, Bourke, Beevor, even Grossman and others - have their place. There are no doubt other works by those who have experienced combat and written about it - J Glenn Gray, James R Mcdonough, Tim O'Brein, Philip Caputo, Michael Herr, etc - which no doubt will also contribute to a greater understanding.

Marlantes and Moran focus specifically on the effect of war on the participants.

Marlantes' first chapter - The Temple of Mars - displays perhaps the American tendency to over analyze a situation and maybe find something which may not be there - reminds of Shay's book 'Achillies in Vietnam' where he compares 'the soldiers of Homer's "Iliad" with Vietnam veterans' - and therefore is more of a distraction than IMHO a valuable contribution. I will skip it... but others who read it differently may choose otherwise.

Chapter two - Killing - deals with what has been discussed in a thread here:

How soldiers deal with the job of killing. Some may wish to reopen discussion on this aspect.

As I commented in the other thread: "I am involved with a compilation of narratives by individuals who served in my regiment during my little war." Here is an extract from one account from the oral history project:

Quote:
... Literally the minute we hit the ground the $hit hit the fan. All hell broke loose and a long and fierce fire fight took place. I experienced just about everything a soldier could expect to face in a lifetime in the army. There were airstrikes that nearly hit us, a terrorist threw and hit me with an empty AK magazine, two of my friends Kevin and Kim were seriously injured and flown out, and I had my first kill. I have never forgotten that moment….18 years old and I took another human beings life. Raised as a Catholic this had a severe impact on me. The worst was to come. At the end of the day we had to retrace our movements and collect all the bodies and drag them to a pick up point. The sight of the fatal injuries were horrific, limbs shattered, huge holes everywhere, exposed internal organs and brains oozing and falling adrift from the bodies. The yellow fat, the flies and the stench of death was gut retching. No training could have prepared me for this... "
To him it was the aftermath that got to him. What he probably misses is that his training prepared him to kill - which he did without hesitation - and while the first significant exposure to combat is traumatic to many this kid found himself as one of two FNGs in my troop where the older troopies probably told him/the two of them ... 'that was f***-all, just you wait'. There are a lot of head games played at that level the effect of which officers and NCOs need to monitor.

Of course the junior troopies get to move the dead around ... the older troopies just go through the pockets to see if there is any cash

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Old 04-21-2012   #2
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JMA:

I have to get my copy and re-read those chapters, but I am interested in your opinion on two things.

First, in the account of the troopie you cited he seemed to have been troubled by the shattered bodies. Do you think young men who have previously worked with livestock and had been exposed to shattered bodies of animals would be less troubled on first exposure to shattered bodies of humans? If that were true, could that be incorporated into training?

Also, have you read Red Badge of Courage? That was written by a guy who wasn't there. Do you think that particular book has some value in the way that Marlantes' and Moran's books do?
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Old 04-21-2012   #3
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Do you think young men who have previously worked with livestock and had been exposed to shattered bodies of animals would be less troubled on first exposure to shattered bodies of humans? If that were true, could that be incorporated into training?
Hey Carl,
As a kid I hunted, shot and slaughtered both farm and wild animals for dinner. That never bothered me, and it also never prepared me for my experiences in Africa. Just my opinion, but nothing can prepare one for exposure to human death.
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Old 04-22-2012   #4
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JMA:

I have to get my copy and re-read those chapters, but I am interested in your opinion on two things.

First, in the account of the troopie you cited he seemed to have been troubled by the shattered bodies. Do you think young men who have previously worked with livestock and had been exposed to shattered bodies of animals would be less troubled on first exposure to shattered bodies of humans? If that were true, could that be incorporated into training?
Carl, I grew up as a city boy and had no experience of human death, never saw a dead person. Saw some road kill and then a few times on my uncles farm saw incidences of chickens, ducks, sheep getting slaughtered (but not much). So one could say I was wholly unprepared for death on the battlefield.

I started off as a troopie and my first dead enemy were two who were dispatched by the lead tracker with two pairs of double-taps when he walked into them filling their water bottles from a stream. As the junior troopie on that day I had pull them out of the water (getting my legs wet) while the others waited dry on the bank. I remember at first just staring at the first body - he had two in the chest, eyes open, mouth open and the slow moving water was red with his bleed out - until the 'older' troopie gently said something like 'lets get on with it' and got me to pass him the arms so he could pull the body out of the water. The corporal was less understanding and told me to 'get your ass into gear'. It the first one was washed 'clean' the second had had the top of his head lifted off (7.62 NATO does that) and was an a more ugly sight. I had a more gentle introduction to death than the troopie I quoted above (and compared to some in other wars we both had a gentle intro as the bits of bodies and the 'crispy critters' were to come later for me).

I hear what Stan says below and tend to go along with that (in the absence of other opinion) and would see the logistics of exposing recruits to death, blood and gore by walking them through a morgue or slaughterhouse for big armies would be daunting.

That troopie was a conscript and no more than a troopie throughout his service (who now is a senior teacher at a high school in New Zealand) would not have realized then or even now (perhaps) that what was important to us was that he reacted as taught in contact even when our side had taken casualties - his school mates - and done well. We had no training geared to prepare the leaders or troopies for the debris of battle they saw. They just got on with it, they had to, we had to.

Is there any effort anywhere to prepare troopies for this?

I suggest we each carry our own memories in this regard and some handle them better than others. The difficult times are when we need to deal with our own dead and wounded. My unit worked mainly with close chopper support so were able - which was good for morale - to get the wounded CASEVAC'd in minutes and secondly we had great depth in medical training where every troopie was repeatedly required to insert a drip, give an injection of sterile water (for morphine) and seal off a sucking chest wound and of course all the minor stuff. We had few MA3 medics (equivalent to your corpsmen I believe) but many lesser trained medics to the extent that we went down to one per stick of four and he carried a decent medic pack and could use it. And while waiting for call outs we trained, trained, trained (and not only for medical). Later when the Brits went to the Falklands I was horrified that the troopies went into battle armed only with a FFD (First Field Dressing) in their pockets and only the most rudimentary 1st aid training (couldn't call it medical).

I mention the medical training for two reasons being that it was good for morale that the troopies knew help and CASEVAC was close at hand should they get hit. This for the regular soldiers who were around for years was especially important as it was just a matter of time before their number came up and they would need help from their mates. Second because we needed the wounded to be 'stabilized' and cleared from the scene quickly and effectively so we could get on with the fight and while waiting it is better for their mates to be in a position to help rather than just hold his hand and maybe pray. (A lot of people tend to volunteer to stay with the wounded) Also a wounded man with his wounds neatly dressed waiting for the chopper in comfort is also a lot better for morale than the chaos one sees on some of that war footage out of Vietnam (looking more like scenes from Napoleons retreat from Moscow).

A long reply but perhaps it should be considered that during the post contact drills when the contact area is being cleared and the bodies and equipment sorted out the troopies are coming down from the high of battle and perhaps they are hyper aware of what they are doing at that time - dragging bodies around - this is better than having the new troopies out on the perimeter thinking too much about what just happened. Strange thoughts tend to enter idle minds... so keep them busy. Officers and NCOs will be kept busy organising others. We need to watch the 'others' (as some get the post contact shakes) and always put the troopies out in pairs - new with old, never two NFGs together... where in the best Brit tradition they can brew up (make tea) and come down gently.

I will say that all armies must be aware that full brain development - control of reasoning and impulses - only is achieved by age 25. As wars progress the age of those doing the actual fighting declines - Marlantes notes that at 22 he was the second oldest in his Marine company in Vietnam (the company commander being 23). To be brutally honest we need to keep it simple (KISS) and clear for this age group in training. This why my whole thrust or argument (in other threads) has been for the academic training to take place at the Capt/Major level for officers (and not directly out of school). This issue is seldom taken into account.

Quote:
Also, have you read Red Badge of Courage? That was written by a guy who wasn't there. Do you think that particular book has some value in the way that Marlantes' and Moran's books do?
Read it so long ago I can't remember it clearly.

As a novel it aims to entertain and maybe if a skilled instructor is able to extract parts from it for a structured discussion then it would have instructional/academic value beyond being merely entertaining. (Like has been done with the movie 'Twelve O'Clock High')

While Moran and Marlantes talk about different things what they do comes from personal experience. They are both highly educational. Marlantes is more of my age group and while I don't agree with all Marlantes relates he helps us to make better sense of our war experiences... and if serving soldiers can do so they will be in a improved position to better prepare the next generation for war (in the psychological and emotional senses).

Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-22-2012 at 05:28 PM. Reason: Amended at author's request
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Old 04-22-2012   #5
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I hear what Stan says below and tend to go along with that (in the absence of other opinion) and would see the logistics of exposing recruits to death, blood and gore by walking them through a morgue or slaughterhouse for big armies would be daunting.
Mark,
A trip to the morgue or slaughterhouse is not sufficient - we do it all the time with new and old technicians and LEOs. The absence of blood and disgusting smell makes the morgue a walk in the park. Even physically shooting a cow in the head and then cutting it open to bleed out is no big deal.

Let's say you watched and helped remove over 4,000 dead people a day in Goma in 40 degree temps. Totally disgusting, but nothing you take personally. Now, come in to work at 0600 and find a young Marine with a single .357 round to the head - a young man you personally knew - that picture never leaves your mind.

No book nor training can prepare a soldier for that day. In 91 they sent us a shrink from Brazzaville to see if we were dealing with the situation. I retrieved him in our Boston Whaler and in true form, the Zairois were blazing rounds in every direction. I think I made it half way across when the shrink insisted I take him back

My hat is off to medics and firefighters.
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Old 04-22-2012   #6
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Mark,
A trip to the morgue or slaughterhouse is not sufficient - we do it all the time with new and old technicians and LEOs. The absence of blood and disgusting smell makes the morgue a walk in the park. Even physically shooting a cow in the head and then cutting it open to bleed out is no big deal.

Let's say you watched and helped remove over 4,000 dead people a day in Goma in 40 degree temps. Totally disgusting, but nothing you take personally. Now, come in to work at 0600 and find a young Marine with a single .357 round to the head - a young man you personally knew - that picture never leaves your mind.

No book nor training can prepare a soldier for that day. In 91 they sent us a shrink from Brazzaville to see if we were dealing with the situation. I retrieved him in our Boston Whaler and in true form, the Zairois were blazing rounds in every direction. I think I made it half way across when the shrink insisted I take him back

My hat is off to medics and firefighters.
OK Stan, I'm with you on this but would like to leave the door open for those with ideas for preexposure 'conditioning' to sound off.

My point is that as long as this 'exposure' does not inhibit the soldiers ability and/or willingness to engage the enemy aggressively and with purpose and that any adverse effect (if any) is felt some time after the exposure is probably why we did not bother ourselves about it.

Yes also to the difference between their dead and our dead... and civilians (with the Israeli proviso "if not combatants, certainly not civilians" considered). As you (I'm sure) appreciate it all gets rather complicated, depending on the 'who, what, when where, how'. Each of us have our own level of squeamishness in this regard... and once again does it adversely effect the soldiers ability to function and if so what (if anything) can/should be done about it?

Yes the emergency services people see some sights! Wonder if they do anything about it?
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Old 04-22-2012   #7
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Default Death

Marlantes relates to death as follows (pg 16 softcover):

Quote:
"When I did eventually face death - the death of those I killed and those killed around me - I had no framework or guidance to help me put combat’s terror, exhilaration, horror, guilt, and pain into some larger framework that would have helped me find some meaning in them later."
James R McDonough in 'Platoon Leader - a Memoir of Command in Combat sees it this way:

Quote:
"I had to do more than keep them alive. I had to preserve their human dignity. I was making them kill, forcing them to commit the most uncivilized of acts, but at the same time I had to keep them civilized. That was my duty as their leader. They were good men, but they were facing death, and men facing death can forgive themselves many things. War gives the appearance of condoning almost everything, but men must live with their actions for a long time afterward. A leader has to help them understand that there are lines they must not cross. He is their link to normalcy, to order, to humanity. If the leader loses his own sense of propriety or shrinks from his duty, anything will be allowed. And anything can happen."

and...

"War is not a series of case studies that can be scrutinized with objectivity. It is a series of stark confrontations that must be faced under the most emotion- wrenching conditions. War is the suffering and death of people you know, set against a background of the suffering and death of people you do not. That reality tends to prejudice the already tough choices between morality and pragmatism."
and Lord Moran a generation earlier saw it in the trenches or WWI as follows (in the chapter: Death):

Quote:
"In war men meet death daily and in every shape. Nevertheless it is kept from their thoughts by an intuition that so only can they win their secret battle with fear. When men's minds were obsessed with death they did not wait to meet it. This was the way of safety and youth met the threat with their own weapons, humour and mockery and such cold comfort as they could find in leaving this world before their powers began to wane. Besides war is the business of youth and no young man thinks he can ever die."

and...

"As the odds shortened, and it became plain that death was to be the common lot, I thought less of its coming until at last I saw no cruelty in its approach."
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Old 04-22-2012   #8
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OK Stan, I'm with you on this but would like to leave the door open for those with ideas for preexposure 'conditioning' to sound off.
Is there any preexposure training done now anywhere that combines live fire, burning vehicles with animals in them, shattered animal bodies, explosions, simulated casualties and manuevering (sic)? I will defer to you guys if it would do any good but I am just curious if it is being done.

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Yes the emergency services people see some sights! Wonder if they do anything about it?
When emergency services people show up they have something urgent to do and stay busy until it is done. When their task is completed they leave. Most of them sign up for that work because they like the action and probably have psychologically prepared themselves beforehand. That doesn't mean they won't be affected by the more extreme things but the combination of almost always having something to do on the scene and suitability for the work may be important to dealing with regular exposure to bad things.
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Old 04-22-2012   #9
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JMA:

McDonough's words you cited are very important. They say that not only is the leader responsible for the men at the time he has command, he is in a sense responsible for their well being years into the future. By that I mean the ill effects of unrestrained descent into savagery may not be felt until a time in the future, maybe well into the future, and the leader can protect his men from those effects by making them comport themselves in ways they may not want to comport themselves at the time.

Is that responsibility for the future, as I see it anyway, stressed in officer training do you know?
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Old 04-22-2012   #10
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JMA:

McDonough's words you cited are very important. They say that not only is the leader responsible for the men at the time he has command, he is in a sense responsible for their well being years into the future. By that I mean the ill effects of unrestrained descent into savagery may not be felt until a time in the future, maybe well into the future, and the leader can protect his men from those effects by making them comport themselves in ways they may not want to comport themselves at the time.

Is that responsibility for the future, as I see it anyway, stressed in officer training do you know?
Under the Brit regimental system the regiment acknowledges it has a duty of care towards their fellow members. Some more so than others and young subalterns eagerly look forward to returning the their parent regiment to command a company and as a long shot command a battalion. Today's troopie or squaddie (as they call them) maybe a corporal or sergeant when the first return and if they make it to command a battalion may be a sergeant major. One should not underestimate the strength of the regimental bonds that develop within these British regiments.

They tend to look after their own.

Para quits over troop treatment. A WAR hero Para chief is quitting the Army in disgust over the “appalling” and “shoddy” treatment of troops, it was revealed yesterday.

Then they do this stuff:

The Parachute Regiment Afghanistan Trust

The Parachute Regiment Charity

Note: Lt Col Tootal's action falls under the category of moral courage.

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Old 04-22-2012   #11
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JMA & Stan and anybody:

One of the things Marlantes mentioned in the first chapter of his book was remote control warfare, drones shooting Hellfires and killing people while being controlled by people literally on the other side of the world. He said something about those people not having a transformative psychological experience and this causing a psychic split. Is he worrying about something that isn't there? Maybe that is as jarring an experience as infantry combat but I have never read that drone drivers suffer problems as do people in face to face combat. I don't know but do artillerymen and sailors suffer from psychological troubles as much as men who kill people they can see and see as individual people? That would be an analog to drone drivers perhaps.

He also mentioned American long range aircraft aircrew having problems because they could fly combat missions and afterward go home to their families for dinner. That concern may be from only viewing recent American experience. Almost all our air fighting has been done by expeditionary forces on a limited tour of some kind. If you look at other countries, South Vietnam for example, it was normal for pilots to live at home and while flying combat missions, for years.

(If you want to provoke a storm of letters to the editor in Stars and Stripes, run an article suggesting Nevada based drone drivers are exposed to as much stress as guys downrange.)
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Old 04-23-2012   #12
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One of the things you can study on a Bundeswehr university is IIRC psychology.
Maybe this combination yields some useful theories based to the Northern Afghanistan combat experiences.
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Old 04-23-2012   #13
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One of the things you can study on a Bundeswehr university is IIRC psychology.
Maybe this combination yields some useful theories based to the Northern Afghanistan combat experiences.
And access to this data is gained how?

If so will there be a language barrier?
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Old 04-23-2012   #14
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Psychology is a science, and this kind of mil research is unlikely to be kept a secret.

Results would sooner or later trickle to professional psychology journals. The Bundeswehr has universities, after all - not universities of applied sciences. They have a research mission, and their professors have accordingly some interest in writing papers and accumulating prestige by being cited. The usual science stuff.

Just sayin'; lots of German officers in AFG right now have a psychology degree.


Six psychology professors at the university of the Bundeswehr Hamburg alone: http://www.hsu-hh.de/PWEB/index_bAo4l0M1RG8nCsxc.html
The university of the B. in Munich has also some, but apparently they're part of a pedagogue department (lots of adult education stuff there).


About language barriers; can't help it if people learn only one language .

I can read with no barriers;
* German
* English
slowly and with problems;
* French
* Spanish
enough to usually identify the info I am seeking;
* Dutch
* Swedish
It helps.
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Old 04-23-2012   #15
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I started off as a troopie and my first dead enemy were two who were dispatched by the lead tracker with two pairs of double-taps when he walked into them filling their water bottles from a stream. As the junior troopie on that day I had pull them out of the water (getting my legs wet) while the others waited dry on the bank. I remember at first just staring at the first body - he had two in the chest, eyes open, mouth open and the slow moving water was red with his bleed out - until the 'older' troopie gently said something like 'lets get on with it' and got me to pass him the arms so he could pull the body out of the water. The corporal was less understanding and told me to 'get your ass into gear'. It the first one was washed 'clean' the second had had the top of his head lifted off (7.62 NATO does that) and was an a more ugly sight. I had a more gentle introduction to death than the troopie I quoted above (and compared to some in other wars we both had a gentle intro as the bits of bodies and the 'crispy critters' were to come later for me). ...

I mention the medical training for two reasons being that it was good for morale that the troopies knew help and CASEVAC was close at hand should they get hit. This for the regular soldiers who were around for years was especially important as it was just a matter of time before their number came up and they would need help from their mates. Second because we needed the wounded to be 'stabilized' and cleared from the scene quickly and effectively so we could get on with the fight and while waiting it is better for their mates to be in a position to help rather than just hold his hand and maybe pray. (A lot of people tend to volunteer to stay with the wounded) Also a wounded man with his wounds neatly dressed waiting for the chopper in comfort is also a lot better for morale than the chaos one sees on some of that war footage out of Vietnam (looking more like scenes from Napoleons retreat from Moscow).

A long reply but perhaps it should be considered that during the post contact drills when the contact area is being cleared and the bodies and equipment sorted out the troopies are coming down from the high of battle and perhaps they are hyper aware of what they are doing at that time - dragging bodies around - this is better than having the new troopies out on the perimeter thinking too much about what just happened. Strange thoughts tend to enter idle minds... so keep them busy. Officers and NCOs will be kept busy organising others. We need to watch the 'others' (as some get the post contact shakes) and always put the troopies out in pairs - new with old, never two NFGs together... where in the best Brit tradition they can brew up (make tea) and come down gently.

I will say that all armies must be aware that full brain development - control of reasoning and impulses - only is achieved by age 25. As wars progress the age of those doing the actual fighting declines - Marlantes notes that at 22 he was the second oldest in his Marine company in Vietnam (the company commander being 23). To be brutally honest we need to keep it simple (KISS) and clear for this age group in training. This why my whole thrust or argument (in other threads) has been for the academic training to take place at the Capt/Major level for officers (and not directly out of school). This issue is seldom taken into account.

While Moran and Marlantes talk about different things what they do comes from personal experience. They are both highly educational. Marlantes is more of my age group and while I don't agree with all Marlantes relates he helps us to make better sense of our war experiences... and if serving soldiers can do so they will be in a improved position to better prepare the next generation for war (in the psychological and emotional senses).
Your post from which I extracted these paragraphs was all good but to a civilian these are especially good. They cover human factors that would never have occurred to me but when pointed out, they are actually the little things that would seem to make a big difference between a unit going on effectively or faltering, especially the observation about the importance of everybody having good medical training on the morale of the soldiers who had been around longer.

Churchill observed in The Malakand Field Force that ideally the British at the time would have preferred all their soldiers to be older than 25. I know ideal is impracticable but would you agree or disagree?

I read a book by an Israeli armor general about the '73 war and he had a similar observation about volunteering to stay with the wounded. Until he put a stop to it, 3 tanks would take one wounded man back to aid, the tank he was in and two others to escort that one.
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Old 04-25-2012   #16
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When emergency services people show up they have something urgent to do and stay busy until it is done. When their task is completed they leave. Most of them sign up for that work because they like the action and probably have psychologically prepared themselves beforehand. That doesn't mean they won't be affected by the more extreme things but the combination of almost always having something to do on the scene and suitability for the work may be important to dealing with regular exposure to bad things.
I suggest that one should look at what these 'emergency services' people do to people do to prepare their new guys for the sights and sounds that await them.

Remember too that there is a mix of experience in these 'teams', not all, like so many military units, are straight out of training with no operational experience.

Big difference!
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Old 04-25-2012   #17
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I suggest that one should look at what these 'emergency services' people do to people do to prepare their new guys for the sights and sounds that await them.

Remember too that there is a mix of experience in these 'teams', not all, like so many military units, are straight out of training with no operational experience.

Big difference!
Great point, that I didn't think of, about the mix of experience on teams. A new police officer is paired with an experienced officer for months before they are on their own. I don't know how the fire dept and EMTs do it but I imagine they are similar.

In my limited experience the police do nothing at all specific to prepare the people for sights and sounds beyond war stories related during training.
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Old 04-25-2012   #18
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Great point, that I didn't think of, about the mix of experience on teams. A new police officer is paired with an experienced officer for months before they are on their own. I don't know how the fire dept and EMTs do it but I imagine they are similar.

In my limited experience the police do nothing at all specific to prepare the people for sights and sounds beyond war stories related during training.
Here's an example of this from the Aussies:

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“In August 1942 the 39th and 53rd Battalions of the Australian Militia, composed of 18 year old conscripts, collided with a Japanese brigade advancing south across Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Trail. The 53rd battalion turned and ran. The 39th battalion, which a few weeks earlier had received an influx of experienced officers and NCO’s, stood its ground and over the next month fought the Japanese to a standstill. This action is regarded as a test in laboratory conditions of the impact of leadership on fighting performance.” - Serve to Lead
Then from that great source of wisdom, Von Schell in the booklet 'Battle Leadership' (available from the Marine Corps Association for $9.95):

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At the beginning of a war new troops will be recruited and trained in all countries and naturally will enter into combat later than the active troops - frequently months later. If we give these inexperienced troops a backbone of experienced soldiers and experienced commanders their efficiency will be tremendously increased and they will be spared heavy losses.
This is so obvious that the question must really be why it has not been addressed before everywhere.
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Old 04-26-2012   #19
carl
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You know now that I think about it, airlines do the same thing, putting experienced pilots with new guys. In fact I think there are regulations governing that, though it has been so long since I've been in the airline world I don't know for sure. You never ever put two pilots new to an airplane type or airline ops together if you can help it.
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Old 04-26-2012   #20
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Another thing that can be overlooked is how you mix those new troops with veterans. There's a fair amount of evidence that doing this mixing while a unit is in combat is a bad idea if it can possibly be avoided (drawn from World War 2 comparisons of practices in Europe and the Pacific by US forces and Vietnam).
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