OK ... I wasn't gonna post this yet. But if I wait, I'm not sure when I'll be able to mess with it again. So here it is... unfinished and enedited. Let me know what you think.
Turning the corner
There is a point in each Basic Training cycle where the soldiers start to glue themselves together through personal relationships and pride in the platoon. I believe we hit that point this week. They are beginning to take the good of the group into consideration rather than worrying about themselves all the time.
I began the cycle by (truthfully) telling them that they had no discipline, no pride, no motivation. I compared them to the other platoons frequently, and in essence, threatened them not just with punishment, but mediocrity. I let them know in no uncertain terms that if they continued the way they were going, they had a possibility of graduating, but they would never be able to achieve what they wanted to achieve. They would never be the soldier they thought about being when they raised their hand and swore the oath.
One of the soldiers who had gotten off to a strong start approached me yesterday. He was actually losing ground while the rest of the platoon was gaining. In his eyes, after being punished continuously for other people’s mistakes, we were never going to be able to turn it around and have a good platoon. He was so down on himself and the platoon that he couldn’t see the transformation that was ongoing. Every soldier is different. While the majority of the platoon needed constant strict punishment and corrective training, he needed a pat on the back. Once I informed him quietly that we were not REALLY the worst platoon in C Co, he sort of shook the veil from his eyes and realized that the high standards in our platoon mean that they won’t get those pats on the head as often as others… but they will be better for it in the long run.
I pulled CQ last night for the first time this cycle. CQ is 24 hour duty, keeping control of the company from 2100-0500 while the rest of the Drill Sergeants get some sleep. Soldiers are not stupid. They know which Drill Sergeants are going to be laid back on duty, and which ones are going to be death on any misbehavior. Once the lights go out, soldiers are not allowed to remain awake writing letters, reading mail, talking, or anything else. I warned them before I turned out the lights that I would check, and if anybody was not doing the right thing, there would be severe consequences for everyone.
Sure enough, two of the four bays had people awake doing all of the above. So at around 1000-1030 we all woke up and did PT until there were little puddles of sweat under each soldier. There is nothing soldiers hate more than losing sleep for someone else’s mistake. I sincerely doubt that I will have any more problems on CQ from now on. Like I tell the soldiers, I keep my word, no matter how painful it is.
If I had sat in the CQ office reading my new book (Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson) instead of being up and around the bays enforcing the standard, I would have only reinforced misbehavior by showing tolerance and a lack of resolve. The soldiers would have understood that they could do what they wanted with impunity, because I wasn’t willing to get off my lazy ass and do my duties. And the next time I had CQ it would have been a hundred times worse. Soon, instead of reading letters and talking, it would have been sneaking out of the bay, smoking cigarettes, fights, and fraternization.
I was also having problems with soldiers moving around at the position of attention. They just couldn’t seem to understand the importance of standing stock still, and didn’t grasp how discipline in Drill and Ceremonies translates to discipline in a combat zone. So I stopped using pushups and verbal counseling to correct them. I started “dropping the nuke” every time their eyes or head moved. The nuke is an extra shift of fireguard or CQ duty at night. It’s 2 hours of walking around with a flashlight, instead of sleeping a full night. It took one day for them to stop moving at the position of attention. Once I kept my word and made sure they pulled extra shifts, they knew how serious I was. They knew there was no more tolerance. They knew they paid a heavy and immediate price for a lack of discipline.
The same principle applies in Iraq and the War on Terrorism.
Terrorists are not stupid. They know which world leaders are going to be laid back on terrorism, and which ones are going to be literal death on their barbarism.
I’ve heard several people say “You can’t solve this through military action alone” and I agree completely. But beyond the military action I think we differ on supplementary measures that need to be taken.
I get the impression that many of the Anti-war, Anti-Bush crowd seem to think that this means we should also try to change the way terrorists look at the US. It sounds good… if we could do this we would have very few problems with terrorism. Of course, I’m not sure how we would do this. Other than a return to a total Isolationist foreign policy, and possibly a total conversion to Islam, I’m not sure what would satisfy a group like Al Qaeda. And realistically, even that would just send them in search of a new target for their organization… most likely the state of Israel.
You cannot change the way a group like Al Qaeda thinks. There is more power than piety in their motivation for terrorist attacks. They know that by fighting us unconventionally, they take away our overwhelming power on an open field of battle. They know that by standing against us, they receive a great deal of sympathy from Muslim nations for being the underdog. And now they see in Spain that their methods can be effective. Spain, with their lack of resolve, has done more damage to the entire world’s fight with terrorism than they realize.
Taking away our enormous technological advantage may turn out to be a good thing for us. During the last decade, we were seen as a “paper tiger” because of our lack of commitment and political aversion to casualties. This war will be fought regardless of our intentions. I say, if it must be fought, we will bring the fight to you. You pick the place. You pick the time. You pick the terrain. And we will still prevail. We will fight you in the mountains. We will fight you in the desert. We will fight you in the cities. And we will prevail. The American fighting man is without peer. Our Soldiers and Marines are perfectly ready to fight house to house. If this war were up to the warriors on the ground, we could not lose. The enemy is finding this out the hard way. When it’s face to face, metal to meat, we are stacking the enemy up like firewood. Never again will they mistakenly think that Americans are anything other than professional ass-kickers.
But it is not up to the warriors alone. It is, in part, up to the Administration. With President Bush in the White House, I have no fear about his commitment. With another Administration, we may not be so lucky.
But even more, it is up to the American People. They must understand what is at stake, and the consequences of anything less than total commitment. Here it gets complicated. I think the majority of Americans understand that this is not just about Iraq. Syria and Iran are allowing fighters to cross their borders into Iraq to go fight our boys. Terrorists are expanding their efforts into more and more countries each week. Saudi Arabia was hit by their largest attack in recent history today. This is a Muslim country and government being attacked by alleged Muslims. This war is about Civilization vs. Barbarism. (I heard that quote somewhere and it struck a chord with me… but I won’t claim it as my own) When terrorists wield enough power to change the Spanish government, we are in more serious trouble than we realize. If it works once, it will work again. They will not stop.
The tools of terrorism are too readily available. There is no changing this fact.
The minds of terrorists are not going to be changed. They have enjoyed successes to validate their methods.
Sanctions alone will not work. There is no single country to sanction.
Political pressure alone will not work. Terrorists are not elected and leaders of terrorist supporting states exercise little power over the organizations themselves.
The reality is bigger than anyone has yet realized. This is the Third World War. By the time it is over, we will be lucky if the casualties are not in the quintuple digits. We need to eradicate the terrorists… all of them. If you align yourself with a group who uses barbarism as a political tool, you will die. World leaders need to understand that if you have a terrorist network in your country, you have six months to destroy it… and then we are coming in.
People say that we create terrorists with our heavy handed methods. Wrong. Terrorists create terrorists with their recruitment methods and fiery rhetoric. There is a certain amount of status in being a warrior in any culture. But the truth is, if most people have a choice between economic prosperity and certain death… most will choose the prosperity. Once terrorists start dying off in droves… I strongly suspect it will be harder for them to recruit. This is even more effective when combined with humanitarian aid and a strong PSYOPS campaign getting the truth out there to the Middle East about the contradictions between (what they say is) true Islam and the terrorist brand of perverted Islam.
The consequences of failure in this fight are severe. If we don’t want to live in a world where the political tool of choice is not the negative TV ad, but rather the car bomb and the envelope full of anthrax or ricin, we had better realize that there can be no quarter. We still need to take the moral high ground when dealing with civilians. But when dealing with enemy combatants, there must be no hesitation. Cease fire my ass. Don’t wait for them to fortify their positions or come to us. Go in after them and kill every last one. If they take up arms against Civilization, they must pay a heavy and immediate price. There can be no tolerance or second chances.