It may have been sheer luck, or divine intervention. Certainly, it couldn’t have been intentional, but it seemed that the very best commanders I had the pleasure of serving with during my time on active duty were usually found in forward operating theatres. The closer I got to the pointy end of America’s military spear, the more competent the commanders became.
Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, is home to the Wolfpack, the 8th Fighter Wing, whose commanders include the legendary Robin Olds. The wing commander when I was there was tough as nails. When his staff surprised him with a birthday cake, he volunteered to cut the cake by retrieving a ka-bar knife from his combat boot, cutting a couple of slices, and then sticking the knife into the conference table before sitting down to enjoy his cake, leaving everyone else staring at the knife as if they had just witnessed the planting of Excalibur.
When I applied for a few weeks of leave to fly back to the US for the holidays, the colonel looked irritated. “You mean you don’t want to be here if Kim Jong-Il comes to visit?” I promised I would be on the first plane back in that eventuality. “Good,” said the boss. “I might save a piece of him for you.” The colonel was in outstanding condition physically, running laps around the airfield regularly. Mentally, he was sharp as a razor and ready for war at any time.
I’ve been retired for about 6 years now, so I’m out of circulation, as it were. But I have to ask, how would warriors of the caliber as that colonel fare in today’s force? Today’s news brings word of increasing frustration with the rules of engagement our warriors must operate under in Afghanistan.
“If they use rockets to hit the (forward operating base), we can’t shoot back because they were within 500 meters of the village,” said Spc. Charles Brooks, adding that, “If they shoot at us and drop their weapon in the process, we can’t shoot back.” Brooks also explained that troops at his base have had to take down the camp’s watch towers, since they offend local sensibilities. “Now the Taliban can set up mortars and we can’t see them,” said Brooks.
For his part, Spc. Matthew Fuhrken, doesn’t believe his chain of command is paying attention to the reality in the dirt. “I’m sick of people trying to cover up what’s really going on over here. They won’t let us do our job….[W]ar is war, and this is no war. I don’t know what this is.” Well, I have a term for it, but our code of conduct forbids its usage.
As word of possible negotiations with the Taliban reaches the troops, morale sinks further still. Pvt. Jeffrey Ward sums up the sentiment thus: “If we walk away, cut a deal with the Taliban, desert the people who needed us most, then this war was pointless.”
Vietnam vets, does this sentiment strike a familiar chord? Ricochet readers and contributors, these are your troops talking. They are stationed in hell, on your behalf, and they are being forced to fight with their hands tied. Their laments belong in our thoughts as the election approaches. Much hangs in the balance in November, not least of which the proposition that our troops deserve a chain of command that is worthy of their valor and sacrifice.