Posts filed under ‘Iraq’
Understanding People, Culture in Conflict Zones
For centuries, mathematician, inventors, traders and explorers have mapped the Earth from the ancient Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent to the mountains of Antarctica and the undersea canyons of the Atlantic.
Now social scientists, soldiers and businessmen are among those mapping a different kind of geography: human geography.
Human geography is a multi-discipline study of the Earth and how people move across it, where they gather on it and how they interact there. It combines numerous fields including history, agricultural science, economics, political science, meteorology, geology, urban studies and anthropology. Studying human geography can be very important for soldiers, says Lt. Col. Andrew Lohman, an associate professor in the Geography Department at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
On-the-ground knowledge can indicate what is normal and what is out of place in a society, a province or a village. And in an era of low intensity conflicts and asymmetric warfare, that knowledge – combined with cultural sensitivity – can be as important as attack helicopters and satellite imagery.
In five deployments to Iraq with Army Special Forces, Lohman said “we learned everything about an area before going there.” The important lesson wasn’t just the facts like what percentage of the population was urban or who the local power players were, he said, but “how is this going to affect what we’re doing when we’re there.” In short, area analysis and mission analysis, Lohman told your 4GWAR editor at a Human Geography conference last Fall.
Lohman said the study of geography is making a comeback in Army circles. Its popularity is growing at West Point where every year 50 to 60 cadets pick it as their major, he added.
To read more of this story, visit the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) website.
Some Additional Background:
In the photo above, soldiers with Texas Army National Guard provide security at the Friendship Gate for team members assessing the progress of the new customs yard being built near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Spin Boldak District, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The new facility will help to increase border traffic.
The Army’s Human Terrain program has sent teams of sociocultural experts to both Iraq and Afghanistan in an attempt to avoid bloodshed and calm relations with local populations during the height of fighting in both countries. But the program has been controversial, both for how it was managed and for its basic concept of using civilian social science professionals for a military program.
The challenges of counter insurgency and unconventional warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan have sparked several innovations in armor development for both individuals and vehicles over the past decade.
From mine resistant, ambush protected vehicles to better ballistic protection in helmets and outer tactical vests, the services’ research labs, university and corporate research divisions have been working to keep the troops safer.
One development that might come as a surprise to some was the Army’s development of female-specific body armor. For years, more and more women soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen have been going in harm’s way to do their jobs as drivers, pilots, mechanics and Female Engagement Team members.
But until 2009, little or no study was given to making generic body armor fit a woman’s body. As one female soldier said “a woman in not a small man” but the ballistics vests that female soldiers and Marines were required to wear “outside the wire” were still too big, or too long or too constricting.
Now, the Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick, Massachusetts has come up with eight different sizes of female body armor in two different lengths and the women who have tested them give the new vests high marks.
To read more of my story, click here to go to the Institute for Defense and Government Improvement (IDGA), which is holding a conference on body and vehicle armor next month outside of Washington, D.C.
Aaah, autumn in Bavaria: the crisp air, the colorful foliage, the rumble of a U.S. Army cavalry column.
This convoy of vehicles, led by an Army Stryker vehicle, is entering the village of Schalkenthan, near Grafenwoehr, Germany, during Saber Junction 2012. The multinational exercise involves U.S. troops and 1,800 NATO and non-NATO personnel from 18 nations including Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Moldova, Sweden, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Britain.
If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see the grenade launching tubes to the left of the soldier in the top hatch of the Stryker, as well as the heavy machine gun just above the grenade launchers.
In addition to developing interoperability of communications networks and systems, the exercise seeks to overcome language barriers and promote cultural understanding.
The huge training and manuever area — 1,300 square miles — exposes the Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2CR) to the real-life challenges of civilian traffic, civilian authorities and civilians on the battlefield, in addition to the real-world experience of working as a coalition.
Saber Junction is the largest exercise of its kind in Europe since 1989. And before the exercise concludes on Oct. 30, it will see the use of jets, helicopters, Main Battle Tanks, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Strykers and more than 200 wheeled vehicles and 90 tracked vehicles.
The 2nd Cavalry will have to deal not only with a mock insurgency but also force-on-force action against a conventional opponent. Army officials want to incorporate the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan with scenarios U.S. troops my face in 10 or 15 years.
To see a brief Army video outlining the exercise’s scope, click here.
Know Your Enemies — and Your Friends
The U.S. military has been trying to improve cultural sensitivity with classes, training programs, video simulations and rules of conduct to help its troops operate in a foreign environment. In an era of asymmetric warfare – where the enemy may be a small guerrilla band or a criminal network – an armed force can no longer ignore where they are fighting and the society occupying the battlespace space.
The alternative could lead to blunders like the burning of Korans by clueless U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The process of studying not only your enemy and his tactics but the people around him who could give him shelter or turn him in to the authorities is a big part of the discipline known as human geography. It is cultural awareness – how to avoid social gaffes or breaking taboos – raised to a critical level for intelligence gathering and tactical decision making.
To read more of this story, click here.
9/11 Around the World
Originally, we were going to go with another photo — also taken on a U.S. naval vessel — but the news this week got us thinking it wasn’t the right thing to do in this turbulent time.
Instead we feature this photo of a 9/11 memorial service on the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York on station with the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group in the Gulf of Aden. The photo is part of a Defense Department slide show of 9/11 commemorative ceremonies around the world from Hawaii to Kyrgyzstan and San Diego to Italy. Here’s another one, showing ceremonies in Puerto Rico, Colorado, Maryland and Afghanistan.
Four Americans were killed this week in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Meanwhile, violent demonstrations are spreading across the Muslim world protesting a bizarre film — produced privately in the U.S. — maligning Islam and the prophet Muhammad. At first it appeared the killings in Libya were part of the wave of anti-American protests sparked by outrage over the film “The Innocence of Muslims. “ Now investigators in Libya and the U.S. suspect it was a terrorist attack that either had nothing to do with the demonstrations or took advantage of the chaos.
The attacks have spurred a political dogfight — in the midst of a U.S. presidential election campaign — about whether it was more important to defend the First Amendment right to free speech or to try convincing an already suspicious and turbulent Arab street that despite a spurious internet video, the United States is no enemy of Islam.
4GWAR thought it was important to take a moment to remember the attacks 11 years ago in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania that killed thousands and touched off what became known as the Global War on Terror.
But we also want to contemplate all the deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, London, Madrid, Mumbai and Texas that have occurred since September 11, 2001. Each suicide bombing and missile strike creates new victims and new enemies. Unfortunately, there are also people around the world willing to take personal or political advantage of each new outrage.
There is still a large cultural knowledge gap between Islamic countries and the West. Until leaders and ordinary people on both sides stop demonizing the foreign and the alien, the body count will continue to rise.
Rescue to the Cavalry
Updated June 10 with additional quotes and background material (in bold italics) and photos of upgraded aircraft.
The busiest close air support helicopter in the U.S. Army is the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Because it is the Army’s primary ground support and scout helicopter, it has the highest operational tempo in Afghanistan – averaging 100 hours per aircraft.
Kiowa Warriors have logged more than 800,000 combat hours in Iraq and Afghanistan battling sand, snow and high altitudes as well as enemy fire.
Army officials say they will be relying on the OH-58D as the primary air cavalry helicopter until at least 2025. But more than 40 have been lost in Afghanistan and Iraq and the manufacturer, Bell Helicopters, ended production in 1999.
The shortage is a problem not only for commanders but for the maintainers who have to keep the OH-58Ds flying. When the 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry returned to Fort Riley, Kansas from overseas last year, Lt. Col. Paul Cravey, the squadron commander said he had only nine available helicopters and three weeks to train and test 39 air crew members in air gunnery. Keeping those nine aircraft operational ’round the clock for more than a month put a real strain on his maintenance crews. Now he has 19 helos, but under ideal conditions, the squadron’s full complement would be 30 aircraft, Cravey said today (June 7).
He was one of the speakers at an Army-Media roundtable to discuss a program to upgrade the armed reconnaissance and light attack helicopter. Earlier in the day the first upgraded Kiowa Warrior was rolled out at Corpus Christi Army Depot in Texas.
Under the Wartime Replacement Aircraft Program, three Army units (the Corpus Christi depot, the Armed Scout Helicopter Project Office and the Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate) are working with Bell Helicopters to fill the gap from losses in the Kiowa Warrior fleet by taking older “A” model Kiowa Warrior cabins and upgrading them to “D” model cabins and capabilities.
Lt. Col. Matthew Hannah, the Army’s Kiowa Warrior product manager, said it costs approximately $10 million to convert a Model A into a Model D. Approximately half of the aircraft ” is still a 40-year-old airframe,” he said, adding that the process is expected to take 12-to-18 months. Final funding to refurbish 49 Kiowa Warriors, subject to congressional approval, is expected to come in the Army’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2014.
The first one was completed seven weeks ahead of schedule, officials said. “I believe this is really the path forward in how we lower the cost of Army aviation [and] at the same time we take care of the taxpayer — but primarily the soldier,” said Col. Christopher Carlile, commander of the Corpus Christi depot.
The OH-58D is a single engine, four bladed helicopter with a crew of two. It is equipped with advanced navigation, communication, weapons and cockpit integration systems. The ball-shaped mast-mounted sight houses a thermal imaging system, low-light television, a laser range finder/designator as well as an optical boresight system for rapid sensor alignment.
With these systems, the Kiowa Warrior can operate day or night and acquire targets and fire its Hellfire and Stinger missiles from their maximum range — even in adverse weather conditions — exposing the crew to minimum risk. The Kiowa Warrior can also transmit battlefield imagery to commanders on the ground for near real-time situational awareness.
“This aircraft is very important to our BCT — brigade combat team — commanders and our soldiers on the ground,” Cravey said. “Without exception, it is their aircraft of choice any time they get tied up or they need security when they’re in a fight. That’s why we exist, to provide that security for them.”
To see a Defense Dept. video of an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior (not the one above) firing its machine gun and rockets in flight, click here.
Moving Eye in the Sky (Adds dropped material)
The widely used, hand-launched RQ-11B Raven small unmanned aerial system (SUAS) is getting an improved sensor payload that will make it more effective in providing situational awareness for troops on the ground.
AeroVironment Inc., the Raven’s manufacturer unveiled a new miniature gimbaled sensor payload for the RQ-11B this week at the annual professional forum and expo of the Army Aviation Association of America in Nashville, Tenn.
The 4.5-pound Raven, which can be carried disassembled in a backpack and launched by a single soldier, is 38 inches long with a wingspan of 55 inches. It provides wireless realtime video imagery to a ground control station.
The modular payload includes a high resolution color and infrared thermal video sensor on a gimbal, or small turret. The new payload replaces two stationary payloads – an electro-optical sensor and an infrared sensor – for day and night operation. The gimbaled sensor payload will enhance the Raven’s capabilities by allowing both higher visual fidelity and continuous observation of an item of interest – regardless of which direction the SUAS is flying.
AeroVironment says the new payload will be a standard component of future Raven systems and will be sold as an upgrade for already fielded units. AeroVironment recently was awarded an $11 million contract by the U.S. Army to provide logistics support for Raven systems. The cost-plus-fixed-fee sole source contract covers Army, Marine Corps and Raven systems acquired by foreign militaries through the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) program. Under the FMS program the U.S. government procures defense articles and services on behalf of about 160 countries deemed eligible by the president and vetted by the State Department.
In its Fiscal 2013 budget request, the Army is seeking $26 million to acquire Ravens for small unit intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In 2012 Congress authorized the purchase of 900 Ravens for $60 million. The raven is also used by the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command.
Marine Corps Aviation Centennial
Back in 1985, when I was an Associated Press reporter in New York, my editor asked me to help cover the Vietnam Veterans parade that would march across the Brooklyn Bridge to the city’s brand new Vietnam Memorial in lower Manhattan.
A park on the Brooklyn side of the bridge was the staging area for the parade. As I was interviewing some veterans of the 1st Marine Division, several UH-1 “Huey” helicopters streaked overhead with their rotor blades making a menacing, “Apocalypse Now” whup, whup, whup sound.
But when the Marine and Amy vets around me looked up, they pumped their fists in the air and let loose with a primal roar that drowned out the choppers and city traffic noise.
“That’s the sound of the cavalry coming,” one Marine vet shouted to me over the din. “When you heard that sound, it meant you were O.K. You were going to get out alive.”
The memory of that moment came back to me last week as I toured an exhibit of Marine Corps combat art, marking 100 years of Leatherneck aviation, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. More than Navy or Air Force fliers, Marine Corps aviators have always had a close relationship with the grunts on the ground. Close air support was a concept pioneered by the Marines in the Central American “Banana Wars” of the 1920s and 1930s — and has been a key part of Marine Corps air doctrine ever since.
There were lots of paintings and drawings of Marines dashing off Hueys into Vietnam rice paddies among the 91 artworks on exhibit — all of them on loan from the National Museum of the Marines Corps in Virginia. The exhibit also included a painting of Marine infantrymen under fire on a snowy Korean hillside while an F4U Corsair fighter plane provides close air support. Another, painted by Alex Raymond, the creator of the Flash Gordon comic strip in the 1930s — who served with the Marines in World War II – shows Marine fighter pilots describing a dog fight during an after action debriefing.
The exhibit, “Fly Marines! The Centennial of Marine Corps Aviation: 1912-2012,” celebrates the 100 years since 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham signed up as an aviation trainee in May 1912. A few months later he soloed in a Curtis seaplane — after just two hours and 40 minutes of instruction — becoming the first Marine Corps aviator, less than nine years after the Wright brothers’ first flight.
The exhibit, which opened Jan. 14 and runs through Jan. 6, 2013, includes paintings drawings and sculptures of all types of helicopters, jets and piston-driven aircraft — and the Marines who flew them – from World War I to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are also a few artifacts like the pilot’s wings of Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, the legendary Black Sheep Squadron leader and top Marine Corps ace of World War II.
One unique detail of the exhibit: nearly all of the artwork on display was done by artists who either are, or were, serving Marines. Since 1942, the Marine Corps has had a contingent of combat artists to record what war really was like for the Leathernecks. Once numbering as many as 70 trained artists, they sketched and painted what they saw at sea, in the air and on the ground — often in combat zones around the world. Now there is only one full-time artist, Staff Sgt. Kristopher Battles.
He described to 4GWAR and other reporters attending a press preview of the exhibit how he carried a 9 millimeter sidearm and an M-16 rifle as well as a camera, watercolor paints and a sketchpad when he went out on patrol with Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of Battles’ paintings are on display at the Air & Space exhibit, as well as his artist’s kit.
You can just make out Battles’ paintings of a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter on the wall behind and to the left of the flight suit-wearing mannequin in the photo above (click on the photo to enlarge). You can get a better view of both works at his personal website Sketchpad Warrior.
Battles, who served in the Marines and reserves from 1986 to 1996, has a fine arts degree from Northeast Missouri State University. He re-joined the Corps as a combat artist in 2006 at the urging of the then-last remaining combat artist, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Fay. Battles had e-mailed Fay to say he admired his work and when Fay learned he was both a former Marine sergeant and an artist, he and combat art program officials asked him to consider re-upping. In September of 2006 Battles, who was then 38, reported to Marine Base Quantico for training and a month later he was on his way to Iraq.
In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, Battles has been deployed to Haiti — where he once was a missionary — to record the Marines’ humanitarian relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake. Battles, who learned Creole French in his missionary days, also helped as a translator.
The staff sergeant said he considered himself lucky to have come under fire infrequently in combat zones. His predecessor, Fay, was wounded in Iraq, he noted. Battles said it can be difficult looking for subject material with a painter’s eye while on a combat patrol. “You still have to be on guard and watching as a Marine. It’s an interesting juggling act,” he said. Occasionally he ran across a gunnery sergeant or 1st sergeant that didn’t know about combat artists or that “we’re trained Marines,” who balked at taking the artist on patrols. “But most of my experience has been quite positive,” Battles said, adding “Once you start sketching a Marine in the field, they kind of perk up a little bit. It’s a morale builder.”
To see more of the Fly Marines exhibit click here. The National Air and Space Museum museum is located on the National Mall in Washington, DC at Sixth St. and Independence Ave. S.W.
To see more of the 8,000 artworks in the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, click here. That museum is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway, Triangle, Virginia — not far from the Quantico Marine Base.
SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.
Going, Going, Gone
A line of mine resistant vehicles known as MRAPS forms the last convoy of U.S. service members entering Kuwait from Iraq. The 1st Cavalry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Greywolf, was the final unit to leave on Dec. 18.
Nearly 4,500 troops have been killed in Iraq since 2003. More than 30,000 more were wounded.
For the last several months, U.S. troops have worked to reposition what were then 50,000 service members and 2 million pieces of equipment remaining in Iraq, said Army Gen. Loyd J. Austin III, the last commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq.
To see more photos of the last convoy out of Iraq, click here.
This Way Out
The war in Iraq is over — for now.
U.S. troops held the formal ceremonies today (Dec. 15) ending their presence in Iraq after almost nine years of battle, ambush, raid and roadside bombs.
“This is not the end,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in Baghdad Dec. 15, “This is truly the beginning,” he added, reminding Iraqi leaders they have a “committed friend and committed partner.”
“Over the next few days, a small group of American soldiers will begin the final march out of Iraq,” said President Barack Obama, who made ending the war a campaign promise.
But there are plenty of critics in Iraq and the U.S. who think civil war could break out after all the U.S. troops leave because of sectarian/political violence.
“It is the end for Americans only,” a Iraqi newspaper columnist said recently, according to the New York Times. “Nobody know if the war will end for Iraqis, too,” he added.
By the numbers: more than 4,500 U.S. service members killed, another 30,000 were wounded. In all, the U.S. spend nearly $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) on the Iraq war.
Coalition forces lost more than 300 troops from countries like Britain, Italy, Poland, Spain, Ukraine and Denmark, . One can only guesstimate how many Iraqis died in the 2003 invasion and the subsequent orgy of sectarian violence and insurgency that swept the country to near-chaos in the mid 2000s. . Most sources place it at 100,000 or more.
The U.S. is packing up the last of its equipment — like the mine-protected vehicles pictured below. Scores of bases have been evacuated and turned over to the Iraqis.
In this picture, soldiers with the 68th Transportation Company perform maintenance checks on heavy equipment transportation trucks at a motor pool on Contingency Operating Base Adder. The unit loaded the trucks up with military equipment bound for Kuwait.
While some Americans — and certainly plenty of Iraqis — think its taken too long for Obama to unwind the Iraq operation, others like Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) think the total withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of the month is premature. McCain, who ran against Obama for the presidency and lost in 2008, thinks the U.S. departure opens the door for growing Iranian influence — especially among Iraq’s Shia Muslim minority.