Archive for May, 2010
More turtle, mate?
Australian infantrymen taking survival training in the tropical Top End of the rugged Northern Territory got some advice on the acquisition and preparation of bush tucker, or native foods found in the wild, from indigenous women of the nearby community of Daly River. The bill of fare ranged from kangaroo and turtle meat to bush yams and a kind of bread made from wild grains and nuts and cooked over campfire coals, known as damper.
Four generations of the McTaggart family visited the training course and explained hunting and gathering techniques to members of the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and the North West Mobile Force (NORFORCE). The indigenous folk, once known as Australian aborigines also demonstrated cooking methods and other survival skills in the bush.
For more pictures of this training exercise, click here.
Keep on Truckin’
They say an army moves on its stomach, but it needs all sorts of things – fuel, ammunition, communications equipment – besides food to keep on going.
Mail, for instance.
U.S. Army Major Coleen Carr says the military has a goal to get troops’ mail from the U.S. to Afghanistan or Iraq within seven to 10 days. “We couldn’t survive without strategic airlift,” says Carr, a human resources planner at the Theater Sustainment Command level.
In fact, to get the mail out to the troops at forward operating bases and other remote locations, “we actually have our own small feet of helicopters that only do mail airlift in Afghanistan,” she says.
Mail isn’t the only thing that moves by air in Afghanistan, says Army Maj. Yon Kimble, a logistics expert and former deputy director of logistics for Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan. The biggest challenge was the road infrastructure there because “there is really hardly any,” she told an Army bloggers roundtable recently. The weather especially in winter exacerbates the problem making it hard to move goods during the snowy months. “So our time to conduct any type of mission is pretty limited, she says. While airlift can take up the slack in the winter months, weather poses yet another problem for flying, especially to Special Operations troops like Army Rangers and Navy SEALs posted in remote locations.
Carr and Kimble were among six field grade or intermediate officers attending the Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas who spoke with the bloggers. They included five Army majors and one Navy lieutenant commander. The CGSC is a graduate school for mid-grade officers (Army, Air Force and Marine Corps majors and Navy and Coast Guard lieutenant commanders).
The naval officer, Lt. Cmdr. David Collis – also assigned to logistics work for Special Operations Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan – said “everybody would prefer to move things by air because its faster and [with] a lot less issues than on the ground.”
Those issues included providing security to truck convoys – sometimes from local police or military. Because Afghanistan is a land-locked country, everything has to be trucked in over often dangerous roads from Pakistan, like the one that runs through the wild and wooly Federally Administered Tribal Areas – a Taliban stronghold.
After dealing with the threat of attack in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s poor quality roads present additional challenges – especially in winter.
In Iraq, Collis said, pilferage was a problem until the U.S. military started providing security to supply truck convoys. Once when transporting containerized housing units from one base to another, Collis said the Iraqi drivers were stopped at a checkpoint where Iraqi police had broken into the trucks and were handing out beds and furniture to “local Iraqis that were selling them. It was kind of like a free-for-all auction.” Collis said U.S. troops broke up the impromptu bazaar and started escorting the convoys of Iraqi trucks after that. The Iraqi truck drivers asked the Special Operations troops to escort them home, too, so “they didn’t have to stop at the checkpoints, and they didn’t get shaken down” by Iraqi police.
The six staff college students said the take-away from their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan varied. For some it was learning the importance of cooperating with the other services, or learned to adapt to the very different culture and infrastructure of a combat zone. Major Carr, the human resources expert, said for her the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan came in handy responding to the earthquake in Haiti.
“I know it may sound a little odd,” she says, but the lessons learned in the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan “we were able to put into practice in Haiti, which was a very austere environment.”
The Unsung Elite
U.S. Army combat engineers – or sappers – jump into the water from a hovering Chinook CH-47 helicopter during the Best Sapper Competition in late April. Sappers perform crucial but often overlooked functions — often under fire — including bridge building, road and airfield construction, demolition of enemy defenses and minefield clearing. The grueling, six-phase, three-day competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri included locating and neutralizing dummy land mines or IEDs (improvised explosive devices), carrying a wounded soldier (a man-sized dummy) through a combat obstacle course and an advanced physical fitness test – that began at 3 o’clock in the morning and ended with a three-mile run in boots while loaded down with body armor and weapons.
Organized into two-person teams, the competition seeks not only to determine the “Best Sapper” team, but to test the physical and mental stamina of the participants — as well as their tactical and technical skills. The Army’s Engineer School, based at Fort Wood, conducts a Sapper Leader Course that is considered to be about as challenging as Army ranger or airborne training. Capt. Joe Byrnes and his partner, Capt. Jason Castro, both of C Company, 554th Engineer Battalion, beat out 28 teams in the competition. It was the second win for Byrnes, who was declared Best Sapper in 2006. The Pentagon’s Website has a photo essay slideshow. For more pictures, click here.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Flintlock 10, a three-week international exercise bringing together military units and planners from North and West Africa and Europe got underway this week (May 4).
Sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), Flintock is a joint multinational exercise to improve information sharing at the operational and tactical levels across the Saharan region. It is focused on military interoperability and capacity-building for U.S. and European partner nations and select units in Northern and Western Africa.
The exercise’s temporary command center is set up in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso (formerly known as Upper Volta). Other activities will take place in neighboring Mali. Both countries have joined with others in the area to form a regional group to counter al Qaeda in the Sahara-Sahel. The new “locals only’ joint command, based in southern Algeria, has snubbed AFRICOM, however. See a video on the topic here.
Recently, 4GWAR featured a posting on the mayhem and terror the renegade Lord’s Resistance Army is causing in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The New York Times just filed an article about the violence, deprivation and despair in the eastern part of the country. “I’ve never seen people in a worse state than the people of D.R.C.,” one U.N. official tells the Times. There is also a striking photo slideshow on Congo’s troubles. To see it click here.
Car Bombing Comes to U.S.
When we covered homeland security for another publication, we often wondered why al Qaeda and other terrorist groups kept focusing on bombing aircraft, skyscrapers and other “big Ticket” targets.
The Washington area sniper case in 2002 showed how simple it was to throw a large metropolitan area into chaos for weeks with just a few random — but deadly — rifle shots. Security experts told us a few bombs in the trunks of cars left in parking lots at shopping malls or sports arenas would have a devastating effect on the local and national economy.
The terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008 also showed a well-organized — but low tech — assault on soft targets like hotels and comuter rail stations could also wreak choas, fear — and a large loss of life.
And terrorists appeared to ignore one of the most terrorism weapons used around the world — the car bomb. Until now. The New York Times has an intriguing article about the implications of the failed car bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square.
A Death in Nigeria
Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, who gave amnesty to armed militants in the troubled oil-rich Niger Delta region, is dead, according to reports from CNN and elsewhere.
It’s not immediately known what this means for acting President Goodluck Jonathan, who took the reins of power earlier this year when Yar’Adua was incapacitated b heart disease. Almost since independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has been beset by religious rivalries (Muslim north VS. Christian south) and tribal/linguistic differences (Ibo VS Yoruba and Hausa), which led to a bloody, nearly-three-year civil war in 1967.
In a recent post, 4GWAR wrote about the problems of the Niger Delta — too many political promises, not enough of them kept, violence-breeding poverty and local economic stagnation despite one of the word’s richest oil fields.