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Letters to the editor: Afghanistan and awards

May. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Afghans guard the pass
A soldier from 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, assists Afghan forces securing a customs checkpoint in April. A reader suggests ways to reduce tree cover and improve cover and concealment in the war zone. (Spc. Margaret Taylor/Army)
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AFGHANISTAN SOLUTION

I flew 220 medevac missions in Afghanistan’s upper Helmand Valley in 2011. I bet I am only one of thousands who feel the same way.

Fact 1: Concealment and cover (bulletproof protection) are among the most powerful assets in war. As our reliance on air power has grown, so has our enemy’s reliance on concealment. In Iraq II, the dense urban cover presented us with an untenable situation.

Fact 2: Afghanistan presents us with an opportunity never seen before. By applying the sort of farm modernization that occurred in America decades ago (something the locals want), the Taliban will have vastly reduced ability to maneuver undetected.

Fact 3: For every penny we spend on permanently removing concealment, we will save a dollar or more in military cost. The idea is to apply them tactically, creating clear zones around and between outposts. The main components:

1. Reducing tree cover via clean cookstoves and biomass briquette mills. The No. 1 tactical problem in Afghanistan is the treelines surrounding the tiny farm fields where most of the fighting has been. There is a worldwide movement to replace the open fires used by 2 billion people with cookstoves that burn half as much wood. These cost approximately $10. A biomass briquette mill presses crop waste into cooking fuel briquettes. For roughly the cost of operating one helicopter, the entire country’s cooking fuel needs could be provided via biomass mills. Then the farmers can use their precious water to grow food, not wood.

2. Irrigation tubing and wire fence to replace ditches and mud walls. This would save water and labor while depriving the Taliban cover.

3. Plant soybeans instead of corn. Aside from soybeans not being tall enough to hide in, Afghans have a protein-deficient diet.

I think the roots of the problem lie in the mistake that the military never saw this as our job. So whose job is it to deny the enemy cover and concealment? By clearing out the brush and mud walls, we can be far more precise with our power.

Lt. Col. Robert Haston | Satellite Beach, Fla.

TIME TO GROW

I disagree that the rank of specialist should be eliminated [“Eliminate ‘specialist,’ ” April 22]. First, not all military occupational specialties require E-4s to serve in leadership positions. Second, not all personnel who reach E-4 have demonstrated leadership ability or potential, as this is merely a reflection of MOS proficiency and not necessarily leadership attributes.

For many years, the Army has followed a move-up-or-move-out policy, which assumes everyone can and should become a leader at some point in their career. Moreover, it is my opinion that we often promote them before they have ample opportunity to mature to the point that they are ready for such a significant responsibility. Soldiers need time to observe their leaders, to see what right looks like; develop their own leadership styles; and to mature. Giving someone the rank makes them no more a proper leader than giving someone a uniform makes them a soldier. It is about training and experience. While everyone in the Army deserves the opportunity to excel, we cannot afford to promote personnel to leadership positions just because we can. As the Army downsizes, it will become even more important to select and promote only those personnel who have demonstrated that they possess the ability and maturity to assume these positions of tremendous responsibility.

There is nothing wrong with being a specialist, as it does signify a certain degree of accomplishment. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that becoming a noncommissioned officer brings with it tremendous responsibilities that can only be met with maturity, experience and demonstrated proficiency in one’s occupational specialty.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Rogers | Fort Benning, Ga.

DRONES AND DEVICES

Enough with the drone medal options. I could just see the drone device being a little brass asterisk (*) just like Major League Baseball used for the steroid records.

There are enough awards already in the system to provide the proper accolades to drone and cyber fighters: each service’s achievement medals, Joint Service Achievement Medal, each service’s commendation medals, Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, each service’s Distinguished Service Medal, and the Joint Service Distinguished Medal. That’s 14 choices of awards already available to cover the wonderful deeds they do not do in hostile-fire areas.

There is no need to even give an Air Medal or Distinguished Flying Cross.You have to be flying an aircraft in crappy weather, with a pair of night-vision goggles on and in a hostile fire zone to understand what those two awards mean. Any medal that is allowed to have a “V” for valor device is not in the cards for cyberwarriors.

Capt. P.J. Hassett | West Palm Beach, Fla.

A CREDIT TO HIS CORPS

An Army Times article explained how a Navy petty officer second class created an iPad/smartphone application that simplified the process in which wounded warriors and families (nonmedical attendants) track information related to the wounded member’s recovery. The app was eventually named “Roadmap to Recovery” and the effort is beyond commendable, and displays the immense capability and skill of the Defense Department’s enlisted force. However, to my chagrin, I stumbled upon a quote from a Navy captain, “This guy is a lieutenant commander in an E-5 uniform.” This statement somewhat implies that an enlisted member is not capable of creating a tool of this magnitude but a lieutenant commander (at a minimum) is.

The digital age is well underway, but DoD still has some members who mentally operate in the analog domain. This petty officer’s accomplishment is not an anomaly but the norm. Members such as the Navy captain must realize that many members of the enlisted corps are as capable or more so than many members of the officer corps but choose a different call to service. The petty officer is a credit to the enlisted corps and a representative of all the great enlisted members who have gone before him; no other comparison is necessary.

Sgt. Maj. R.S. Neal | Fort Knox, Ky.

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