Category Archives: Civil-military relations

The AfPak Madrassa Threat: What Are We to Believe?

Islamic religious schools, or “madrassas,” have garnered special attention in recent years because they have proliferated rapidly and are thought to be the cultivators of Islamic religious extremists responsible for terrorist attacks.  Steve Coll writes in Ghost Wars that “in 1971 there had been only 900 madrassas in Pakistan, by the summer of 1988 there were about 8,000 official religious schools and an estimated 25,000 unregistered ones.”  Others, such as P.W. Singer, have suggested that there may be as many as 45,000 madrassas in the region.

Madrassas have also provoked concern in the West because of the narrative being told here.  The narrative begins in the 1980’s when the military commander turned President of Pakistan, General Zia-ul-huq, gave madrassas money and land.  This support was given in concert with anti-Soviet US aid money and Saudi support that together provided the foundation for the force that eventually vanquished the USSR from Afghanistan.  According to the narrative, the Mujahedeen continued to use the madrassas after the Soviets departed.  Then, the narrative suggests, madrassas became the best alternative for poor families with limited options.  Out of desperation, the story goes, the sons of poor families attend madrassas where they are turned into religious fighters and Islamic extremists.  From this point of view, the logical method of fighting extremism is to counter the proliferation of Madrassas by offering scholastic alternatives.

Greg Mortenson, a mountain climber turned activist, and the author of the best selling book Three Cups of Tea, has done just that.  He founded the Central Asia Institute (CAI), which has built nearly 150 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Mortenson builds schools in the most difficult to reach regions of the two countries – his goal is to illustrate that if an NGO such as the CAI can build schools in the hard to reach parts of AfPak, then others should be able to build them everywhere else.

Mortenson also specifically strives to educate girls and young women (girls still only make up just 30% of the total student population in Pakistan).  He quotes the African proverb: “If you teach a boy, you educate an individual; but if you teach a girl, you educate a community.” This is critical to battling extremism because, according to Mortenson, “a person who has been manipulated into believing in extremist violence or terrorism often seeks the permission of his mother before he may join a militant jihad – and educated women, as a rule, tend to withhold their blessing for such things.”  Mortenson’s assertion is that education will act as a counter to the growth of extreme Islamic militancy.

The western narrative that leads to this conclusion, however, is somewhat skewed.  To begin with, there may not be as much difference between public school students and madrassa students as it indicates.  According to Christine Fair (formerly of the Rand Corporation) a survey of 141 martyrs (based on posthumous family interviews) indicates that the only thing truly remarkable about the profile of extremists is that they generally have more money and more education than average citizens of the region.  And, according to the survey, only 4% of the martyrs referred to in the survey had attended a madrassa as a full time student.  This suggests that some families who enroll their children in madrassas have other options – and that extremists find their way to militancy by way of various paths.

Additionally, consider the survey conducted by Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey in 2005.  Of the 75 terrorists they interviewed, a majority of them were college educated, and only 9 had attended a madrassa.  Bergen and Pandey also found that madrassa students lacked sophistication:

While madrassas may breed fundamentalists who have learned to recite the Koran in Arabic by rote, such schools do not teach the technical or linguistic skills necessary to be an effective terrorist.  There is little or no evidence that madrassas produce terrorists capable of attacking the West.

This lack of sophistication doesn’t mean that madrassas produce extremists incapable of participating in local or regional fighting, and madrassas promote militancy in other ways – recruiting, for example – but it does indicate that providing alternatives to religious schools as a means to reduce extremism should be just one tactic in a larger strategy.  It cannot become the focus of our effort – as Nicholas Kristof suggests – at the expense of a well-rounded approach.  Rather, it must be just one part of how we make terrorism unprofitable and unattractive.  It would be easy – too easy – if the way to defeat Islamic extremism were simply to build secular schools faster than the enemy could build madrassas.  As we have found in the wars of the last decade time and again – our foe is crafty and complex, and we must attempt to understand him without presumption.  It is only when we shed our own logic and expectation – and see the fight through his eyes – that we will find successful solutions.

Finally, despite what I’ve written here, I believe that Greg Mortenson’s work remains vital. If we truly believe that success in Pakistan and Afghanistan is critical to our national security, then we must recognize that madrassas are not a singular villainous threat, nor are they benign or insignificant.  At a minimum they contribute to the narrow worldview that permits and perpetuates extremism.  Extremists can only thrive in a society that lacks the organization, resources and the will to oppose them.  Raising the general level of education in the AfPak region won’t happen overnight; certainly not by the stated US draw down date of July 2011.  But if we have, as I have suggested above, shed our logic and expectation to see the fight through our enemy’s eyes – we will recognize that societal education is critical to many other facets of our effort; state building, institutional capacity, fighting corruption – and that it is these efforts and not our specific tactical victories that will, eventually, bring about the national security we seek.

Photo by phil_p

Why Are Schools Afraid? The Controversy Over ROTC On Campus

The military is a well-respected profession.  The United States Military Academy, The United States Naval Academy, and Virginia Military Institute were just rated number 1, 2, and 3 respectively by U.S. News and World Report for 2010 as the best public liberal arts colleges in the country.  Service academy appointments in general are highly sought after and extremely competitive.  Military service and veteran status are badges of honor in our society. Civilian employers, as well as prestigious universities, actively seek to recruit veterans into their organizations because of the unique skills, character, and experiences that veterans possess.

Veterans are valued because the personal development that occurs as a result of military service cannot be duplicated anywhere else in our society.  So why do these same prestigious universities (i.e.: Harvard, Yale, Brown, Stanford, and Columbia) ban ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) on their campuses?  Why do they prevent exceptional individuals who are interested in military service from attending their schools via an ROTC scholarship and receiving academic credit for doing so?  In other words, after you’ve served in the military we want you at our school; but before you’ve served, we want to help prevent you from ever becoming involved in the military.  Is this hypocrisy? Elitism? Bureaucratic confusion? Maybe it’s just plain illogical and those of us who notice need to more adamantly address this glaring contradiction.

For years, ROTC scholarships have offered promising high school students with a desire to serve in the military the opportunity to attend top schools with ROTC programs like Cornell, Princeton, Lehigh, Bucknell, and many others.  ROTC bans deny talented individuals the opportunity to attend certain exceptional schools.  What are these schools afraid of?  Some arguments seem to be about discrimination; the fact that the civilian federal law currently bans openly gay individuals from serving (I personally think DADT should go away).

Honestly, the fact that these elitist schools are slamming the military for discrimination is quite laughable given their own reputations for admissions “selectivity” based heavily on who your parents are. Additionally, these schools have far from perfect reputations on past discrimination. (See Brandon and Caplan’s 2009 article on the historical underrepresentation of women at Harvard).  An alternate view on the bans, as Steven White points out in his article about the ROTC ban at Columbia, is that “the ROTC ban is seen less as a stance against discrimination and more as a stance against the military, which isn’t helpful.”

I think it is unfair to ban an organization like ROTC that offers so many opportunities to students simply because an elitist administration disapproves of certain federal laws that determine military regulations. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and no organization is perfect.  In order to survive in a democracy, compromises are made to establish organizations and to move forward with “good enough” policies.  Without these compromises, the alternative is the status quo: no new policies, no new organizations.  Can anyone name a perfect piece of legislation? How about a piece of faulty legislation that was later changed? In the same way, all organizations have their faults and continue to grow and develop over time.  As a large and visible public organization, the military is constantly working on itself to stay current by improving policies, developing new technology and adapting methods to manage, train, and retain personnel.

Some universities are starting to reconsider their bans on ROTC.  Journalist and Stanford graduate Erica Perez quoted President Barack Obama who weighed in on the issue while visiting his alma mater on a campaign visit,

I recognize that there are students here who have differences in terms of military policy, but the notion that young people here at Columbia aren’t offered a choice or an option in participating in military service is a mistake.

However, some antiwar demonstrators from the past continue to marginalize military service with ignorant simplifications.  Perez also quotes Stanford professor Barton Bernstein from the Stanford magazine asserting that military service is incompatible with a first class education,

ROTC represents a group of pseudo-faculty preparing students for war and training them to kill, and that is fundamentally unacceptable at a university.

I wonder if Mr. Bernstein would refer to Academy Professors as “pseudo-faculty?”  Perhaps he should take a look at what the Army actually trains its Soldiers; the Army values of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.  Killing people is not the military’s goal, defense and service to the nation are.  The ROTC program is an avenue through which future leaders can attain an outstanding civilian education that will aid them in their military duties as they serve their country after graduation.  I would think prestigious universities would want the opportunity to participate in educating these leaders before they enter military service.


Forget the Bravado: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a Leadership Issue

I respect General McPeak. He retired before I entered the Marine Corps in 1996, so I didn’t have the privilege of flying or fighting with him. His 37 years of service, and substantial list of accomplishments, however, speak for themselves.

Although I respect General McPeak, I disagree with him. His recent New York Times Op-Ed, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t change,” offers a perspective on the 1993 formulation and implementation of the Don’t ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy, and the reasons why it should not be repealed. His argument is that not much has changed in the 17 years since DADT’s implementation, and that the arguments being made for its repeal are imprudent, especially during a time of war.

I will be the first to acknowledge that we are at war, and that everything we do should first aim to support the infantryman on the front lines. Our military is already stretched thin and overworked, and we should be loath to burden our troops with unnecessary tasks. But General McPeak is wrong. Things have changed, and repealing DADT won’t negatively affect unit performance. The repeal of DADT will be virtually seamless and, if anything, have a positive effect on unit performance by enabling military leadership and removing a hypocritical policy. The reality is that the current generation of soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors have grown up in a different world, and General McPeak’s concerns overstate the complications of repealing DADT, and don’t reflect the attitudes of the members of the military that I served with.

How are things different?

First – Being around gay people used to be a big deal. It isn’t anymore. I served with people that I suspected of being gay. It didn’t bother me, and it wouldn’t have bothered me any more or less if those service members were allowed to serve openly. The reason is that a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t determine their professional ability – so why should I care who they date when they are off duty?

Actually, I do care – from a leadership point of view. I care because I was taught from day one of officer training to take care of my Marines, and that I could only take care of them if I knew them. I was taught that I should know their parent’s names, their hometown, their hobbies…..even know their favorite color. But how can I know them if I am prohibited from asking certain questions? And how can I remain fully aware of my unit’s capabilities and limitations if certain members of my unit are forbidden from keeping me fully informed? This may not easily translate to those who have never served in the military, but a Marine’s personal life is his/her leader’s business. Most Marine units have to be ready to deploy at a moments notice – and personal problems affect the ability of a unit to deploy. If a Marine has a personal issue, to include a relationship issue, leaders should know about it. Only then can leaders make decisions based on an accurate understanding of unit capabilities.

General McPeak suggests that we are not asking gay service men and women to lie. But if our leadership is truly taking care of their troops, and thereby truly optimizing unit performance by asking these questions – their troops are lying to them. This is especially problematic in a culture that values integrity and honesty so deeply. It is problematic for the gays and lesbians who do the lying, and hypocritical of military leadership to emphasize the necessities of honesty, but then require an exception.

Second – There will be “adjustments” that come with the repeal of DADT, but the changes will be much less dramatic than you might think. Concerns often include bathroom and shower arrangements, general living arrangements, and the impact of potential relationships within units. Many of these concerns garner nothing more than a dismissive chuckle from most of the Marines I served with. This is primarily because most of us know at least one gay or lesbian outside the service, and the rumors we heard about gays and lesbians in 8th grade were dispelled long ago.

It’s also because the integration of women into “non-combat” units during the last several wars proves that men and women can serve in the same unit professionally, and won’t necessarily disrupt unit performance. Women are still not allowed to serve in infantry units, but since the current wars don’t have traditional “rear areas,” our female service members have been integrated into de-facto front-line units. The nearly 100 female combat deaths in Iraq attest to this, and the evidence that female integration has not destroyed unit cohesion in Iraq is evidenced by the current state of our mission there.

The reality is that gays and lesbians will integrate into everyday military life easily; gays will be required to comply with the same professional standards by which we expect males and females to conduct themselves when serving together.

Will some gay servicemen make unwanted advances on other servicemen while on the job? Probably. But some straight servicemen make unwanted advances on servicewomen in our present system, and they often pay a severe price. From what I’ve seen, sexual harassment is treated sternly within the military, and it won’t be tolerated from gays or lesbians either. More than likely, the vast majority of service men and women will conduct themselves professionally. The ones that don’t will be dealt with using already established procedures. Sexual harassment is sexual harassment; a professional is a professional.

Additionally, I agree that the military is not like any other job. It is not a right to serve in the military. And yes, the military discriminates against all sorts of people for being too fat or too thin, too tall or too short etc. But there are reasons for that discrimination that don’t apply to this debate. Being too fat could preclude an individual from contributing his or her fair share to the unit, for example. But that deficiency, and its remedy, is entirely the responsibility of the individual. Being gay, on the other hand, doesn’t preclude anyone from doing anything unless the prejudice of others obstructs them.

Third – General McPeak suggests that unit cohesion might suffer if gays are allowed to serve openly, which would lead to a degradation of a unit’s combat capability. I must admit that prior to serving in combat I might have believed this argument. It seems plausible that “men need to be men” on the field of battle, and that gay men serving openly would somehow betray the sacred trust that only those who have seen combat know. I have served in combat, and have a different perspective.

I was a pilot for most of my career. Two of my three combat deployments were flying tours; one was a ground tour. My ground tour was spent in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005/06 as a forward air controller with an infantry unit. During this tour I participated in more than 100 gun battles in which the enemy attacked us with coordinated IED’s, rocket propelled grenades, machine guns and mortars. I have no doubt that the boys that hit the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima saw worse than I did, but I also feel confident that I know combat well enough to offer an opinion.

What I know convinces me that when people talk of unit cohesion in reference to DADT it is usually for bravado and effect – it is usually not based in reality. I’ll try to avoid the bravado by simply giving my point view:

I formed what I thought was a close bond with my unit before we saw combat, but that bond – the one formed before combat – turned out to be almost completely irrelevant compared to the bond formed in combat. That’s because when the shooting started I didn’t care who had my back, I just cared that they did. If they were pointing their rifle in the right direction, and we were trying to kill the same enemy – that was all the “cohesion” I needed. This is not to say that I didn’t form bonds with the Marines I served with – I certainly did. But the bonds were not born out of an overdrawn machismo, or because we thought we should – but because we fought for our lives together. For me at least, General McPeak has confused the necessity of cohesion with the cause.

This thought is akin to the idea that soldiers don’t care about politics when the shooting starts. For me that was certainly true. I consider myself invested in politics. I care about my country. When I was in Iraq I wanted above all things to return with honor. But when the shooting started, the politics predictably melted away – it was just us against them. If one of “us” happened to be gay – it just wouldn’t have mattered to me.

In conclusion, General McPeak rightly points out that overall unit effectiveness must continue to be our primary concern. I care about civil rights, too, but I agree with the General that individual rights are secondary to unit effectiveness, and to the mission. My argument is not that we should repeal DADT for the sake of taking care of individuals for their own sake, but because leaders would actually be better off with the boundaries removed, and because times have changed. I don’t doubt that there was a time when gays serving openly would have degraded unit cohesion and performance more than was worth the benefit. That time has passed. Young service men and women don’t judge gays and lesbians the way our parents do. They are not only ready to have gays and lesbians serve openly – they think it’s a little silly that the previous generation is still in such a heated debate about whether or not they should.

Photo credit: kjd


The Embarrassment of the Civilian Policy, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

The debate over the Congressional policy, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has taken center stage when it comes to current discussions regarding the military.  We can debate whether or not this is the topic that should be such a lightening rod of discussion or whether it is other pressing matters, such as a continued drawdown in Iraq, the ambitious offensive in Afghanistan, or the writing on the wall that is Pakistan.  But in any event, the debate is here to stay and it remains to be seen whether the policy will die a slow death due to unenforcement or whether the President will actually take the case before Congress.

It must first be unequivocally stated that the U.S. military is by far the most accomplished organization, perhaps in the world, at personnel diversification and integration.  There is likely no other organization that can state that all employees, regardless of gender or race, receive equal pay.  There is not one woman in the U.S. military that makes less than a man, provided she has the same rank and experience.  Blacks and other minorities have held high levels of leadership unparalleled in the civilian world.  It seems an odd juxtaposition to have a man like Colin Powell responsible for our nation’s war strategy at a time when few people of color could be found in charge of a major corporation’s business strategy.  And on a lighter note, no other organization has been able to transition their members onto the metric system. While most Americans rely on preconceived and incorrect notions of what the military is all about, and what military life is like, they would be wise to take note that it is only the military which exemplifies what America is supposed to be.

These facts then beg the question of why America refuses to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.  I must admit, as a former Army officer, I worry about the integration and unit cohesion issues that are likely to arise from allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.  And try as I might, have not been able to stake a position either way.  It seems unfathomable to me that allowing homosexuals to serve openly in forward operating bases, submarines, and the like would not have some sort of initial adverse impact on the morale and cohesion of the unit.  But are these concerns any greater or any different than those voiced when our nation took steps to allow minorities and women equal status as soldiers? I do not believe that the struggle of homosexuals is comparable to that of say blacks or women in terms of history, discrimination, and the ever so prescient fact that race and gender are definitively immutable characteristics.  But the struggle of homosexuals is a struggle nonetheless and one which implicates the broader American and military values of fair treatment and dealing and support for civil rights.

However, should our Armed Forces be forced into the foray of the debate, or should that all too convenient and Constitutional civilian leadership factor actually make a clear and distinct decision?  And, “forced” is the appropriate term. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not the military’s policy, it is Congressional policy. The policy passed by a Congress, and signed by a President, both of the Democratic Party.

Senior military leadership has spoken on the issue as Adm. Mike Mullen expressed his disapproval of a policy which, in his words, “forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”  Merrill McPeak, former Air Force Chief of Staff, recently wrote about these issues as a counterargument to the rising animus against the policy. I must say that I was struck by the weak arguments he presented in favor of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and it leads me to the conclusion that the policy is all but dead unless military leadership formulates a cogent response to Adm. Mullen’s compelling testimony.

McPeak’s opposition to repeal of the policy is based on four main ideas; that the costs of separating homosexual soldiers is miniscule compared to the amount of money spent on recruitment and training in general, that many people from all walks of life are banned from military service and that a prohibition on homosexuality should not rise to a civil rights issue, that President Truman’s executive order integrating the military did little until the services were ready to move forward, and that personal performance does not matter in combat.

McPeak’s most untenable positions seem to be in his characterization of the policy as outside the scope of civil rights issues.  It only becomes untenable due to McPeak’s hopelessly illegal proposition that the military is unlike other jobs, that it is a calling, and therefore employment discrimination laws do not apply.  McPeak is correct in this feeling that military service is a calling and one of the most honorable professions.  However, we as country do not allow society to tag public occupations as “off-limits” and immune to the law because its members feel that it is special.  Under McPeak’s analysis we would be able to prevent homosexuals from serving as EMTs, police, and fire personnel because these jobs many times require one to risk his or her life, and surely members of these occupations feel led to a cause bigger than themselves.  McPeak concludes this point by erroneously comparing homosexuality with being too fat or too thin, disabled, or not holding sufficient education with which to serve your country.

Next, McPeak gives short shrift to President Truman’s executive order calling for integration of the armed forces.  McPeak states that the order was not enough for the armed forces to do the right thing and that it was only after the leaders of “each service committed their institutions did we make real progress.”  The power of McPeak’s statement here is amazing.  The basic argument is that the President of the United States gave an order and the military then decided to implement the President’s order on their own time.  It logically follows that if President Obama gave that order today with regard to homosexuals, the service chiefs might do the same.  From McPeak’s point of view the President is not actually the Commander-in-Chief but the Requestor-in-Chief?

McPeak’s final argument rests on the idea that “… It would be a serious mistake to imagine that personal performance is what matters in combat.”  According to McPeak, it is unit cohesion that stands to suffer most from homosexuals serving openly in the armed forces.  Unit cohesion is most likely the strongest argument out there for keeping the policy but McPeak’s arguments damage it beyond comprehension.  McPeak says that in serving as a “fighter pilot, paratrooper, or submariner one joins a self-contained, resolutely idealistic society, largely unnoticed and uncorrupted by the world at large.”

The idea that homosexuals will corrupt military society will not hold weight in today’s debate.  McPeak’s argument sounds less like a concern for unit solidarity and more of the locker room concern that homosexuals just shouldn’t be around when men are working.

There are legitimate concerns regarding unit cohesion and the ability of the military to withstand homosexual integration in the midst of two wars.  However, those on the side of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell must craft better arguments than those brought forth by McPeak.  As a matter of fact, it is likely that had more time been spent on the actual reasons for the policy both substantively and anecdotally the debate may not be at the center of military conversation today.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” represents civilian control of the military at its worst.  The warrior class of this country depends on real and concrete rules in order to function day to day and defend the homeland.  However, in their attempt to lead, civilians have given that warrior class an albatross that is neither clear nor widely enforceable.  The policy is so inept that both sides of the issue have a tough time formulating legitimate reasons for its repeal or sustainment.  It is quite simply embarrassing.

Those who support this policy have a small window of opportunity with which to shore up support, and those against the policy face quite a task in working with all vested parties to form a workable and intelligent rule.   Let’s get it together guys.


Is One More “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Study Needed, Really?

On March 3rd, 2010, General Carter Ham briefed Congress on the latest study regarding the DOD’s 17 year old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (DADT).  Conservative pundits have already complained that the study will be biased and the left vowed not to wait for the results that are due out the first week in December 2010.  So, one has to wonder…why have another study?  Is one more study needed, really?

To help answer this question, I turned to a brand new book published from within the Pentagon’s walls by the Air University Press, Attitudes Aren’t Free: Thinking Deeply about Diversity in the US Armed Forces.  This visionary collection of reports, speeches and articles by Lt Col James Parco and Dr Dave Levy,  covers the gamut of divisive issues facing today’s military, provides sage advice for policy makers, and will set the tone of the debate for years to come.

Perhaps the most controversial pages fall within Section II: Homosexuality.  The two most telling excerpts from this section are the “Report of the General/Flag Officers’ Study Group” and the now famous, “Flag & General Officers for the Military: Statement to President Barack Obama and Members of Congress,” which was signed by 1,163 retired Flag and General Officers.   These two pieces highlight the stark difference between emotion and research.

The first reading is a formal study structured much like a military investigation board.  The “Report” recommends repealing DADT based on ten important findings that highlight the negative consequences and ineffectiveness of DADT.  This article equips the reader with the strength of common sense understanding and information; thus, the reader is unmoved by the “Statement” and it’s desired visceral reaction of seeing over 1,000 signatures from retired senior military officers who are ardently oppose to repealing DADT.  Should we expect the “old guard” to jump on board with the rising tide of change?

Well, no. If you consider that the average age of the signatories was 74 (the oldest was 98 and at least one was actually dead at the time of signing), certainly not. On average, these Flag & General Officers were 56 years older than our youngest troops serving today. We should thank these officers for their years of dedicated service to our great nation, and we should recognize that these retirees understandably share the same opinions held by their civilian counterparts.

Luckily though, history reminds us that the US Military has always pushed the leading edge on equality, diversity, and integration.  Even so, there have always been the naysayers, yelling that change would hinder unit morale, hurt recruiting and diminish combat effectiveness.   Yet, those leaders who fought for inclusion over exclusion are still hailed as the visionaries of their time. As with ending segregation or integrating women, repealing DADT won’t come without growing pains.

To quote from Attitudes Aren’t Free:

“In 1948, President Truman decisively ended racial segregation in the military by executive order. Although racial equality was achieved with the stroke of a pen, the integration of women across the roles of military service proved to be more complicated and continued to lag for several more decades. Despite being one of the most hotly contested social issues in 20th Century, Congress eventually took the lead in the mid-1970s integrating women through appointments to military academies. Still, it would be two decades before women received equal opportunity in select combat roles (page ix).”

As a former Air Force pilot, I am proud of the Air Force’s tradition of leadership in equality.  While supporting the 3d Infantry Division’s assault on Baghdad in 2003, one of my classmates from pilot training earned the Distinguished Flying Cross after a surface-to-air missile shredded her A-10.  A different pilot might have bailed out, but not her. She finished the mission and somehow limped her plane home.  Her heroics in combat saved the lives of our Army brethren.  The Tuskegee Airmen proved their combat mettle during WWII, just as female pilots prove themselves in combat everyday in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan.

While we debate “don’t ask, don’t tell,” homosexuals serve in uniform and fight with the same voracity as their straight counterparts. Some offer the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation while hiding who they truly are inside. Would we be any safer if women and minorities hadn’t fully integrated into the Armed Forces? Do we honestly need another study on the outdated “don’t ask, don’t tell?”  Did we need more studies before African-Americans and women were fully integrated?  I think not…but, don’t take my word for it. Take a moment to ask an Iraq War veteran who was saved by a “girl” in an A-10 or ask a WWII Bomber Crewmember who flew quietly and safe under the umbrella provided by the Tuskegee Airmen. I think they would agree.


More Than Warfighters: The Military as a Source of Success-Prone Citizens

Soldiers are trained to operate in life-threatening situations in new locations while leading others to achieve common and individual goals.  This experience contributes to soldiers’ acquisition of success-prone characteristics in several ways:

As a meritocracy, soldiers compete with one another to increase chances of praise and promotion.  This hones one’s need for achievement, and it places soldiers squarely in control of their own destiny, thus emphasizing an internal locus of control.

Experience with Risk.
Soldiers learn to operate in a risky environment.  They gain experience in minimizing foreseeable risks through preparation and training, and they learn how to continue pushing towards an ultimate purpose when risks exist that cannot be overcome in a new and changing environment.  To achieve missions, soldiers learn to innovate by using all available means to accomplish their goal when surprises arise, as they often do during battles.  To minimize the amount of surprises, however, soldiers conduct extensive training and planning to have a strategy for success before entering into a battle.  They learn as much as possible about the environment, and based on their knowledge they take calculated risks; they minimize risk-taking to ensure safety.

Human Capital.
All militaries conduct basic training as a means of indoctrination and fast-paced learning.  This usually provides soldiers with security-focused skill sets along with discipline, and most militaries force soldiers to complete at least basic education, including literacy programs at the very least.  In addition, soldiers are often provided unique opportunities for international education from allies.  Further, if military members stay in the service for several years, they experience both implementation and staff roles throughout their career, making them prime candidates for knowledgeable policymakers and social agents who know what it is like ‘out there.

Life Skills.
The nature of the military provides soldiers with ‘life skills’ that help them function in the world.  For example, they learn to work with technology, usually including the internet and email.  They also gain experience in handling personal finances with a regular paycheck.  In addition, soldiers interact with individuals outside of their local area for idea-sharing and achieving a broader point of view.  Finally, soldiers are offered leadership at relatively low levels, where many of them are responsible for subordinates and for carrying out tasks.

Rauch and Frese (2000) show that each of these characteristics—need for achievement, internal locus of control, innovation, planning and strategy, low risk-taking, human capital, leadership, and life skills—are directly related to success and entrepreneurship.  The risky performance-based environment in which soldiers operate is comparable to the atmosphere an entrepreneur faces, especially in developing countries where risks can be minimized through preparation but the institutional environment is such that risks will always be inherent.

On a national scale, policymakers should consider taking advantage of these characteristics through policies that translate them into the civilian realm, such as through a mandated ‘civilian reintegration program’ before a soldier demobilizes.  The goal of this program is to tailor their psychological characteristics that were gained in the military towards productive civilian activities.

This can be done by identifying and praising the specific success-prone characteristics described above, utilizing a variety of case studies to focus the skills they have gained to the civilian workforce, and providing business training, which could include components of management, accounting, and marketing.  Additionally, soldiers’ success-prone characteristics could be indirectly translated through using the military as a training apparatus to educate civilians and other military members.

Such policies aimed at increasing the supply of success-prone citizens, when complemented by policies that facilitate identification and financing of these individuals, can lead to a culture of private sector entrepreneurial success and aggregate economic growth.

A Fatiguingly Difficult Problem: Deconstructing The Guantanamo Bay Dilemma

In January, a government task force determined that almost 50 detainees at the prison at Guantanamo Bay will be held indefinitely without trial because they are too dangerous to release.  In December, President Obama insinuated that the prison at Guantanamo Bay was nearing closure, and that all remaining detainees would either be tried, released, or transferred to the Thomson Correctional Facility in Illinois.   This latest news is evidence that the issue of what to do with the detainees is still riddled with very serious and difficult questions.

The Obama administration has the seemingly intractable problem of wanting to eliminate or legitimize the detainee situation, but at the same time being saddled with prisoners that are simultaneously un-prosecutable and too dangerous to release.   Detention without trial is a concept that is bothersome to me, but I believe that it is possible to create a legitimate system by which we can hold terrorists for longer periods of time while we attempt to put together a case against them.

Prolonged detention without trial is commonly referred to as “administrative detention” and it is not a novel idea.  Countries like Ireland and Australia use an administrative detention system for immigration purposes.  Israel, a country that has struggled with terrorism since its inception, has an administrative detention system aimed at combating terrorist threats.  In the Israeli system a suspected terrorist is apprehended and a military judge evaluates intelligence to determine whether he can be held without trial.  A six month detention period is initially authorized, but the detention can be renewed indefinitely based on the evidence against the detainee.

The U.S. has no official administrative detention system for terrorists, but if we start holding terrorists without trial an official system with defined processes and controls should be created.  Human and civil rights groups may disagree, but I think it is possible to fashion a process that promotes national security goals and takes into account the rights of those detained.  The ultimate goal guiding any administrative detention system should be prosecution of those detained, and the cornerstone of the system would need to be judicial review.

A judge should preside over a hearing in which the government presents all relevant intelligence information against each detainee, with the detainee being able to present evidence to rebut the government’s case.  Legal counsel should be made available to assist the detainee in his defense.  Israel’s seems to have a workable timeframe that allows for review of each detainees case every six months at which point the detention is renewed or release is granted; however, indefinite renewal of the detention should not be part of a U.S. system.  Also, the burden on the government to justify further detention should increase every time it seeks renewal or maybe every other time it seeks renewal. Because the ultimate goal of the system should be prosecution of the detainee, the number of renewals should be capped so that if no viable prosecution can be put together within a certain time period the detainee is released.

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility: Twitter and Facebook Now Allowed Within the Firewall

Last month, the Pentagon reversed its policy on accessing e-mail, instant messaging, discussion forums and social networking sites while using government computers.  As of the February 25th Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026, our nation’s Airmen, Soldiers, Seamen, and Marines around the globe are authorized to access Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and thousands of other formally restricted websites through the DoD’s unclassified network.  Obviously, years of internet security protocols, firewalls, and service specific policies did not evaporate instantly, but the services are implementing this new policy as we speak.

To check on the status, I made an informal inquiry to my brethren still in uniform via a FB post asking if they had access to Facebook at work, yet.  Within minutes, a Marine who was actually at his desk replied: “Yes…right now as a matter of fact.”  Shortly after, an AF officer checking Facebook while on lunch break wrote: “Not yet, but supposedly, its coming.”  To say this new policy will improve troop morale is an understatement; service members around the globe can’t wait to reconnect with family and friends.

On the other hand, as the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines implement these new relaxed procedures, policy makers must consider the inherent risks associated with granting freedom and access through government networks paid for by taxes.  Balancing troop morale with security, manpower, unit cohesion, and bandwidth will be a challenge.  Will a Soldier watching YouTube downrange clog the portal?  Is the Signal Corps going have a special unit dedicated to reading MySpace posts from government computers?  Will there be a Navy “authorized” template for blogging?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

More importantly, what about sharing secure information over the internet?  As you would expect, our service men and women are constantly surrounded by sensitive information and everyone must fully understand their responsibilities in this critical role as “trusted agent”.  That said, often innocuous bits and pieces of information can be put together by our enemies to paint a pretty clear picture.  How easy will it be for someone to type an official email in one window and blog in the next?  What measures will be in place to prevent information from “leaking” between open applications?  It is incumbent upon those with access to the government network to protect sensitive information…literally, lives depend on it!

Thankfully, a common sense approach to securing sensitive information provides the 90% solution for operations security (OPSEC) and after serving over 10 years on active duty, I can attest to the professionalism of the men and women who continue to wear the uniform.  This new policy is a wonderful step in the right direction especially as the DoD recruits the next generation tech savvy leaders.  But then again, can you imagine a young Lieutenant flying a Predator UAV with one hand and Tweeting with the other?

Should a Revolving Door Ban Apply to Defense Contractors?

The Lobbying Ban

One of the first things President Obama did upon taking office in January of 2009 was to sign an executive order restricting the ability of lobbyists to become government officials and vice versa.  Yet, as some some pretty decent-seeming lobby groups were quick to point out, the rules were far from perfect.  Many lobbyists simply rebranded themselves to avoid the rules.  More importantly, the rules never touched the large number of federal employees who continue to walk through a revolving door between government, civilian, and contractor roles.

It’s Not Just About Blackwater

Recent controversy has developed surrounding the use of private contractors such as Blackwater (which has since changed its name to Xe Services) for security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The deaths of 17 Iraqis in 2007 raised questions about chains of command, rules of engagement, and whether the use of contractors was truly cost effective, seeing as how so many Blackwater employees were ex-military, pulled into the private sector by lures of better pay and equipment.

Blake Hall has previously discussed many of these issues here on this blog. These questions, although poignantly spotlighted in combat operations, are just as relevant in peacetime.  Roughly 40 percent of the DoD workforce is currently comprised of contractors.  If that number seems high, keep in mind that it is actually higher; the figure doesn’t account for the support, administration, and internal R&D staff that work at contracting companies, all of whom are paid for using government money.

Why We Have Contractors

There are of course many benefits to using private contractors.

(1) Contractors compete.  The efficiency produced by this competition translates into lower cost for the government.

(2) Every dollar spent on a military contract helps to spur innovation in other sectors.  Technology developed for military applications can be used in the private sector to get ahead of foreign competitors.

(3) Military billets rotate every few years; contracted positions provide continuity.

(4) Private companies are free to hire expertise developed in other sectors. In the military, rank and pay are based largely on time in service.

(5) Most importantly, using contractors frees up uniformed servicemembers to train for and fight wars.

But at What Cost?

The traditional view of civil-military relations is that an intentional tension exists between government civilians and the military.  The government needs a military force that can secure the nation’s interests around the world.  It works to ensure that the military is funded and incentivized to constantly improve itself.  The military services compete for resources; this competition drives innovations in technology and doctrine.  Contractors, on the other hand, are motivated by profit and keeping jobs stable.  Contractors want their customers (the government) to buy as many units of the latest weapons system as possible and they to make sure they keep buying units for years to come.  Contractors don’t like big changes because changes mean employees lose jobs.

If the story ended here, the competing interests of civilian government, the military, and private contractors should create a situation where checks and balances would ensure the government could buy the technology it needs at a fair price.  The problem is that government decision makers with contacts from a long career at a private company will naturally be more likely to make a phone call there first.  On top of that, contractors are free to hire former members of any military service or government agency.  How does building such a wide network of contacts affect the natural competition between these organizations?

Trying to put a ban on revolving door practices similar to what Obama did with lobbyists would be impractical for a number of reason, not least of which would be the simple fact that too many people would be affected by such a rule – the shock to the system would be unbearable.  But what will happen if current practices are allowed to continue?  Historically, civil-military relations shift slowly; it can take a generation or more for new paradigms to emerge.  The growth of contractors both in number of positions and in influence is unprecedented.  The civilian-military relationship is not ready to deal with large private companies whose reach extends across traditional borders.  If legislators don’t wake up to this reality, then by an internal battle of interests may weaken our ability to prepare for war, regardless of who wins.

What should be done to prevent the revolving door effect in DoD contracting?  Or are sufficient protections already in place?  Voice your thoughts in the comments.

How Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti: Expanding Foreign Volunteerism Opportunities

In my February 26 post titled “How the Rise of Social Media Changed Disaster Response in Haiti,” I identified five ways in which social media aided or altered the disaster relief effort in Haiti. I concluded that it appears social media have fundamentally changed disaster relief, though of course they are no sort of cure-all. Since my February 26 post I have condensed my list of five ways in which social media changed disaster relief in Haiti into four. This post is part two in a four-part series explaining these ideas.

Expanding foreign volunteerism opportunities

Social media technology drastically increased the global public’s ability to contribute via micro-vounteerism. Through three main activities, individuals were able to contribute volunteer work from anywhere in the world to help provide relief to survivors in Haiti. The Haiti earthquake relief effort marks the single greatest micro-volunteerism effort in human history; social media made this effort possible by providing new avenues of communication and collaboration.

First, foreign volunteers contributed by developing computer programs and technology applications to assist the relief effort. Many of these programs helped enable the massive social media relief effort that proceeded. Ushahidi, a program originally built to track election violence in Kenya, created, a site that tracks people, emergency incidents, and search and rescue operations.

The maps created for this initiative rely on open-source mapping software that depends on volunteers to provide geographical information. Prior to the earthquake, the map of Haiti contained only major roads.A day after the quake, Port-au-Prince had been almost completely mapped by groups of volunteers, a task that normally would have required a great deal of time and money. These maps enabled people on the ground to more effectively provide relief when and where it was needed.

Second, foreign volunteers contributed to the Haiti relief effort by participating in people locating projects. One example, the Haiti Earthquake Support Center project, created by The Extraordinaries—a micro-work volunteer website—allowed volunteers to log online to match photos of missing persons in Haiti to pictures taken at relief centers. By doing this, friends and families of the missing individuals would be alerted that the missing were safe. Individuals would post photos of missing relatives and friends, and others would post photos taken at relief centers.

Volunteers had two primary tasks: to sort and tag these thousands of photos by age, gender, and other attributes in order to develop a missing person database, and to sift through this database in an attempt to match missing persons with people photographed in relief centers. Each time a match was confirmed, the survivor’s friends and family would be alerted: a photo of the survivor had been taken at a relief center; thus the survivor had made it out of the destruction and was out of immediate danger. The organization also created an iPhone application, which allowed volunteers to work remotely. Through these implementations, social media enabled volunteers to contribute to the relief effort from anywhere in the world.

Third, foreign volunteers assisted the Haiti relief effort by participating in crisis camps, groups that would do both of the aforementioned activities, and also scour Twitter and other social media sites for information from victims. They would respond to requests from relief teams on the ground in Haiti, looking up coordinates for buildings, finding directions, and answering other needs from people on the ground with limited technological access.

These crisis camps set up command centers in major cities including Washington, Los Angeles, London, and Bogota, pooling the efforts of groups of volunteers to provide assistance to survivors and relief teams in Haiti. Google also created a crisis response center to provide similar support services. Along with missing person finders and map- and program makers, these crisis relief centers were a significant contribution to the Haiti relief effort as an example of micro-volunteerism through the usage of social media technology.

Come back tomorrow and Saturday for the remaining two parts in this series.