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Steve Smith's Army Blog

  • Kids and Deployment

    I thought I'd post this so it isn't lost, as memory erodes.  When I left to go to Iraq in 2004 my daughter had just turned 2.  She's 5 now (soon 6) and doesn't remember a lot about when I was gone, but when asked last year what she did remember, she said:

    "I remember standing by the front door with Mommy and looking out the window, and our faces were like this..." and here she made a very sad frowning face.

    Almost made me cry.

     I was (thankfully) only deployed for under a year, but it was very difficult for me and for my family.  I know that I am very fortunate to have avoided a longer tour (or multiple tours), to have come home safely, and to have gotten out of the Army upon completion of my contracted obligation with them.  But my thoughts return frequently to my time in Iraq, and to those who continue to serve in harm's way while their families miss them.

  • Welcome Home

    Just wanted to say "Welcome Home" a bit late to all of the Vietnam Vets out there, after reading Bob Parsons' post on the subject.  My uncle served in Vietnam and has never been much interested in talking about it, though my own Iraq experience has led us to discuss things a bit recently.  All I can say is, thanks to everyone who went, and though I wasn't around at the time, I apologize for all of the ungrateful idiots who treated you (and likely continue to treat you) so poorly.

    One of Bob's commenters suggested this book, "Unheralded Victory", which I'll have to check out.  It sounds interesting, if nothing else (no, I haven't read it yet, so I can't comment further).

  • CinCHouse Article

    ArmyAdvice and Christie and Ryan were mentioned in an article on deployments by Allison of CinCHouse, an online community for military wives and women in uniform.  It's a good writeup about how technology can help ease the pain of deployments, especially the fear that comes from not knowing.  I'd like to add that I'm still accepting new bloggers on ArmyAdvice, so if you're reading this and you're a soldier or military wife (or husband or significant other), please Sign Up and request a blog.
  • Resignation Letter Template Posted

    A lot of officers are looking for information on how to resign, and unfortunately the Army doesn't make this easy to find (I can't imagine why...).  Thus, I've posted my resignation letter (sanitized) for download in the downloads section of ArmyAdvice.org.  I also want to make sure people have a reasonable expectation of the timetable involved, so here's a summary of how things went for me (admittedly some time ago):

    6 January 1995 - Enlisted as E3 w/8 year commitment (ETS 5 Jan 2003)
    25 July 1997 - Received 2LT Commission - commitment automatically extended to commission date + 8 years (26 July 2005)
    20 July 2005 - Sent resignation letter, with effective date of 26 July 2005, return receipt requested.
    Early August - Received confirmation letter was received; called HRC to confirm and verify all was in order.  Spoke with a Major there who confirmed it was.  He told me to expect it to take 4 to 6 months.

    Once/month - called HRC, spoke to same Major (I got his direct extension and email address the first time), confirmed things were moving and they were not waiting on me for anything (and hadn't lost my paperwork)

    20 December 2005 - Received Honorable Discharge orders and certificate in the mail.  Eventually my records on HRC's website were updated with these as well.

    So, all told, it took about 5 months from the date I submitted my resignation letter until I received my discharge papers. 

  • Historical Perspective on Iraq and Afghanistan

    Like most of the media, my local paper tends to have a pretty strong bias against the conflict in Iraq (and, generally, any conflict) in its own editorials and those it chooses to print from national syndication, along with most Letters to the Editor.  However, last week there was a letter that made me want to just stand up and cheer "Yes! Somebody actually gets it!" and write in to the paper myself to say "Me Too!  +1!  What He Said!" in the hopes that they might realize that this is somebody who actually knows what they're talking about, unlike most of the things that are published.

    Since I'm not sure how permanent the links are at the Record Courier, or whether they might some day require logins or something, I'm archiving the entire letter below.  Some of the references made won't make sense out of context, but most the letter speaks for itself, and more than that, speaks for me.

    Disputes war critics

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    It is my opinion that the editorials in the Record-Courier editorial pages of late have been biased and one-sided and need to be balanced. The Jan. 14 Oliphant cartoon suggested that President Bush has no plan for Iraq and that he is sending new troops into a meat grinder. I have no problem with anyone expressing the opinion that they do not agree with the president's plan, but to say he has no plan is simply ignorant.

    For those of you who do not think we have a new plan, follow closely. First, the new plan changes the rules of engagement and finally turns our military loose to do what needs to be done, which is to kill the enemy and destroy their ability to fight. Which is how wars are won. That's right, kill the enemy even if they are hiding in mosques. Second, it "puts boots on the ground," which many of you have been calling for -- until it actually has to be done -- and it puts them right where they are needed most. Third, it forces the Iraqi government to stop playing politics and focus on stopping the violence, with the clear understanding that if they do not come through, their political power will most likely end. Finally, it includes a new diplomatic and military effort to stop the support of terrorists in Iraq by Iran and Syria.

    It is a measured, well-thought-out plan. A plan that the people who need to carry it out agree with -- like the new generals and commanders who are now in charge in Iraq and pitched the plan to the President. Guess what? Their opinions are the only ones that count. Not some columnist's or politician's opinion.

    Get some historical perspective. In the history of warfare, no country has ever achieved so much success with so few casualties. The United States has lost 3,017 dead in Iraq and another 356 in Afghanistan. In less than two years we freed 26,074,906 people in Iraq and 29,928,987 people in Afghanistan. That is 56 million people freed from torture and tyranny with less than 3,400 casualties on our side. That is unbelievable, yet it is never mentioned by the press or put into the proper perspective. We are just constantly beaten over the head with the "terrible cost of this war."

    We can choose to fight today or fight a larger war in the future, but we will have to fight because they are willing to bring the fight to us. Leaving is just not an option -- yet all of your columnists continue selling this delusion.

    Which brings me to David Broder, who claims that President Bush has "written off any prospect of regaining broad support at home ... in the slender hope of finding a key to military success and political agreement in Bahgdad." Guess what, David Broder? The majority of people elected President Bush in 2004 and his job is to do what he thinks is right -- not what we think is right. It's called representative democracy. It saves us from ourselves and people like you who have no idea what the facts are but think they have all the answers.I, and many other Americans, want President Bush to find any key to military success he can, slender or not. Regardless of what we think.

    This leads me to the insane ramblings of Caroline Arnold. What is this woman doing in your newspaper? After reading her first paragraph on Sunday the only one who is "mad" is she. It is not "mad" to be driven to win when you are in the right. Is it mad to quit when you can help so many people at so little cost to a country as wealthy in so many ways as ours? I ask how much has each of us sacrificed personally to fight this war? We don't know what it means to sacrifice for our country.

    Finally, there is columnist Ann McFeatters, she of the "no-win war" beliefs. We can't lose this war if we just choose to win it, so how can it be a "no-win" war? How many times does Bush have to explain that establishing a strong democratic Iraqi government, that can protect its people and its borders, is the definition of "winning"?

    Today the media and politicians criticize when anything goes wrong in any war as if nothing should ever go wrong in war. Read some history, please. Hardly anything ever goes right in war -- that's a fact.

    Your columnists, and those who think like them, are wrong about this war, just as they were wrong about Vietnam. Our lack of resolve in Vietnam, to do what was necessary to win, led directly to the needless murder of millions of people in Southeast Asia after we left. Your "peace movement" saved thousands and killed millions. Hopefully, our country will not repeat the mistakes of the past and give up on what is right, simply because we do not have the resolve to live up to our responsibilities. Today we need the courage to kill the few to save the lives of millions -- perhaps millions in one of our own major cities.

    The Record-Courier could do us all a favor by simply giving us the facts and letting us form our own opinions in the future. Giving us an overdose of opinions of those who have so little to say and so little knowledge of history is a waste of newsprint and a disservice to your readers.

    Thomas R. Zawistowski


  • 24 Month Limit on Guard Reserve Active Duty Time Eliminated

    Associated Press  |  January 12, 2007
    WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has abandoned its limit on the time a Citizen-Soldier can be required to serve on active duty, officials said Thursday, a major change that reflects an Army stretched thin by longer-than-expected combat in Iraq.


    The day after President Bush announced his plan for a deeper U.S. military commitment in Iraq, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the change in reserve policy would have been made anyway because active-duty troops already were getting too little time between their combat tours.

    Read the full story

    This is pretty much bullshit, but not unexpected.  I'm very happy that I have my honorable discharge in hand now.  There is essentially no distinction between Reserve and Active Component forces now in terms of deployments, since either one can be deployed indefinitely without any required time between deployments.  Since the "War on Terror" is not a declared war on an enemy state, but rather an unwinnable war like the "War on Crime", there is also no hope that the current state of conflict will end in the foreseeable future.

    Net effect - if you're in the reserves you might want to consider just putting your life on hold and join the active component (if possible) since the pay, advancement, and benefits are all better and you'll probably be deploying about as much either way.

  • New Army Slogan

    Army Times wrote last week that the Army is going away from the awful "Army of One" slogan.  The new slogan is still top secret, apparently, but we should see it all over when the media blitz commences in a few weeks.  Personally I'm a fan of "Lead the Way".  If they go with that, perhaps I'll get some small commission... yeah right.
  • Oh The Heat in the States...

    Forgive my rant, but it annoys me that everybody in the Midwest and Northeast US is whining and going on about the big heat wave we had this week.  My local newspaper yesterday had, as front page news, the temperatures in Philadelphia, New York City, etc, all of which were in the 90s.  I don’t deny that it’s news, since it is out of the ordinary, and for most folks in the US it’s a whole lot more on their minds than, say, the weather in Tikrit, but I think it would have been nice to add a little perspective:

    Temperature in Philadelphia: 98

    Temperature in New York City: 96

    Temperature in Balad, Iraq: 116

    Temperature in Baghdad, Iraq: 112

    If you’re a soldier in Iraq in the summer, have a look at the thermometer and leave a comment with the temperature.  If you’re in a tent without a/c in the daytime, I’m guessing it’s well over 120.  It’s a little bit warm, and certainly more humid, here in Ohio than usual.  But I have a hard time bitching about it knowing how it is for our soldiers in Iraq still.

  • Fourth of July Info (chain letter)

    Every year or two I see this email come through.  I haven’t checked Snopes to see if it’s all accurate, but if it is, it’s certainly worth a read.


    Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

    Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died.  Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured.

    Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.  They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

    What kind of men were they?

    Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

    Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

    Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

    Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

    At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire.  The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

    Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

    John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying.  Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.

    Many of us take these liberties so much for granted, but we shouldn't.

    The Fourth of July is more than beer, picnics, and baseball games. It's about showing gratitude and respect to those gave much more than most of us to keep our nation free. So on this 4th of July holiday, take a few minutes and silently thank these patriots and others who have given so much for our freedom. That's not much to ask for the price they paid.

  • Al-Zarqawi Eliminated

    Great news for Iraq – Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a raid north of Baghdad recently.  His own organization has confirmed the news (of course vowing to continue killing innocent Iraqis, etc. etc.).

    More from MSNBC:

    Al-Zarqawi and seven aides, including spiritual adviser Sheik Abdul Rahman, were killed Wednesday evening in a remote area 30 miles northeast of Baghdad in the volatile province of Diyala, just east of the provincial capital of Baqouba, officials said.

    Baqouba is not far from where I was stationed, and Diyala was the province we covered while we were there.  I wonder how far from the little town of Balad Ruz this would be, since that would be just east of Baqouba and was one of our trouble spots when I was at FOB Caldwell.  Of course, it says they were in a “remote area” and there are certainly plenty of those in the region.  In any case, this is very good news, especially since the attack did not come with any civilian casualties.

  • Paintball and Military Training (or Top 10 Reasons PaintBall is better than MILES)

    I went out for my first experience with paintball this weekend with some friends.  We had about 30 people, probably 2/3 of them teenagers, there at one of the players’ family’s country homes, with about 50 acres of land, probably half of that wooded.  We started the day off with a few rounds of Speedball, which I was not terribly good at and which has really no resemblance to any military tactics, at least at the level at which we were playing.  A bunch of the kids were really into it, but most of the adults decided pretty quickly that it was pretty much an exercise in how quickly one can burn through paint and CO2, preferring to play woodsball, which is the main point of this blog entry.

    Woodsball is basically the real-world tactical game of paintball.  The exact rules and scenarios can vary, naturally, but the underlying theme is that you’re playing a tactical game of small units engaging one another in a (typically) natural setting (or at least, not on a game field).  We played several variations.  There was a three-sided “fort” in the woods with some cuts made in the sides for shooting points.  The whole thing was only about 10’ square, and was open on one side.  The first game we played was “The Alamo” and required 6 people to hold the fort against everyone else.  The rules dictated that the defenders could not leave the fort, and the attackers could not circle all the way behind the fort (to the side without a wall).  This was the least enjoyable game we played, since the defenders were heavily outnumbered and the fort was so small that you could easily be engaged from behind while shooting out one side.  The net effect was that the defenders were easily suppressed by the “Mexicans” outside the Alamo, and eventually all were picked off.  Historically accurate as this may be, it wasn’t the most exciting game and didn’t really offer much in the way of squad tactics.

    Next we played a few quick games of equal teams attempting to reach and secure a briefcase placed in the fort, while starting about 100m away on opposite sides (in thick woods).  These weren’t the best scenarios either since one team tended to have a much cleaner shot at the fort and a good sprinter could just get there and grab the case before the other force could even get into position to engage.

    However, later in the day we played a couple of games that I really enjoyed, and which really drove home to me the value of paintball as a training tool for military units (which the Marines at least are already using).  One problem we struggled with throughout the day was identifying friend from foe, since there was no consistent uniform and we were switching up teams frequently.  So I proposed an adults vs. kids game, which pitted the 7 or so players of high school age and higher against all of the junior high teenagers (of which there were close to 20).  This made friend-or-foe identification much easier.  The scenario was again to retreive the case, but this time the old folks would set up in the woods and the kids would start about 200m from the treeline in the house’s back yard, and would have to enter the woods.  I ended up getting picked off pretty early (despite having a nice position and the drop on 3 people, but my shots didn’t break on impact – doh!), but the adults ended up winning largely because the kids had no cohesion and refused to commit to a single strategy.  They also had no concept of being quiet.

    Feeling emboldened by this, and not wanting to hear about the fact that the defenders only won because of their tactical advantage as ambushers, we played again, this time with the 6 adults attacking the 14–15 kids that were remaining at this point in the day.  Again, the adults won (and I lived and got the case!  woohoo!), because we were sneaky bastards and flanked as far around and through as deep and dense of vegetation (and mud) as possible, rather than simply walking straight into the woods from the house.  We also used stealth and (in my case, anyway) a fair bit of low crawling to advance without detection to as close to our objective as possible.

    Which brings me to my point.  I’ve used the MILES training system numerous times in my military training career.  I’ve never once been impressed with it.  I’ve only played paintball for one day, and I’m by no means an expert (or for that matter, a zealot or addict), but I can easily say that it far surpasses the training experience provided by the MILES system.  To drive this point home, I’ve come up with my Top 10 Reasons Paintball Provides Better Training Than MILES:

    10) Paintball Markers (guns) Can Shoot Through Bushes!  MILES Laser beams cannot penetrate even minor cover — paintballs can and do.

    9) No Sensor Gear To Wear and Maintain.  Paintball doesn’t require the target to be wearing any special gear.  It also doesn’t care if the target’s batteries are dead (intentionally or otherwise) or if the target’s sensors have been mysteriously covered by camouflage or 100MPH tape…

    8) Paintballs “make a distinct sound when fired at you”.  You can hear them zinging past through the air, impacting in the tree you’re cowering behind, or thudding into your buddy.  You can tell that someone firing through bushes nearby is firing at you, and not just firing in some other direction.  With MILES, if you can’t see the firer, it’s difficult to know what direction they’re firing in, and you certainly don’t hear (or see) the laser beam impacting near your position.

    7) Paintball markers don’t lose accuracy every time you low crawl or set your weapon down on the ground.  MILES equipment is huge and bulky and horribly inaccurate due to the way it is attached to one’s weapon.  Hours are wasted attempting to zero the MILES gear, which is pointless since the first time the MILES-equipped weapon is jostled the laser’s point of aim changes (not to mention the effect of full-auto recoil on the laser’s zero).

    6) Paintballs can’t be faked with a little sound.  MILES lasers are basically triggered by the sound of the weapon they’re attached to going off.  The microphones used are not very sophisticated, and are mounted on the front of the laser emitter, which attaches to the barrel of a weapon.  Most soldiers who’ve used MILES know that you can trigger the laser manually by simply tapping the microphone, an illegal activity in training settings but an easy way to silently engage enemies or continue to fire once out of ammunition.

    5) You can see where paintballs land!  It’s very easy to walk your fire into your target with paintballs because you can see them hitting obstacles or brushing past trees.  With live ammunition, you’ll see dust puffs or splinters.  With MILES, you see nothing.  You have no idea whether your shot missed left, right, high or low, or if you were dead on and your target’s batteries are dead.

    4) Paintball has a growing fan base.  Recruiters could easily attract a lot of young people by leveraging this fan base (and in fact many are already doing so).  Being able to point to the use of paintball in training activities would be a big win for recruiters when taking this approach.

    3) Paintballs come in different colors.  One could easily detect fratricide based on the color of paint used, for instance.  I’m guessing something similar could be achieved with MILES through the use of different frequencies, but nothing like this was ever done in my experience.  With paintball it would be stupidly easy to accomplish, and would be an excellent training tool since fratricide occurs far too often.

    2) Paintball is cheaper than MILES.  You can get a decent gun for $100.  You can get a weapon that looks just like a US military M4, like the BT-4, for around $250.  Paint is cheaper than blanks, and CO2 could easily be refilled by organic elements once a few hundred dollars was spent for the necessary equipment.

    and the number one reason why paintball would make a more effect military training tool than MILES is…

    1) Paintballs hurt!  Not a lot, mind you, but a little bit of negative reinforcement can provide a huge conditioning (in the phychological/training sense of the word) benefit when trying to impress upon soldiers the importance of getting their ass down or using proper cover.

    In summary, after only a single day of experience with tactical paintball (woodsball) I’m thoroughly convinced that it would provide a much better training tool for military operations than the MILES system with which I trained.  I sincerely hope that TRADOC and/or individual unit leaders will consider paintball for their training needs and evaluate the results for themselves.

  • General Batiste Funny Story

    Retired General Batiste has been in the news a bit lately for his criticism of Rumsfeld, but seeing his photo lately reminds me of a rather humorous anecdote that occurred during my deployment in 2004 under the 1st ID.  You can read the story as I originally wrote it here:


    That was as much contact as I had with General Batiste, but my experience (and I'm out now, so I can be honest) was that he was a good commander, so I have a lot of respect for what he (and other veteran generals) has to say.


  • Honorable Discharge

    Today is a good day.  I submitted my resignation back in July 2005 when my 8 year commitment expired (I was commissioned in 1997).  They told me at the time that it would take 4-6 months for the resignation to process and they were not exaggerating.  The orders and certificate were received today, although technically I should have gotten them a week or two ago since they were addressed to my previous address (I moved in September).  The end result is the same though: I'm OUT.  Woohoo!

    Thanks again to everyone for your support and interest.  I'll continue to post occasionally about military issues and will of course continue to keep ArmyAdvice.org available for soldiers and their loved ones to communicate with and learn from one another.  I wish all of you a safe return home if deployed and a happy New Year!



  • One Year Ago Today...

    I was sitting out at the retrans camp for our base in central Iraq, north of Baghdad.  This year, I'm sitting in my office in Ohio, having spent most of the last year back home re-normalizing.  I have a few pictures with the date 12/19/04 on them of the retrans site that I've been looking at today.  It's a bleak brown wasteland.  I remember it was still quite cold there despite the lack of snow (though probably not quite as cold as Ohio is today), and of course the general conditions weren't nearly as comfortable as what I can enjoy now in my own home.  I know some other soldiers are sitting out there right now (or some other site like it if that one's been abandoned in the last year), and my heart goes out to them.  I'd post some pictures but since it's such an exposed place and may still be in use, I'd rather not risk the OPSEC of the area.  Suffice to say, it's barren, brown, bleak, and quite lonely (when I was there a year ago, it was without anybody from my own platoon, so while the guys I was with were a good bunch (including Ryan toward the end) it wasn't like I was with my guys).

  • ArmyAdvice Update

    This weekend we moved ArmyAdvice to a new software platform, Community Server 1.1.  The new software includes better support for blogs as well as better photo galleries and, best of all, forums.  I've created a variety of discussion forums which I hope people will start using and find useful.  There are a few other places to discuss Army issues online, but not as many as you might expect, especially with as much attention as the military is getting these days.  So I'm hoping that ArmyAdvice's forums will be another way that soldiers can share real information with people in a way that cuts through a lot of the garbage that we see in other media.  Time will tell if we're successful in that mission, and as always, please keep in OPSEC and professionalism in mind when contributing your opinion.
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