May 1, 2013  

Letters to the Editor

Digital deficiency

Lt. Col. Michael Lanham is spot on [“When the Network Dies,” December]. As recent events have proven to the Navy and the crew of the Guardian [the mine countermeasures ship that ran aground in the Philippines], reliance on digital performance can be sorely misplaced.

As a young training officer, I regularly got both junior sailors and senior leadership upset when I insisted that they include equipment failure in their training scenarios. Whether it was the loss of the common operating picture because a feed was lost (or never made), or a screen went down when someone tripped over a power cord, or a critical radio went dead because of [simulated] battle damage or improper programming, the result was the same. First, the users tried to deny the loss of the asset. Second, they tried to argue that the simulation was unrealistic or unfair (usually because they hadn’t thought to prepare for that possibility). Third, they either tried to figure out how to do without it (having never before been trained to even entertain the loss as a possibility) or they gave up and declared the training event “over.”

The better trainees attempted to recover from the loss and succeeded in finding a solution, either by finding an alternative source for the lost capability or by figuring out how to carry on without it without incurring too high an increase in operational risk.

Only those who persevered and found a solution later reported that the training was effective. The others lost out.

Teaching how to persevere in the face of adversity used to be a training standard for U.S. forces. Too many service members now want to hit the “reset” button and get a “do over” rather than learn how to deal with the consequences of not knowing what to do in difficult situations.

To paraphrase an old movie, as we become more reliant on digital systems, we need to teach the operators of those systems how to use the tools of “improvise, adapt and overcome” if they are to have any chance of surviving the fight, much less winning it.

Capt. Kevin E. Mooney (ret.)

Virginia Beach, Va.

Vietnam myths

I’m always drawn to articles that lead with negative views of Vietnam. Robert Killebrew’s “Rebuilding the Army — again” [March] was no exception. He begins by using the politically correct view: “By 1973, when the last U.S. troops departed Vietnam, the Army was close to collapse.” He refers to indiscipline in the ranks and an Army outclassed by Soviet forces. Forty years after the cease-fire and here we go again. He appears to be another author taking his cues from the likes of John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, who had to degrade the Vietnam veteran and that experience in order to elevate their own views. The purpose of this letter is to “push back.”

My first experience in Vietnam began in January 1965 and my last tour ended in February 1973, with the cease-fire. Let me lay a different foundation by reinforcing the positive. I believe that, coming out of Vietnam, we had the most experienced and best pilots (Army, Navy and Air Force) in the world. We had experienced medical personnel. We had the best light infantry and air cavalry. We had tested anti-tank missiles on helicopters. We had experienced Special Forces. We had really good field artillery and fire support. (The National Training Center would not have been an insurmountable challenge. The challenge would be the ability to deploy these forces.)

The North Vietnamese introduced regular units in late ‘64/early ‘65. The Vietnamization/Phoenix/CORDS effort, by 1972, saw 93 percent of the population relatively secure under government of South Vietnam control. As the author points out, the Army’s leaders were either World War II veterans or had come into service in the immediate post-war period. How, then, can this be portrayed as an Army close to collapse when we had a service with current soldier and leadership experience in Vietnam, as well as 30-plus years of European firepower-intensive NATO experience?

I would request readers review Lewis Sorley’s “A Better War” before taking the negative broad brush to Vietnam veterans. Sorley notes that VA records indicate that the real Vietnam veteran was better educated, more prosperous and better adjusted than his civilian contemporaries. Also, the evidence is that those who died in Vietnam were mostly “white, middle class, and volunteers,” as were most who served there as well.

When I came out of Vietnam I was assigned to G3 Plans, Airborne Corps, responsible for the Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises. We tested the one-division package as well as the corps package. We found the 82nd Airborne Division with its division-ready brigades/battalions and division artillery ready to deploy according to contingency standards. We tested corps artillery and found it capable, along with its target acquisition. We evaluated the 101st Airborne Division and its ability to deploy aviation assets. We found them also very capable. Based on my experience, I did not witness an Army nearing collapse. Any unit that came up short was retested. The activity I outlined may well fall into Killebrew’s described post-Vietnam rebuilding. However, I dislike his term “resurrection,” which implies something that was dead. That characterization was not reality and did not reflect our start point.

Lt. Col. Richard Holaday (ret.)

Lexington, S.C.

Counseling for all

I was reading through your March issue and felt compelled to comment on Chaplain (Maj.) Rob Sugg’s article about a “Counseling Crisis” in the Air Force. I believe the article was mislabeled because the focus was not whether airmen are receiving the counseling they need, but rather his perceived lack of chaplains to provide it.

As a lifelong atheist (who has survived many foxholes), I don’t agree with his concept that a reduction in the number of chaplains equates to less capable support for airmen. On the contrary, I believe that replacing chaplains with nonreligious counselors is a wonderful step forward in putting the needs of airmen before the needs of the various religious groups.

Nonreligious, professional counselors will focus entirely on the needs of the airmen and will not bring in the baggage of religious accoutrements and subtle proselytizing that all chaplains exude. The shortages of new chaplains and chaplain assistants and reduced support by wing commanders are likely more attributable to the ever-growing number of nontheists in the ranks and the country as a whole than to decisions on how best to manage the Officer Performance Reports of chaplains.

The fact that Chaplain Sugg fails to even mention nontheists in his “fifth new dynamic” of those to whom chaplains need to provide support reveals that he is in some level of denial that almost certainly limits his ability to provide for the needs of these airmen. I do agree with one premise of this article: Chaplains have a long and predominantly honorable role in our military. But as we move forward into a new age of science and reason, the role of chaplains needs to be adjusted to reflect their real purpose of providing religious support to those who seek it.

Maj. David Bigelow

Team Lead, 633rd Contingency Contracting Team

Fort Riley, Kan.