Why Us? The Military and Humanitarian Assistance

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Mon, Nov 10 - 9:00 am EST | 3 years ago by
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    Lines of Departure - The Military and Humanitarian Aid

    As I mentioned last column, I’ve had about enough of gassed and shot and blown up kids for a while. This one will be depressing, too, in a number of different ways, but, at least, it will be different.

    I’m not a fan of using the military for humanitarian operations, disaster relief, or peacekeeping. The reasons for my lack of enthusiasm are multifold, where lack of enthusiasm is defined as: “The general who doesn’t resign when his force is prostituted for politically correct, multiculturally sensitive, horse manure like peacekeeping or disaster relief, ought be stood against a wall and shot.” Multifold means that training for it and doing it are distractions from what is important, training to fight and win on the battlefield. It means that the wrong sort of leadership is advanced and the right kind gotten rid of. (Much the same is true of counter-insurgency, too.) It means that money for parts, for ammunition, for fuel, for new equipment is, instead, spent on passing out vegan rations wherever there’s seen to be a need for free vegan rations. It means that someday, our soldiers – who ought be a lot more important to us than any number of Somalis or Indonesians – will die, or will fail in their missions, or both, because they and their organizations are improperly trained, less well-equipped, with leadership that was selected for the wrong attributes. Indeed, I would be very surprised if that day didn’t happen 13 years ago, when we went to war after a decade or so of multicult-ing it up around the globe, largely in the interests of producing votes and graft for Bill Clinton, or so I suspect.

    I have, by the way, an unusual amount of training and experience for this crap, having been a team commander in the old 96th Civil Affairs, operating in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, southern Iraq, Kurdestan, and then Cuba, as Adjutant, plus a stint with the 352nd Civil Affairs Command (I didn’t do much with them actually, a bad heart intervened), plus being for a couple of years Director, Rule of Law, at the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute at the War College at Carlisle Barracks. So my lack of enthusiasm – see definition, above – is, at least, a reasonably well informed lack of enthusiasm.

    So, once again, why us? Why does the military – not just ours, everyone’s, or everyone’s that matters – get tapped for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance over and over and over again?

    I think there are two broad classes of reasons. One is political, usually arising from a desire by liberal politicians to placate the liberal base that funds their political campaigns. Occasionally, I suppose, compassionate conservatives get in on the act, too. All of that is abetted and encouraged by the ICOTESCAS, the International Community of the Ever So Caring and Sensitive, from the approval of which said liberal and “compassionate conservative” pols tend to derive much of their sense of self-worth.

    It’s especially effective for ICOTESCAS because, once American troops are committed, a whole range of domestic memetic buttons get pushed – “Support the Troops! – that help ensure we’ll stay committed to whatever humanitarian operation it is, no matter how spurious.

    The other set of reasons is that, quite without wanting to be involved, without a bit of sensitivity training, without any noticeable degree of caring, the military is better as it than any conglomeration of civilian disaster relief agencies you may imagine. For the reasons why, here’s a non-exhaustive but still fairly complete list:

    1. We have vast and redundant (for peacetime purposes) logistic, administrative and medical infrastructure, equipage, and expertise. None of the civilian humanitarian assistance and relief agencies have anything remotely comparable. All of them combined still wouldn’t. Indeed, all of them combined would lock up in terminal meeting Hell and probably never get past that.

    2. When things get dangerous, most HA and disaster relief agencies simply don’t go there. I really don’t think it’s a cowardice issue, tempting as it might be to say so. After all, these folks, enough of them, are risking a crappy death to Ebola or a short-term guest starring slot in an ISIS beheading/recruiting video. Rather, I suspect there’s something else going on, something having to do with funding, or the insult the violence represents to their excessively optimistic worldview.

    Conversely, solders are trained and fully expect to go into harm’s way. An uncertain security situation doesn’t mean, “Oh, my, we can’t risk…” It means, “Pass out the ammunition and here are your ROE.” Hell, the chance of a firefight is the only thing that makes this sort of thing even remotely tolerable.

    3. I mentioned terminal meeting Hell, above. You almost have to see to believe how many words are wasted for so little progress. My impression – and, no, it’s not just mine – is that, for the people doing this sort of thing, it’s largely about feeling good about themselves. Everybody, therefore, has to be listened to, no matter how little expertise and material support they bring to the effort. They’ve got to be made to feel important.

    The military, on the other hand, is not about feelings and especially not about feeling good about ourselves because we’re just so caring and sensitive. We need not waste time, dithering, in endless meetings the purpose of which is to make everyone present feel important and good and caring and sensitive. We have a chain of command, backed up by customs, regulations, and laws. We analyze, give orders, and act.

    Even though for the most part we really don’t care, we can still move faster and do more, better. I think that must really grate.

    4. We are pretty fair at intelligence analysis, which is not that different, really, in disaster relief than in a movement to contact. We also have the assets to gather intel, from remotely piloted aircraft to satellites, from scout platoons in armor and infantry battalions, to LRSD, to SF, to Rangers, to the group formerly known as “Delta.” Civilian agencies have none of this.

    5. We are, legitimately and justifiably, field sanitation freaks. We have little problem saying, “If we catch you shitting someplace but where we’ve told you to, it will be hard on you.” Civilian agency workers are usually too soft for that.

    6. We are much less inclined to do for the refugees than to help and make them do for themselves. This attitude is tacit anathema among most civilian agencies because, after all, how can they feel good and kind and caring and sensitive unless they’re doing for. This particular one came home to me over the question of rice issue in Kurdestan, in 1991. The civilians were insisting we pass out rice that was several times the UNHCR requirement. It took me a while to realize that they were judging the amount based on cooked rice while we were passing out dry rice. The people of the area, Kurds and Assyrians, were perfectly capable of cooking for themselves. A few questions, here and there, and I came to the conclusion that they simply couldn’t imagine refugees cooking their own food. After all, how do you feel good and kind and caring and sensitive if you make people cook for themselves?

    7. Some of us, at least, are perfectly capable of saying, “If I have any trouble out of you lot, or you fail to do the work I assign you, I will cut off your food in a heartbeat.” Civilian agencies? That would be almost unthinkable. (Note though, that at least one UNHCR type did back me up on that when the Kurds got uppity.)

    8. We have no vested financial interest in dragging disasters out indefinitely. They do.

    That’s a fairly complete list, but I make no claim that it’s exhaustive. It should give you some idea of why, when disaster strikes, civilian agencies, NGOs, and QUANGOs, hold their noses and ask for military help.

    Don’t miss last week’s column: Terrorism: Genocidal or Civilicidal Terror.

    Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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      • Duffy L. Sauers

        I think number 8 was absolutely true once, now? We are still in Kosovo, and I wonder if the Germans are still running soup kitchens in their little slice paradise. That at least, we did not fall into.

        • Tom Kratman

          _We_ don’t have an interest, Duffy, meaning the military as a whole doesn’t. That doesn’t mean nobody does, or that no individual within the military does.

      • Justin Watson

        I will note that the volunteer types always seemed more useful than our own State Department types.

        • Tom Kratman

          Some are. I have a four block conceptual matrix for approaching civilian HA orgs:

          Has assets and expertise – supports mission: cherish, guard, and help
          Has assets and expertise – is against mission: boot or exterminate or have locals exterminate
          Has no assets or expertise – is against mission: as above, only quicker.
          Has no assets or expertise – supports mission: teach and have them unload trucks in their spare time.

      • PavePusher

        Damn, I needed this a week ago. Now I have to find the argument I was having so I can drop this on the idiot’s head and watch her/him lose their mind.

        • Tom Kratman

          Please post a picture of the exploded head if you can obtain one.

      • Ronald Homer

        how would you feel about using some sort of militia system to handle disaster relief instead? organize volunteers with relevant professional expertise several years in advance, and give them a rank structure and a few classes in military law and courtesy, then let THEM handle the main effort of dealing with refugees, with logistics and intel support from the regular army.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          This is close to what Israel does. The field hospitals it sends to various places are almost always reservists.

        • Tom Kratman

          Won’t actually solve the problem because a) it is either being taken from the military’s assets, or potential assets or b) it won’t be useful or useable in the same way.

        • akulkis

          Oh, you mean the National Guard… um ARNG already DOES do that.

      • Ori Pomerantz

        Of course the military is used for disaster relief. Your business is to conduct operations in the face of disasters based on just on Murphy’s Law (everything that can go wrong will), but on Satan’s (a malevolent entity trying to screw with you in all ways possible). Disaster is your business.

        As for whether it is worth doing, I think it depends on the humans in question. I assume you have no objection to using US troops to save US civilians when there is a disaster in the US. Risking your neck to save civilians is in the job description.

        Would you accept doing it for the benefit of a bona-fida ally, such as the UK? They fight in our wars, so it makes sense to help with their disasters I think.

        Beyond that, the case for humanitarian assistance gets weaker. Israel does it whenever there is a chance (http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2010/01/21/israels-operation-in-haiti/, http://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-allows-first-peek-into-secret-field-hospital-on-syrian-border/, http://www.askisrael.org/facts/qpt.asp?fid=4), but Israel needs the goodwill and usually only sends a field hospital.

        • Tom Kratman

          I have objections, Ori, to using them or training them for anything but war. Those objections can be overcome in particular cases, but the objections remain valid in general.

        • Ori Pomerantz

          What are the parameters that overcome those objections?

        • Tom Kratman

          No hard and fast rule, case by case determination.

      • Pugmak

        If, somehow, the idea could be implanted in the minds of the disaster relief relying parts of the world that our military is really only there to collect intel for when we decide to invade…

        Maybe that could get the disaster relief reliers to quit accepting aid from our military. And, it could serve to ensure more firefights, which are their own kind of good training.

        • Tom Kratman

          Oh, Pug, I _assure_ you they are missing nothing in the propaganda department and many already believe it.

      • James/G

        Truthfully, I think there is a third reason. That that reason is that the closest thing anyone has to a humanitarian/disaster relief ‘force’ would be the US Peace Corps, and it is not set up to handle a largescale operation. Think about it. Who has the people trained to load, transport, offload, and disburse hundreds and thousands of tons of food, water and other supplies in a rapid manner outside of the Military? Even the Red Cross is unable to do so. They send a team of maybe 15-20 managers who hire locals to do the labor, which is the first stage of graft and corruption and easy theft, and it snowballs from there.

        Of course, the military side prevents some of that, and can actively discourage people from getting out of hand(providing the ROE allows it{ROE= Rules of Engagement}).

        The only way to get the Military out of the Disaster Relief business, or at least limit their role in such operations, would be to create a new service trained from square one in those mission parameters. !,000 man outfit, providing all the basic necessities for helping people stuck in a crack, with a small security detachment, 50-125 people.

        Not gonna happen.

        • http://www.simplesurvival.us/ Cincinnatus

          You are talking about the Peacekeeping Division idea that was bantered around in the 90′s. It was supposed to be 10th Mountain if I remember right. That is a veerrry bad idea cause that slope is super slippery for our liberal friends.

        • Tom Kratman

          Camel’s nose under the tent and all.

      • Swift

        Okay, I get not diverting resources and training time, but how about this: You mentioned our logistics and support superiority; if we sent medic and log units with a security element, wouldn’t that be real world training and experience for those units?

        • Ori Pomerantz

          Not necessarily, because the conditions would be very different from a war. There wouldn’t be an enemy actively trying to prevent the mission, and the people getting the logistics won’t be as cooperative as troops are.

        • Tom Kratman

          It could be, but not necessarily in a cost effective way and not necessarily without other costs. It costs serious money to deploy remfs – so serious that one shouldn’t worry about an opponent’s deploying combat units to the border nearly so much as when he deploys the field trains to the border. It also deprives combat units of their normal support, which impacts training, and cuts down on the socialization of the leadership of the support unit and the units left behind.

      • Bill Wade

        And because the military is better trained and structured to deal with chaotic situations, encourages (or used to) initiative, and has little opportunity for graft.

      • Bill Wade

        And to humanitarian operations, disaster relief, and peacekeeping, add American-style border security.

      • Tom Kratman
      • http://www.simplesurvival.us/ Cincinnatus

        “The military, on the other hand, is not about feelings and especially not about feeling good about ourselves because we’re just so caring and sensitive.”

        This is rapidly changing in today’s military. You would not believe how many CO2, sensitivity, sexual assault, suicide awareness, ad nauseum classes today’s soldiers have to sit through both online and in classrooms. It is so many that I am very glad I retired when I did.

        • Mavwreck

          I realize that sensitivity, sexual assault, etc. seminars may take resources away from the military’s core mission. However, I’d think suicide awareness would contribute to that mission – or at least contribute to preserving our soldiers. Am I missing something?

        • http://www.simplesurvival.us/ Cincinnatus

          I have nothing against suicide awareness training per se. I do have a problem with it being a 4 hour block of instruction quarterly plus online courses and a yearly suicide stand-down day. The suicide rate has caused a typical overreaction from the brass much like the supposed sexual assault epidemic has. If you sit through all these classes you sometimes find yourself wondering how they manage to trust soldiers with weapons when we are deployed. They certainly don’t trust us with weapons when we are at home station.

        • Mavwreck

          Details like that were exactly what I was missing. Thanks.

        • Tom Kratman

          To the extent that sitting through that much excruciating concentrated essence of boredom doesn’t make someone start thinking that, as per the song, suicide is, after all, painless.

        • http://www.simplesurvival.us/ Cincinnatus

          I think every soldier below 1SG and CPT has had these thoughts at some point. At least then the pain would be over.

        • Tom Kratman

          And not a few field grades, i assure you.

        • gruntled

          I once told the Division Chaplain I’d kill myself if I had to sit through another suicide prevention class. His brain locked up. My battalion commander was not amused and made me put my kindle away during the brief.

        • Tom Kratman

          That’s not actually what it’s about though. Those things are useless eyewash intended to placate civilians who have no idea, and simply woulnd’t believe anyway, that they’re utterly, utterly useless. They’re not training to standard rather than training to time. They’re not even training to time. They’re just wastes of time, for the benefit of the ignorati.

        • http://www.simplesurvival.us/ Cincinnatus

          That may not be what its about , but that is the end effect. The army got progressively more touchy feely over the course of my 23 years career.

        • Tom Kratman

          I doubt that it is, really. I think the end effect is people who pretend to X degree of sensisitivty and caring, etc, etc, et-ad-nauseam-cetera, but actually only got good at pretending. If you could really change people through relentless propagandization and sheer bloody nagging, the USSR would still be a going concern.

        • ah64mech13

          As a terminal sgt, yeah, we just got better at looking out for the eo guy. All the off color fun is still there, we just don’t put it on YouTube anymore.

      • TEEJAYZ

        Well this was a whole lot of chest beating, wasn’t it?
        Some issues demand nuance and extrapolation. The author seemed to be in short supply of both.

        • Tom Kratman

          I don’t believe there’s any chest beating in it at all.

          I have experience. What have you got?

        • TEEJAYZ

          Do you REALLY expect me to respond with any kind of reasoned response to that buddy?

          I’m not sure you have the right temperament to handle an article series Kratman. Your itty bitty feelings get hurt too easily.

        • Tom Kratman

          You made a silly and ignorant series of claims. if you can’t defend them, that’s your problem.

          Also, you need to look into that projecting. Yes, even if finding a solution to it hurts your feelings.

        • TEEJAYZ

          “The lady doth protest too much methinks.”

        • Tom Kratman

          I didn’t know you were female, Madam.

        • ah64mech13

          Fuck off, anonymous coward.

        • akulkis

          Moron Alert

      • E

        Winning hearts and minds of minds. Two in the heart, one in the mind.

      • Mavwreck

        I wonder…does the impulse to use our military for humanitarian purposes come from the presence of a large “peacetime” standing army? The Powers That Be may have thought “well, we’re paying these guys, but they’re not fighting, so let’s go ahead and find a use for them”. At least, they might have thought that before the Global War on Terror started, and the habit simply continued even after our troops faced more demands.

        Also, what do you think about the Army Corps of Engineers’ role in river maintenance and flood protection here at home?

        • Tom Kratman

          I don’t think it necessarily leads directly to it, but one notes that armies – which is to say those that run armies, which is to say flag officers – will sometimes embrace this sort of mission as a way to keep the army larger than it might otherwise be. Canada, I think, did this. About ten years ago I was instructing a chunk of the Brazilian Army’s general staff on ROE generation, prior to them deploying troops to Haiti. I had there there sense that they, too, were getting on the bandwagon to try to keep a larger force. It’s not completely indefensible, but I still think it’s a bad idea overall.

          The Corps of Engineers, though it has some uniformed personnel, is largely civilian, so I don’t think the effect is nearly the same.

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