Jade Helm, Part II: Is the Concern Warranted?

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Mon, May 25 - 9:00 am EST | 3 years ago by
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Lines of Departure - Jade Helm 15

Is the exercise Jade Helm 15 inherently suspicious because it’s militarily indefensible? That’s one of the arguments against it I’ve read or heard being bandied about. It’s not a valid argument.

I assume you’ve all read this week’s assignment,1 but just in case you didn’t, here’s a brief rundown of the important points, for purposes of today’s column:

A. There are five functions of training: Skill Training, Conditioning, Development, Selection, and Testing (of doctrine and equipment).
B. In the absence of valid conditions, standards are completely meaningless.

One of the arguments against Jade Helm 15 is that all of this could be done just as well on a military installation or a series of them. Since where it is done, as with where war is waged, is a condition, let’s contemplate how true that is.

Special Forces must operate among a civilian population, in the course of its Unconventional Warfare (UW) mission. How do civilians act? Anyone who has ever been on a military base will note that in ways large and small, the military population, the Department of the Army (or Navy, etc.) civilian population, and the dependent population all act differently from a genuinely civilian population. Indeed, with the armed forces being all encompassing lifestyles, it would be quite bizarre if they didn’t act differently.

The differences are sometimes trivial, who walks to the left, for example. Among the ranks, the junior walks to the left. But it will be true even among the civilians, to include dependents. Yes, that means a wife will walk to the left. This is partly old tradition – the sword arm must be kept free and the wife is not to be exposed to people dumping chamber pots from upper floor windows – and partly reinforced every day. Reinforced? A uniformed husband walking with his wife might be called upon to render or return a salute; best if he doesn’t knock her teeth out with his elbow in the process.2 And they will fall into that pattern, and maintain it, even if they’re not uniformed or even if they not on a post. Then, too, the military just tends to be old fashioned.

More importantly, though, the civilians on post will eagerly become part of the game, reporting this and that. That would work one way if it were Fort Bragg, for example, but were it some other, not especially Special Forces-heavy, installation, might work very differently. There’s a place for training in that kind of environment, too, but that place isn’t universal. Too much chance of reporting/being reported on and compromised might induce excess timidity, which is as undesirable in war as sheer recklessness.

Related to that is the blending-in issue. SF conducting UW in a hostile environment must be able to blend in with real civilians. That’s not just a matter of dress and haircut, it’s walk and mannerisms and, “Goddammit, stop scanning everything for targeting, Sergeant Schmidlap or, if you must, learn to do it a little more discreetly!” SF operating on a military installation won’t have to learn to blend in in a different environment; they’re already in their own environment.

Also, the rumor mill will make clandestine operations on a base highly problematic.

And then there is the physical plant. There are certain nearly Army-wide designs for buildings and housing, that differ by generation (though sometimes only a little, 700 vice 800 series barracks, say, at least a few of which are still around all over the place).3 Thus, for example, any soldier who’s been in a while can look at a particular design on a post he’s never been on before and say, “Oh, that’s the post quartermaster laundry and I know exactly how it’s laid out inside,” or “That rolling pin’s4 dayroom is through that window, and the company CP (command post), is through that door, first door on the right. The CO will be at the end of the narrow corridor.” Even beyond that, there is the dressed right and covered down aspect of military approaches to building that just isn’t there in civilian life, at least to the same degree. You can easily find and walk along a civilian housing development and note that no two houses are alike. Conversely, you can do the same thing on a military installation and note that no two houses are unalike.5

I hear someone object, “Well, what about using the un-built up training areas?” They are. Next question. No, wait; before we get to that, where are the civilians and any buildings at all out in the training areas and, since there are few or none, how do we create the conditions?

It’s harder than you might think.

About eleven years ago I did a site visit to the National Training Center, at Fort Irwin, California. NTC had actually done a pretty impressive job of transforming itself, very quickly, from a high-intensity (we used to call it “mid-intensity”) combat training environment, to a much lower one, intended to simulate, for the most part, Iraq, though it had its aspects of Afghanistan, too.

The NTC had built somewhere between six and eight (memory fails) “towns” in the training area. These were composed of what was available, containers and prefab storage buildings, for the most part. They didn’t look much like Arab towns, but they were at least set up about as randomly as an Arab town, or one of ours, for that matter. So far, so good.

They’d also hired about four hundred Arabic speaking immigrants – though I think many of them were unpaid volunteers, eager to prove their commitment to America (and God bless ‘em for that) – which was great. But (from my report):

“Towns and cities exist for any number or combination of reasons. Among these reasons are:

1. economics – to include agriculture,
2. security,
3. inertia (“We live here because we have always lived here.”) (but, note, without one or more of the other reasons being present this reason is rarely enough for a location to remain inhabited),
4. industry,
5. service,
6. governance.

They require, as a minimum, some reason to exist. None of the towns in the maneuver area seem to have any reason to exist, though valid reasons could be manufactured.

Towns and cities are also interdependent. There is no obvious interdependence among the towns in the maneuver area. This lack has many negative implications to both CMO and LIC training.

Towns and cities, with their associated economies and agricultures, also have benefits to offer an occupying force. These range from water, to lodging, to (sometimes) food (including catered food), to providing a labor pool. On occasion towns and cities can also provide electricity, security guards or other things. None of the towns, as configured and operating, have much to offer an occupying force, though they could with fairly minimal reconfiguration.

Towns and cities in a given area communicate among themselves. This is to say, they trade, they inter-visit, and they share opinions. They also are sometimes political, economic or emotional and traditional rivals. At the very least the existence of towns and cities also means a high level of non-military movement on the battlefield; people and goods going from place to place.”

Now, if the largest, best funded, greatest training area in the world cannot produce a good simulation of civilian life, what do you think Fort Bliss is going to be able to do?

For a closing example of just how idiotic things can get can be when SF forgets that they’re mostly about Foreign Internal Defense (FID) and Unconventional Warfare (UW), contemplate the first SF troops we committed to Afghanistan. You’ve heard of them, and what was billed as the most recent cavalry charge (it wasn’t really) in military history. The part you may not have heard about was that the commander of Special Forces Command6 had them shave off the beards they had grown.

Now think about that for a bit: here we are in a very traditional culture, one where men have beards, and where “men” who don’t are quite likely to be the center of attention for “man love Thursdays,” a place where we’re supposed to be blending in, lest we ignite the [not all that] latent paranoia of the locals, and this guy has them SHAVE! You can’t make up idiocy like that.7

But you can filter it out, if you train SF in the environment for which they were designed; see the entry in A, above, on selection.

Next week, a little more on filtering and a little more on testing of doctrine and equipment.


1 Okay, I’m not actually dumb enough to believe you all did. Here’s your second chance: http://www.amazon.com/Training-War-Essay-Tom-Kratman-ebook/dp/B00JQI9TH2/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_img_4

2 I’m expressly leaving out the possibility of a female soldier, with her husband, in the interest of hopefully annoying some Social Justice Warriors.

3 This seems to be true across nations and cultures, too. There isn’t all that much difference between an American barracks on 1910, in the old Canal Zone, and a Brit Barracks of the same time frame, built in India. Hell, a Roman barracks of the second century wouldn’t be all that strange to the eyes of a modern day non-com, because all barracks basically try to do the same things.

4 A “rolling pin” is a kind of very large barracks.

5 Truth in advertising, though; the housing area we lived on on Fort Sam Houston, Infantry Post Road, had three kinds of housing, an interior area of duplexes that were each alike to the other, an exterior ring of old brick structures, that were really quite enviable, also each alike to the other, and one empty one, because it was supposed to be for a general officer, and they couldn’t put a general in with us filthy and uncouth company grades and senior non-coms.

6 I knew him when he was a captain and was quite unimpressed, even then. “Stick up his ass prig,” was my first impression, which only solidified over the next couple of years.

7 One of the hardest things for the regular, and this guy really was just a regular who happened to have the beanie and the tab, is that the things we may do for regulars, to impose or condition them to discipline, must come from inside the Special Forces soldier if it is to have any staying power, strength, or benefit.

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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  • James

    But Kratman! Beards! Beards! Still one of my favorite stories of dumbassery. Doesn’t matter who you explain it to they all think its massively stupid.

    • Tom Kratman

      I swear to God. Total idiocy, He was _just_ like that as a captain, too.

    • Mark Andrew Edwards

      Here I’m going to show my idealism (or naivety) but why would someone so hidebound be put in command of SF and continue to be promoted?

      Is there still some element of desire to ‘control’ the crazy, bearded ‘hippies with guns’ still bumping around?

    • Tom Kratman

      I think I covered this in an earlier column. Short version, the system is not designed to advance ability, as a general rule.

    • LeslieSHorn

      ✸✸✸✸✔✸✸✸✸✔ $73.. per-hr @mi30//



  • http://www.angry.net/blog2 Angry Webmaster

    I would think that if Spec Ops troops are training in a civilian area, you could announce it to the public and make a game of it for the citizens.

    If you spot the “bad guy” call the local police and if you can, take a picture. If you “bag” one, you win a beer, (or cookie if under age), and bragging rights.

    • Tom Kratman

      Note that a) they have announced it and b) one can reasonably expect the citizens to be reporting suspicious activity anyway.

    • gebrauchshund

      I recall exatly that in the Walden, CO area some years ago. They put up “wanted” posters explaining that SF was training in the area, and asking anyone who spotted them to call a number on the poster to report the time and location SF was seen. Avoiding detection by ranchers who had been on the land for generations and know every rock and mud puddle would certainly be a challenge, and superb training impossible to replicate on a military reservation. I think there may have been a small cash reward for a confirmed sighting, but I’m not sure.

    • Neil McCray

      Uhhhh, no!
      Exercises like Jade Helm have been going on for decades. The final exam (Robin Sage) of the Q-course is one such exercise. In Robin Sage, the local population does play a major role as the underground etc. But that is also a very rural area and the civilians who play roles have been doing it for generations. Its pretty controlled. But many parts of these things need to be conducted in Urban areas.
      There are many different cities that have this stuff going on all around them all the time. But few people ever notice. When we coordinate for such an exercise, we of course tell the cops, but only the police HQs guys know exactly when and where. That’s because we have found that if we tell the regular beat cops, they have this strong urge to show up right in the middle of things to see if they can spot what is going on and when they do, they do dumb things and the boys, as they should when they see too much security in an area, punch out and go to plan B. Same same with civilians. Last thing we need is a bunch of bozos wandering around to see what they can pick out and if they do see something, step right in to the middle of it and start crowing.
      Like I said, this has been happening for at least 3 or 4 decades that I know of. Some exercises are bigger than others and some are small unit training programs with only a few dozen folks out on the streets. And its not just SOF, the HUMINT community does the same.

  • http://batman-news.com Rick Randall

    It’s somewhat demoralizing to see people, who I normally think are fairly bright and sane, freakng out over Jade Helm, and they don’t understand why it’s so absurd.

    And here comes an article that illuminates that huge blind spot *I* have. They simply don’t understand that people are basically a kind of terrain, how people (even civilian dependants and civilian workers) on post are truly a fairly homogenous “terrain” compared to off-post, and how hard it is to replicate a realistic civilian environment.

    It’s more a matter of ignorance, like how they often don’t understand why certain “silly” (in their minds) aspects of the military are, in fact, quite important (like the “mindless adherence to obsolete hierarchical customs” have a purpose…

    • Tom Kratman

      There is a PhD in Human Terrain, former SF Warrant named Warrington, who, if he’s following, I expressly invite to stop in to add to this.

  • Duffy

    Man Love Thursday, yeah you went there, and very few people who have not seen it just do not get it, especially when ISIS is walking accused Homosexuals off the 5th Story of what passes for Highrises in Syria. One of those things you just can’t understand but have to accept as just they way things are.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    American civilians are obviously a better approximation than the US military. But how good an approximation are we to Arab civilians, Afghani ones, or any of the others Special Forces plans for?

    I’m not opposed to them training in my neighborhood, but wouldn’t it be better to set it up with a friendly Arab government, such as Jordan? Or do they also do that?

    • Tom Kratman

      Not so much perfect as different enough. We do do that, but it’s always fraught with political and diplomatic issues, as when a friend of mine, AKA “Terry the Torch,” 5th Group, burned down a Jordanian police fort, in the mid eighties.

    • James

      …..ok I have to know how that happened. And was it awesome?

      And what is a police for for gods sake!

    • Neil McCray

      We do conduct these exercises overseas. Particularly in NATO areas. But as Tom says, some places are just too tough to make it happen. Not actually doing the work, but coordinating with local governments.
      One thing we also do is find some areas wherein you are in the US, but for all intents and purposes, you are in a foreign country. Different languages, dress etc.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      If “foreign” is good enough, we have plenty of Mexico right here in Texas. But blending in with Hispanics may not teach you how to blend in with Arabs.

    • Neil McCray

      No, its not the middle east. But it does get you way outside your comfort zone and that the key issue. But the Middle East is not monolithic and we don’t only go to the Middle East. At any given time, we have SOF deployed to 80 or more countries around the world.
      Everyplace you go is going to be different by varying degrees. The key is to observe the local dress, customs, mannerisms etc and learn to blend in.
      Stupid things matter. If I see someone at a café in Europe who is obviously right handed, and they cut their meat etc with the knife in the right hand, but then put the knife down and pick up the fork with their right hand, I know that’s almost certainly an American. Its the little things that get you killed

    • Tom Kratman

      Excellent example with the fork. Note, though, that some places in the US, Boston, for example, the Euro way – knife in the right hand, fork in the left, and leave it that way, dammit! – is fairly common. Now getting Americans to get eating kibsa with their fingers, that can be tough wiith some of them.

  • Jack Withrow

    This whole brew-ha-ha over Jade Helm stinks of a deception plan to me. The manufactured hysteria over Jade Helm is in IMO a smokescreen. Focus people’s attention on something relatively harmless, while something much more devious happens outside of the spotlight. I wish I knew what the MSM was hiding by focusing public attention on Jade Helm.

    • Tom Kratman

      Not sure. As I’ve mentioned more than once, a) many things we think are conspiracies are just consensus (I think that’s right for plural for that declension, though I could be wrong). while b) people just aren’t competent to conspire at that level with secrecy and success.

    • Jack Withrow

      You may be right that it is unintentional. But still what other, much darker stuff has flown under the radar, while the MSM and the loonies have kept this thing going? Every reporter and politician that is obsessing over this, is not keeping their eyes on other things that are probably much more important, if not down right dangerous, to the United States.
      It’s just like all the brew-ha-ha over those butt ugly Kardasians or what ever their names are. A huge number of people are so obsessed with them and their antics, that they pay no attention to anything else.

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