THOUGHTS ON THE WAR IN IRAQ
When I was a recruit in the US Army at Fort Dix back in the summer of 1959, I remember the soldiers in the Reception Center who fed us, helped us send our civilian
clothes back home, and issued our uniforms and military gear. Most of the Army personnel assigned to the Reception Center were “short-timers” who were being
processed out ot he Army. We were all from New York City and had reported to the Induction Center at 39 Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan. Once we passed the
physical, we were loaded onto a bus for the short ride on the New Jersey Turnpike to the US Army Reception Center at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
The Army had just switched from the old OD (Olive drab) class A uniform to the new AG44 color. The barracks reeked with the odor as we dyed our combat boots from brown to black. A week
later, in our brand new fatigues, we fell into formation in front of the World War II barracks. A crusty Sergeant called the roll and we were assigned to our Basic Training units. Some of us went to
Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and other Army Posts. I was happy to learn I was to be assigned to Company “K:, 2nd Training Regiment, Fort Dix, New Jersey.
We loaded our duffle bags into the storage bins of the bus and sat wide-eyed as we rode to the training areas of Fort Dix. In those days, Fort Dix was a major recruit training post. Thousands of
draftees as well as regular Army recruits received their introduction to Army life at that huge facility.
We passed each company area of the 2nd Training Regiment and gaped at the thousands of recuits
marching in formation. There seemed to be a training company for each letter of the alphabet. When we arrived at Company “K”, the bus stopped and then all hell broke loose.
The Company “K” cadre were lined up to “welcome” us with their helmet liners painted blue. We were soon to learn to distinguish the different colored helmets. Blue meant company Drill
Instructors. They proceeded to grab the bottom of the bus and rock it back and forth bellowing orders at the busload of stunned recuits. We all fell and stumbled off the bus as the Drill Instructors
grabbed duffle bags and threw them at us as we tried to fall into formation. Any hesitation or pause on the part of a recruit resulted in instantaneous verbal assault by the DIs. Our Company
Commander, Lt R. N. Reno watched as his new company of raw recruits began their training under
his command. Reno could have been from central casting for his role as our Company Commander.
We no sooner got off the bus, when they ran us around the Company area with the duffle bags on our shoulders. “Run, you candy-asses!”, barked the grim-faced Sergeants. The Field First,
SFC Sergeant H. Revis, Master Sergeant J. Morris, and the other DIs were all wearing the Combat
Infantryman’s Badge on their fatigues. They were all combat veterans of the Korean War. Some were vets of World War II as well.
They herded us into the door of one of the company area buildings and screamed at us to pick up a footlocker filled with combat gear and race out the other end loaded down with the duffle bag and
footlocker. Recruits who stumbled had their gear kicked around in the dust as they did push-ups under the withering scorn of the Drill Instructors.
We ran around the Company area in the August sun. Our sweat mixed with the dust of the company area and finally they shouted orders to halt in formation. We answered to our names and were
assigned to the four platoons of Company “K”. I was assigned to the Third Platoon. My DI was Sergeant First Class D. J. Kelsey.
“You might as well write home and tell your mother to sell the shithouse, ‘cause your ass belongs to
me for the next eight weeks!” shouted the DI. “Now, you jellyasses get into the barracks and get assigned to your bunks!”
For the next eight weeks I received the basic training that every Army recruit must endure to call himself a “soldier”. Today, almost 50 years later, I can say that I would not have traded those eight
weeks. When I graduated from Basic Training and marched with Company “K”, 2nd Training Regiment on the parade ground at Fort Dix, New Jersey I had a sense of pride that has carried me through my life.
Those memories came back this week with news of a terrorist plot against our soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey. In 1959, such a threat would have been inconceivable. We now live in a much more
dangerous world. With the development of technology and weaponry, the use of unconventional warfare has become increasingly effective against our defensive stategies.
We train our Army to fight conventional warfare. Yet, our enemies are using guerrilla warfare against us. History teaches us that guerilla warfare uses tactics that are condemned by those in politcal
power. History also teaches us that many guerilla wars are successful.
We cannot afford to entertain the use of guerilla warfare strategy and tactics in the present struggle
against radical islamic fundamentalists. I mean that we cannot afford to play the role of the traditional conventional political patsy in a fight to the death against such a determined foe. We
cannot afford to deplete our national treasury and undermine the morale of our Armed Forces by insisting on fighting by “Marquis of Queensbury Rules”.
In Iraq, we now have our soldiers and Marines trying to pacify Baghdad.
There have been suggestions to use crime reduction strategies such a “Compstat” to cope with the
insurgency in Baghdad. That is a lofty ambition, but is it realistic to use our soldiers and marines as
police? We used our soldiers in such as role after the defeat of Germany and Japan. But, the populace of both of those nations was cooperative. They had been defeated in a conventional war
and were exhausted. That is not the case in Iraq. Iraq has become the battleground that the enemy
has selected to deplete the resources of the United States. They seek to use the mimimum number of their forces against us. They are using unconventional warfare on the ground and in their financing of
their strategy. They do not hesitate to adopt the use of moneylaundering and other illicit financial tactics.
It is interesting to note that when our troops were sent into Afghanistan, Bin Laden retreated into the mountains bordering on Pakistan. Did he do this to ensure that the battleground would not be
the poppyfields of southwestern Afghanistan? The production of opium for the drug trade has always been centered in this “Golden Crescent” area.
Imagine if our troops were crushing those fields of poppies with their tanks?
How can we change our strategy and tactics in this fight? For one thing, we can stop treating our
enemies as conventional armies. They are not fighting us on equal terms. They choose the battleground, they choose the time and location of their attacks. We respond to their initiatives.
History holds the clue to the tactics of guerillas. In our own War of Independence, General George Washington
was contronted with a superior force of professional soldiers. The British had the most formidable army in the world at that time. The British were faced with a “rabble in arms flushed with insolence”. Those were the words of a British General referring to the Americans. The rebels
in the American Army had the advantage of controlling the countryside. The large cities and towns were controlled by the British Army. The rebels could move unimpeded and to a great extent
supply their army with food and supplies from the population who were sympathetic to the patriot cause. Only a third of the colonists were considered actively supportive of the American rebellion.
Another third were Loyal to the British Crown and the middle third were not committed to either cause. Yet, the British were hampered by the fact that they would have to depend on the Royal
Navy to supply their troops. This necessitated the use of bases such as New York City, Charleston, Savannah, and other east coast cities.
was a student of classical history as were most ot our Founding Fathers. He knew Roman history in particular. The Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage raged for many years with the feared leader Hannibal ravaging the towns in Italy and destroying every Roman Army that was sent against him.
The Roman General Fabius
knew that he could not defeat Hannibal in large scale conventional
formations, so he conducted a guerrilla type campaign against the Carthaginians. He would carefully choose the time and ground to attack and harass the troops of Hannibal
. These tactics gave the Romans time to rebuild their armies and enabled the Roman General Scipio to take his army
directly to Africa and attack Carthage itself.
Washington used a similar strategy and eventually with the assistance of the French, the small
American Army succeeded in defeating a much more superior force. The War lasted for seven years. The War in Vietnam reflected a similar strategy. Ho Chi Minh
emulated the same strategy and tactics. He controlled the countryside as the American Army used base camps to control the guerilla
tactics of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. Our armies were supplied in much the same way as the British Army was. We were fighting a war far from home too.
Now, we are engaged in a war in Iraq with an enemy who is using the same tactics. The insurgents are choosing the time and ground to attack our armed forces. Even with all our technology including
night vision, GIS, and sophisticated weaponry, the insurgents continue to conduct their guerilla warfare using unconventional tactics.
Sending conventional forces against insurgents using unconventional tactics would seem to be an exercise in futility. Can’t we use other tactics againt our enemies?
One thing is certain, we must learn to use unconventional tactics in this conflict. We must choose the time and the ground when we use our soldiers and marines. Is it a good tactic to have our soldiers
assigned to fixed locations while our enemies study the terrain and take their time in planning attacks against our troops?
Army recruits are trained in the four “Fs” of combat tactics. Find ‘em (reconnaissance), Fix ‘em (bring fire to bear on the enemy), Fight ‘em (attack), and Finish ‘em (destroy their army). An army
that is contantly moving and attacking is difficult to defeat because plans to counterattack such an army are useless. That was the secret of General George Patton
and the German General Irwin Rommel. Once an army stands and defends positions such as large cities, it become the target of an
enemy who now chooses the time and ground at his leisure.
With our ability to strike the enemy with our air cavalry and naval forces, we can remove our troops
from harm’s way until we are ready to use them in the most effective manner.
The use of our forces in focused and surgical type attacks on the command and control element of our
enemies could result in a more effective use of our forces. Also, we could retain our mobility. We could reposition our forces at will and punish the enemy in ways that would cripple their ability to
respond. By not choosing to hold positions, we would retain our options by withdrawing our forces and plan for our next operations.
These are the thoughts of an amateur armchair strategist who never fought in combat. Yet, to the
writer, the loss of our soldiers and marines in a guerilla type war is too much to bear. As a police
officer, I know the dangers and disadvantages of police work. We should not ask our troops to be police officers. They are soldiers. The duty of policing the populace of Iraq should be the duty of
their own police, not our troops.
Copyright © 2007 Edward D. Reuss
LINKS TO ARTICLES:
AMERICA IN THE MIDDLE EAST
RESTORING ORDER IN IRAQ
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