27 December 2009

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Feel free to send me professional email to Brown-George@US.Army.mil

18 April 2009

Blog by LTG Cladwell

Reflections by Frontier 6

The Challenge of Retaining Majors in Our Army

A recent article in the Armed Forces Journal by MAJ Myles Caggins, III, discussed possible incentive plans to retain U.S. Army majors. Caggins asserts that qualified enlisted recruits receive up to $40,000; Army captains $35,000; Navy officers $121,000; and a typical Army major – nothing. He offers some creative proposals he believes would help retain more of our field grade officers – you all.

The Global War on Terror has tested our Army’s personnel management systems. The shortage of majors has many causes, not the least of which is junior officer retention rates, the creation of modular brigades, and growth of our Army.

Consider, for example, the “cohort” of Army officers who were commissioned in 1998. They originally numbered 4,155. Those the Army retained have now served 10 years of active duty. Although the Army still requires about 2,200 of these officers, it has only kept about 1,800. Additionally, the ranks of captain through lieutenant colonel are only manned at 80 percent strength.

The Army cannot accept risk in its officer corps, and the consequences of how we act now will have generational impacts. We’re soliciting your help. Please provide feedback on how you think we can retain quality field grade officers. Specifically, what motivates you and your peers to continue to serve? Do you think there should be increased incentives? Should there be changes in assignments, policies or education? What would you recommend?

Would encourage you to read MAJ Caggins’ article and comment on the pros/cons of his argument. We need to get this right and we need your help.

Thank you for helping shape the public debate on this important subject. We will highlight your feedback with leaders at the highest level in our Army as they look for creative solutions to today’s complex personnel management environment. Nothing would send a more powerful message than to have the entire CGSC class sound off and provide input. We look forward to your thoughts and recommendations.

Apr 17 2009, 08:09 AM by LTG Caldwell

THIS IS WHAT I WROTE BACK:

Sir,

Many people misunderstood my research titled “A Pending Major Crisis” as a focus on US Army majors leaving the service before 20 years; very little time was spent looking at majors leaving the service before reaching retirement. The research focused on the issues that will arise if the number of officers that retire immediately after 20 years of total service (including many with prior-service) increases.

The current retirement rate of officers reaching 20-years of service is 20%; a survey conducted for the thesis indicates the rate could soon grow to 60%. This loss rate suggests that by 2014, the US Army may be short 30% lieutenant colonels and 20% majors. The most critical aspect of this potential shortage will be that it is not equally distributed across all the branches. By 2014, indications suggest that many of the US Army officer branches (the branches with the largest current deficiencies) will face shortages greater than 50% of their requirement for lieutenant colonels and majors. As an example, the Transportation Corps is already under 50% (slightly hidden with the merge into the Logistical Corps)

In the thesis I’m only reporting on the extreme obvious. This is not rocket science… this is more like the invention of the paper clip. Anyone can say “I knew that” after the fact. Same as this shortage situation; some at HRC say there is no issue, but I think everyone else can see the situation quite clearly.

I cannot count the times in the Command and General Staff College auditorium that a General Officer stood on stage and lectured us that we can change and improve the Army; in fact, we have a responsibility to do so as the new field grade officers. Yet, after my first draft was sent to HRC, a representative was sent to speak to one of the ILE classes (09-01) to explain there was no issue with the shortage of majors, and that the programs to retain captains would solve all the FG shortage problems… Several senior members of HRC also sent emails to CGSC staff and my MMAS committee contradicting my research (although I noted other professional research in my thesis that has reached the same exact conclusions I did). Afterwards I was asked by one member of my MMAS committee to change my thesis and one faculty member of CGSC asked me not to discuss my findings with the media. Although the greater majority of the faculty of CGSC was, and continues to be incredibly encouraging, I did feel slightly threatened in the last months I spent in ILE.

Since my graduation from ILE, I have continued to received a steady stream of emails from senior lieutenants to GOs – with each and every email linked to the same theme: supportive of my research and frustration with the “Army” for not understanding this crisis. The preponderance of the officers who have written has already decided to leave the service. These officers are not disenfranchised, but they are exhausted, and household six is asking them to drop the paperwork because even when these officers are not deployed, the unpredictable and extended work hours at home station are also having there toll. Why wouldn’t any able officer accept the generous retirement pay at twenty years and find a more stable job when faced to choose between the military and family?


Once the experience and military investment in these officers are gone with retirement… well, they’re gone. Perhaps my research into the extreme obvious will make a difference by bringing this issue (with recommendations) to the forefront before the US Army hits a tipping point of a serious major crisis.

V/R,
Major George Brown

16 January 2009

Major's thesis cites impending officer crisis


Major's thesis cites impending officer crisis


By Melissa Bower Staff WriterPublished: Thursday, January 8, 2009 8:51 AM CST

A recent graduate of the Command and General Staff College is concerned the Army's shortage of majors may be sooner and more serious than originally thought."I'm mainly putting this out there," said Maj. George Brown, who graduated in the 2008-02 class. "It's kind of like the Army suggestion program."Brown based his opinions on research for his Master of Military Art and Science thesis, "A Pending Major Crisis: An analysis of the critical shortage of U.S. Army officers in year groups 1991-1997."

"If you don't do something now, the shortages are critical to the point where it may affect mission readiness," he said.For his thesis, Brown conducted a survey of majors in the 2008-02 and 2009-01 Intermediate Level Education classes. The Army already knows it is facing a shortage of intermediate level officers, Brown said.Officers nearing the 20-year mark of service are the targets of Brown's thesis. Although they are leaving at a 20 percent rate now, that rate could grow to 60 percent. By 2014, the Army could be 30 percent short of lieutenant colonels and 20 percent short of majors. Some branches could face shortages greater than 50 percent by 2014, he said.

"The shortage of officers is only going to get worse over the next few years because nothing is being done to encourage officers to stay in past 20 years of service," Brown said.Reasons officers leave after their 20 years are because of the high operational tempo, understaffing in the mid 1990s, and long and multiple deployments to the Global War on Terrorism. Officers who are not deployed must pick up extra duties, Brown said. Another survey of officer spouses, conducted by Angela Crist in 2006 for Central Michigan University, found similar results to Brown's for reasons why officers leave."Nearly half of the branches are so understaffed in the rank of major that these branches would be considered not ready for combat using the U.S. Army Unit Status Reporting system," Brown wrote. "Any significant loss within these branches could be devastating."

Officers typically receive a letter at 18 years of service from the Army Career and Alumni Program with information about retiring at their 20-year mark. Because Brown himself served a few years in the National Guard, he received that letter after 15 years of active-duty service instead of 18 years."I could retire by 2012, not 2015," he said.Brown hasn't made his own decision for retirement; he said that is something he'll have to talk about with his family.

"These officers are not disgruntled, but are tired, frustrated and starting to leave the service," Brown said of those surveyed. "Persuading these officers to stay in longer is imperative, but currently, there is surprisingly little being done."That's why Brown suggests a three-pronged approach to encouraging longtime service members to stay in the Army. First, he said a short-term information campaign could help encourage support. Mentoring and career counseling, he said, would provide a "sense of organizational belonging.""Senior leadership in the U.S. Army should reach out to the officers approaching 18 years of service or sooner and take part in the edification process," he wrote in his thesis. "Addressing the majors at CGSC would be an example of a quality forum where this process should begin."

He suggests formalizing bonus and incentive programs the Army already uses and creating a monetary bonus program similar to the one for enlisted Soldiers. Brown said providing money across the board simply isn't enough; financial incentives need to be targeted toward those who genuinely want to stay in the Army and fill a need.The shortages aren't yet felt in every branch, Brown explained, so one branch might be short by 50 percent, while another branch might only be 10 percent short."Find those in critical MOS branches and offer them bonuses to stay longer," he said.

Brown's thesis received the attention of a Washington Post article in August 2008. According to the article, the Army projects that it will fill the captain shortage by 2011, but will continue to have a shortage by 2013. Brown's survey disagrees."Senior leadership agrees that we have a bigger problem approaching," he said. "They already know they have a problem. They just don't realize how bad it could be."

01 January 2009

Now In Germany...

I have arrived in Germany…Kaiserslautern to be exact. I’m honored to be the new operations and intelligence (S-2/3) officer for the 202nd Military Police Group (CID). With an area of operation extending from Greenland to the east coast of Russia and the southern tip of Africa, the unit’s mission is to conduct criminal investigations of serious, sensitive or special interest matters, and criminal intelligence, logistics security, counter-drug, antiterrorism, force protection and protective services operations in support of Army and Department of Defense interests in order to prevent crime and protect Soldiers, civilians, family members, units and materiel.

02 December 2008

Retirement System Reforms

ALERT:

There is a request to congress to take away military retirement payments at 20 years of service.

I have written about this (from the Report of the Tenth Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation dated July 2008) in my thesis: the concept is to bring equality to the Reserve/National Guard and the active Army and also to allow those with 10 years of service to eventually receive part of their retirement pension. In my opinion, it is a method to keep officers in past 20 years of service because the incentive to take the retirement paycheck after just 20 years is gone. Almost no one will get a retirement paycheck until you reach 60 years of age! There is no “grandfather” clause in this request by the SECDEF to Congress.

The full memo is 41 pages long, but here is the part I am talking about.

Retirement System Reforms — recommendation 28:

Congress should set the age for receipt of a military retirement annuity at 62 for service members who serve for at least 10 years, 60 for members who serve for at least 20 years, and 57 for members who serve for at least 30 years. Those who wish to receive their annuity at an earlier age should be eligible to do so, but the annuity should be reduced 5 percent for each year the recipient is under the statutory minimum retirement age (consistent with the Federal Employees Retirement System).

For reserve component members, retired pay would continue to be calculated on the number of creditable retirement years, based on earning at least 50 retirement points per creditable year.

a. Congress should expand current statutory authority to permit all service members to receive up to 5 percent of annual basic pay in matching government contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan; the government’s contribution would vest at 10 years of service, and the Thrift Savings Plan benefit would be portable and thus capable of being rolled over into a civilian 401(k) account.

b. Congress should pass laws providing that the military retirement system allow some portion of its benefits to be vested at 10 years of service.

c. As part of the reformed retirement system, retention would be encouraged by making service members eligible to receive “gate pay” at pivotal years of service. Such pay would come in the form of a bonus equal to a percentage of annual basic pay at the end of the year of service, at the discretion of the services.

d. As part of the reformed retirement system, service members who are vested would receive separation pay based on the number of years served and their pay grade when they complete their service.

This recommendation to Congress on the change to the military retirement system is a bit under the radar now, but could bring down morale and recruitment for big Army if it passes Congress. This is a decision by Congress, not SECDEF.... BUT, the office of the SECDEF did not note "The Department does not support...” as it did in some other sections. By recommending nothing, I think the SECDEF circuitously supports the request, or at least does not fully disagree (political jargon).

It is a bit in-line with my thesis (shortage of field grade officers) but only makes the situation worse: I think this would only encourage more offices to get out sooner; there would be little incentive for the officer with 10 years of service to stay in until 20. In my opinion, this is the military shooting itself in both feet. Whatever happened to the second half of the "Mission First, People Always" slogan?

I doubt Congress would approve this system as is... but if they did, I could see most officers getting out with 10-14 years in. This would make a bad situation critical and bring down our volunteer military within a year. It may not happen, but what if...

17 November 2008

Completed Thesis...

It has been an extensive and challenging process, but after nine months, my master’s thesis on the shortage of US Army officers in YGs 91-97 is complete and has been approved.

The research in the thesis reviled that this officer shortage is already having a critical effect on the military and its ability to continue its high operational tempo. Without action, the deficiency condition will most likely get worse.

There are three critical points that influence the overall quantity of military officers: the recruitment of new officers, retaining mid-grade officers, and limiting the number of officers retiring. The US Army is making numerous efforts to increase the number of officers entering the service and limiting the amount of officers that leave early in their career. The thesis takes a look at the officers the US Army loses as they reach the retirement minimum of 20 years of service.

Let me know if you are interested in a copy of the full text (153 pages) or just a summary and I’ll send it your way.

GEORGE

18 October 2008

Iraq Update...

In the mainstream media, have you heard the recent good news from Iraq?

In the last 10 months the US Military in Fallujah have done what was unthinkable before the surge began — they have quietly transferred out of one of Anbar province's largest cities; 80 percent of the move is complete. In February there were 8,000 Marines living at Fallujah base; now there are about 3,000 left; and by November 14 there will be none.

The US Military plan to be out of all Iraqi population centers by mid-2009.

05 September 2008

Change in Assignment

The one thing you can count on in the Army is everything changes. My assignment has been changed from the Pentagon to Germany. I have been told I will be working in Kaiserslautern (K-Town: the largest military community outside the US). This is fantastic news!

24 August 2008

Major Crisis Update

The article on the shortage of majors in the Washington Post has received a lot of attention – unfortunately the issue in the article was slightly off point. The problem is not so much the number of majors leaving the service, but the number of officers leaving once they reach 20-years of service. I have posted a summary of my master’s thesis titled “Major Crisis: An Analysis of the Critical Shortage of US Army Officers in Year Groups 1991-1997” (pp125) to help clarify the situation.

*****************************************************************************

There is a potential crisis in the US Army that has received little attention, but is having a critical effect on the military and its ability to continue its high operational tempo: a shortage of US Army field grade officers that entered the US Army from 1991 to 1997.

The reason for the current shortage is not really important: it is likely a combination of the under-accessions of officers in the early to mid-90s; loss of officers being wounded/killed in war; increasing the need of field grade officers due to modularity; officers leaving before retirement because of too many deployments; increasing the size of the military; etc… there is a shortage- no argument: 5% company grade; 17% majors; and 8.5% lieutenant colonels (AC basic branches). This shortage is not equal among all the branches, and is already critical in some.

Much is being done, with some success, by the US Army Human Resources Command (HRC) to increase the numbers of officers entering the service and retaining junior officers. The issue discussed in my thesis is the indications of a growing shortage of field grade officers. The theory is that the shortage of field grade officers is going to get worse over the next few years because little is being done to encourage officers to stay in past 20-years of service. Contributing to this shortage is the number of officers that will reach 20 years in service sooner than their year group peers. This is because over 35% of these majors have prior-service experience (enlisted service time before becoming an officer is credited towards cumulative years).

The retirement rate of officers reaching 20-years of service last year was 20%; the survey conducted for my thesis indicated this will grow as much as 60%. This loss rate suggests that by 2014 the US Army may be short 30% lieutenant colonels and 20% majors. The most critical aspect of this 30% shortage of lieutenant colonels and 20% majors will be that it is not equally distributed across all the branches. By 2014, indications suggest most of the US Army officer branches will face shortages greater than 50% of their requirement for lieutenant colonels and majors.

In other organizations, for example the State Department, an individual could join as a GS-14 (government position equivalent to a lieutenant colonel) based on education and experience. The US military does not have this type of program for most branches. It takes over 15 years to grow lieutenant colonels, so the loss of each lieutenant colonel is significant.

Something should be done to address the issue of such a large number of officers in year groups 91-97 from retiring at the 20 year mark of service. At 18 years of service, most officers start the decision process for retirement. This decision and planning process is done with their family who, with the officer, has become worn down from the high operational tempo of the US Army. At 18 years of service, the Army Career Alumni Program (ACAP) sends a letter to each officer letting them know about services to help them retire from the US Army and find a job in the civilian community. At 18 years of service flight pay goes down for US Army aviators. At 18 years of service Variable Special Pay goes down for dental and medical officers. At 20 years of service, members of the military may retire and receive 50% of their base pay for the rest of their life and maintain many benefits from active duty. Although there are many incentives for the US Army officer to leave the service at 20 years, there is virtually nothing officially being done to encourage officers to stay in past 20 years of service.

The Human Resources Command has many good informal incentive programs that might be better utilized if publicized and controlled by one centralized section. Allowing officers to more easily exchange assignments, across branches, would be an example; transferring to another branch (from full strength branch to one that is undermanned) is another option. These options would be at no cost to the US Army but, require additional staff at HRC dedicated to run this program.

Many of the officers in this research agreed that a monetary incentive of varying types would convince them to stay in the US Army longer. A one-year base pay cash bonus for three years of service was the most accepted option requested from the survey; matching TSP funds up to 10% was number two. A monetary bonus, in the correct amount, and targeted to the branches that are critically short, is undoubtedly an effective method for the retention of the officers to stay past 20-years of service. This is true, not only because the value of non-monetary benefits is not easily recognized by personnel, but also because a system that favors monetary benefits would enhance the freedom of each officer to decide how best to use his/her benefits, thus increasing the value of those benefits.

The one-year base pay bonus for three years of service over 20 years could provide a monetary incentive to officers in branches that are critically short and is already common practice with enlisted US Army Soldiers. An average of 1,400 officers reach 20 years of service each year. At 20 years of service, most officers would be at the rank of lieutenant colonel with a base pay of $88,473.60 a year. This would equal a yearly program maximum cost of just under 124 million dollars, even if every officer was given this bonus after reaching 20 years of service. The cost of the captain menu of incentives program is over three times this amount and one-year base pay is a common bonus to enlisted Soldiers in critical jobs. This program could be used to target specific branches with the greatest shortages, but would require a change in federal law to facilitate this option.

Another way to think about cost of this bonus program is the US Army is short approximately 15% of its authorized strength of majors and 8.5% lieutenant colonials. That means that part of the budget set aside to pay these officers salaries is not being used. In theory (and practice), 85 majors are working harder to do the job of 100 majors, and not getting any extra pay. That 15% of the salary from majors could fund bonuses, or other incentives, for those who are working harder than ever. (Philman 2008) The US Army is short 2,228 majors for a savings to the US Government of over $210 million. This might be an oversimplification, but premise is sound.

The spouses of these officers are also weighing in on the decision to get out; overlooked in the compensation calculations is a complete family focus. There is a popular t-shirt slogan that sells well on post, it reads: “Military Spouse: The Toughest Job in the Military”. The military members pay also must compensate for the loss of income from their spouses. These officers marry smart, competent, career-capable partners, but frequent military moves while effectively single-parenting during deployments; it's next to impossible to also have a viable career. It may not be about the money, but these spouses are comparing their family lives to their brothers, sisters, friends from college, etc. Comparisons are inevitable and many spouses are counting the days until 20-years of service have been met to start their career. If the compensation doesn't keep pace at a family level, in addition to stresses of military service, the spouse is most likely to cast their vote to get out.

The survey I did for this thesis was approved by US Army Command Arms Center and supervised to ensure quality. Out of the 780 majors that were sent a survey, 412 responded giving the survey a confidence level of over 95% (Taylor-Powell 1998) and a confidence interval of +/- 5% for a population size of 15,000. This response allows for an accurate assessment of all the majors in the US Army today. Similar survey results were published in June 2006 by a spouse of a CGSC student for Central Michigan University. (Crist 2006)

The thesis explores the potential critical shortage of officers in year groups 91-97 as they start to reach 20-years of service. These officers are the future lieutenant colonels: the battalion commanders and senior staff members of the US Army. This shortage of lieutenant colonels could move this significant shortage from a hardship to an incapacitating element in the US Army's ability to accomplish missions the nation requires.

It is obvious to me that the situation is troublesome and the indications are that the shortage will get substantially worse. More senior-level discussions on this topic are required. There is an opportunity for action, but less options and assets are available the longer no action is taken.

Something must be done to address the issue of the officers in year groups 91-97 from retiring en masse. There are three categories of effort where improvements can be made in the short, near and long term: conduct an information campaign (short term); formalizing incentive programs already in use (near term); and creating monetary bonus similar to those already in use for enlisted Soldiers (long term). Other drastic options are available to address the shortages, but the second order of effects may be too harmful to the US Army.

My thesis discusses many other aspects and options to this major issue, but the open public dialogue is the first step. My thesis is still a draft, so comments (both positive and negative) are welcomed to help improve on the product

GEORGE

18 August 2008

US Army shortage of officers...


The story that is loosely based on my masters thesis has been published by the Washington Post. It missed the mark, but not by much.

04 August 2008

Next Assignment

I have been given my next assignment. I will be at the Pentagon no later than the middle of January, 2009 working on the Quadrennial Defense Review. The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) charts the way ahead for the military over the next 20 years as it confronts current and future challenges and continues its transformation for the 21st century.

Here is the official statement on the QDR: The Secretary of Defense conduct a comprehensive examination (to be known as a “quadrennial defense review”) of the national defense strategy, force structure, force modernization plans, infrastructure, budget plan, and other elements of the defense program and policies of the United States with a view toward determining and expressing the defense strategy of the United States and establishing a defense program for the next 20 years. Each such quadrennial defense review shall be conducted in consultation with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

30 July 2008

Iraq can participate in the Beijing games...

After I saw first hand how the Iraqi soccer team was able to help bring together this new democratic nation last, I thought it was distressing when I learned that Iraq could not participate in the Olympic being held in CHINA… is this not ironic?

UPDATE: The International Olympic Committee ruled today that Iraq could participate in the Beijing games, reversing itself after Baghdad pledged to ensure the independence of its national Olympics panel. A compromise was worked out after mediators from Germany and China became involved in talks, and Iraq pledged to hold free elections for its national Olympic committee under international observation. The IOC had insisted the old committee be reinstated even though four members were kidnapped two years ago. Their fates remain unknown.

Iraq is expected to send two athletes to Beijing to compete in track and field events. The decision came too late for five other hopefuls in archery, judo, rowing and weightlifting. The deadline to submit names for those sports expired last week.

07 July 2008

Success in Iraq

The truth is out there… but not from the liberal media. The blogs have it:

Iraq's efforts on 15 of 18 benchmarks are "satisfactory" — almost twice of what it determined to be the case a year ago. The May 2008 report card, obtained by the Associated Press, determines that only two of the benchmarks — enacting and implementing laws to disarm militias and distribute oil revenues — are unsatisfactory.

Of course, the Associated Press had to put their nasty spin on this wonderful news today... because, 5 years is just way to long to build a functioning democracy in the Middle East:

“No matter who is elected president in November, his foreign policy team will have to deal with one of the most frustrating realities in Iraq: the slow pace with which the government in Baghdad operates.”

It's no wonder Americans do not understand we are winning in Iraq. Even the good news is so slanted you don't know what the heck you are reading.


More good news...
Iraqi officials will take over security responsibility of two more provinces.Already, the Iraqi democracy is in charge of 9 of its 18 provinces.The Democratic government of Iraq will take over responsibility of al-Anbar, a province once reported as lost, and Qadisiya (Diwaniya) Province in the coming days. Severe sandstorms prevented the transfer earlier this week.

Democrats also say more solid progress could have been made had the administration starting pulling troops out sooner.

Of course!

The surrender monkeys have convinced themselves that declaring defeat and handing Iraq over to Al-Qaeda and Iran would have brought this same kind of success :)

06 May 2008

MAJOR CRISIS

There is a Major Crisis in the US Army that receiving very little attention, but is having a critical affect on the military and its ability to continue the high operational tempo: there is a 17% shortage of US Army active duty majors. Half of the specialty branches are so undersized majors that the branches would be considered not ready for combat using the US Army Unit Status Reporting system. For example, the transportation branch is short 50% of requirements for majors with 92% of these officers planning on leaving after they reach 21 years of service, or less.

This predicament dates back to the massive military drawdown in the early to mid-1990s; the US Army decreased its number of officers by 31% and under-accessed newly commissioned second lieutenants following the Cold War and as Operation Desert Storm came to an end. Now twelve years later, increased operations after 9/11 has placed extraordinary strains on those officers, now majors, who came in from 1991-1997. Since 1998, the percentage of majors leaving the service has increased 73%. This exodus is expected to continue its growth as more officers are leaving after 20 years because of the strain multiple deployments are having on their families.

The US Army recently attempted to address the officer deficiency by increasing accessing second lieutenants accessions, early officer promotions, increasing the officer promotion rates (nearly 100% from first lieutenant to captain, and then nearly 100% to major despite Department of the Army guidance of 90% and 80% respectively per DA PAM 600-3), graduate programs, duty station of choice, and retention bonuses up to $35,000 for captains. There are also interservice transfer agreements with the Navy and Air Force under what is known as the “Blue to Green” Program. These programs failed to decrease the growing trend of junior officers departing as soon as they reach their minimum requirement and the field grade officers (field grade officers are defined as officers serving in the rank of major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel) leaving as soon as they reach 20 years of service.

Another statistic of interest is the over 35% of officers that have served more than a year of time as an enlisted Soldier. This number is important because it indicates the percent of officer that will reach 20 years of service sooner than their year group peers.

If the number of officers getting out continues to increase, as indicated in a recent survey, there will be an increase in the total shortage of lieutenant colonels from 8.5% in 2008 to 40% or even 50% by 2012. This deficiency will be even greater in some specialty branches that are already operating at a requirement of fewer than 70% of the authorized required lieutenant colonels.

Not only do lieutenant colonels command battalions, but they are also the direct, senior mentors to the junior officers. From Department of the Army Pamphlet 600-3 2007: “Officers in the grade of lieutenant colonel serve as senior leaders and managers throughout the Army providing wisdom, experience, vision, and mentorship mastered over many years in uniform.” Without quality mentors, the entire professionalism of the US Army officer corps suffers. This tipping point perhaps could be the most destructive aspect of the officer shortage.

The current average number of officers that are leaving the service each year at 20 years of service is 20%. This number is predicted to increase to an average of about 60%. This percentage is even higher in most of the specialty branches that presently have the fewest number of majors required.

Less than 8% of those majors planning to leave the service at 20 years or less noted that nothing would keep them from getting out later; therefore, 92% of the officers could be convinced to stay past their planned retirement at 20 years, with the proper incentive. There is a window of opportunity.

As the nation continues to fight an unpopular war, both nationally and internationally, and over such an extended period, there will be manning issues. Consequently, the overall security of our nation depends on the senior military and civilian leadership to recognize these issues before they become critical and reach a tipping point beyond what can be quickly fixed. It is most likely that the US Army has already reached this point in several of the specialty branches.
More discussion is needed, but it is apparent that the situation is bad and getting worse. The longer the military takes to seize the opportunity to take action, the less options and assets the US Army will have.

GEORGE

20 April 2008

Time to Reflect…

It has been four months now since my return from Iraq. As I look back on the last few months, my time in Iraq seems so many years ago… almost a different lifetime. I get the same feeling now as I got when I had returned from Desert Storm… remembering is like recalling an old movie; an actor I saw, not really something I did. I guess the mind has its own way with dealing with memories.

15 months away from family and the comfort of the environment I grew up in was very difficult. 15 months of working seven days a week and 16-18 hour days, no holidays, was demanding. Living 15 months in a combat zone was not enjoyable. But was it worth it? It saddens me to say that only time will tell. There is the possibility that our efforts in the Middle-East may be the single greatest endeavor our country has been involved with since WWII and the Marshall plan… but our next president will have to close the deal. There is also the possibility that Iraq and the Middle-East will revert back to the way it was ten years ago, all our efforts, blood and treasure wasted.

But are we winning? I say yes, for two reasons: (1) Iraq is no longer in the headline news. Good news does not happen in spectacular fashion (ie large explosion with hundreds dead), it is often the lack of news that is good (ie no explosion, zero dead). This does not play well in the media. And, (2) not only has their not been a terrorist attack in America since 9/11, but the world is at relative peace. I freely admit that people are still not playing nice in the world - but it is much better than our fathers or grand-fathers can remember. Even I grew up with the fear of the USSR and US on edge with the capability to blow the entire world up several times over.

Over the past four hundred years, the world has only gotten better at killing. General estimates place lives deliberately extinguished in the 1800s by politically motivated carnage at around 45 Million compared to 170 million in the 1900s. Heck, since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace. During this 5,600 year period there have been almost 15 thousands wars, in which over 3.6 billion people have been killed. To put this in perspective, the current population of the world today is around 6.6 billion.

The good news is that the world is becoming a better place to live, but we have a very long ways to go.

I'm now in Ft Leavenworth, KS in the Command and General Staff College until December of this year. It is very much like a school environment, and in fact I am also working on another Masters degree while I am here. I have picked back up my hobbies of making beer, getting out in the yard, exploring the area, and just gathering with friends. There is plenty of time to relax, reflex and recharge.

I want to thank you for all the support you've given me during the deployment - I hope to expand my travels this summer and fall and even make some speaking engagements… please let me know if you'd like for me to try and stop by.

Take care!
George

16 December 2007

15 DEC 07: I have been in Baghdad for 432 days – IT IS MY FINAL DAY.

I started my last day at just a little after 3am this morning to watch on the Armed Forces Network (AFN) Appalachian State WIN the Football National Championship (49 to 21 vs. Delaware) for an unprecedented third year in a row :)

I’ll start my long awaited trip home late tonight; I anticipate it will take me about four days to make it to Ft Hood, Texas and then another three days there for “re-integration” training. My next assignment will be the Command and General Staff College in Ft Leavenworth, Kansas starting the end of January.

It has been one hell of an experience being part of this difficult birth of a democracy in the center of the Middle East; but I guess there can be no real satisfaction in life without obstacles to conquer. History is made by those that can have a vision of the future and actively supporting positive transformation… even when it is neither easy nor trendy.

Thank you for your support of me – many times I was not too sure I could see the light at the end of this incredibly lengthy tunnel, but a friend or family member was always there to center my direction.

I’ve also had the pleasure on this tour to meet some extraordinary Heroes that would truly humble me and remind me of my phenomenal honor it is to serve.

I have countless stories … and I look forward to share them with you and catch up on what I have missed in the near future.

GEORGE

03 December 2007

Geraldo Rivera has had a great line of reports from Iraq recently – I’ve always seen him as a bit too much into “sensational” journalism… but he is be the only national reporter brave enough to get out in the streets and tell the great story of the successes in Iraq. Just six months ago, there was not one national media reporter or one democrat that gave us an ounce of hope. There is more to being proud of our Soldiers than just simple “we support the troops”; the pride should be in the substantial achievements within all the sacrifices.

GEORGE

02 December 2007

Life experiences

Cousin Betsy and Boy Scout Troop 969 (VA) sent me a couple more boxes of school supplies and Beanie Babies for Iraqi children. I was able to get the boxes to a different orphanage this time; one that was made infamous by Lara Logan of CBS/60 minutes. Conditions have improved there – but some of the children are still really bad off (two have died).

The school supplies were given off camera, but I should have the still photos posted on my web site in the next day or so.

>>> 419 days here... 12 days to go and I start my trip home; in fact, I am homeless right now, but after 17 years in the military, I guess home is just where the family is.

This has been one hell of a life experience. I’m very proud of my minor contributions over the past 14 months (my third war, including Desert Storm and Bosnia) to the continuing effort to bring about lasting world peace and security; and the major successes no one can dispute – but my tour has been a too extended and I need some rest. I am a bit burnt out...

I expect to leave Iraq and travel to Kuwait for a day or two. If all goes well, I will be in Ft Hood, Texas on the 18th of December. I will have to take a few days of Army “reintegration” training and then jump on an airplane to Germany to be there on Christmas Eve.

I will return to Ft Hood on the 6th of January to “out-process”; and then travel to North Carolina to be there around the 13th. After some family time, I’ll drive back west to Ft Leavenworth, KS and be there by the 27th of January to start the Army’s Command and General Staff College. That assignment will be for one year.

For now, all I can do is try to remember what it was like not to be a target of daily indirect fire, not to work 16-18 hours everyday, seven days a week… not living in such a tiny room, not sharing a shower with about 50 different guys (no dependable hot water), and not having to walk a mile to and from each meal when I found the time to eat… I think the first thing I will do is go out to a restaurant with table service, start and finish with a beer : ) then walk to my hotel room, take a 30 min hot shower and then and sleep for nine hours.

GEORGE

19 November 2007

Page A-14

I think America is the only country in world history that reverse-propagandizes itself, magnifying its setbacks and ignoring its successes. The media of today would of had us out of WWII months after D-Day after the set-backs progressing past the beachhead in the hedges. What would our world be like today...

When U.S. troop deaths hit a monthly high in April this year, it was front page news in most major newspapers. But when U.S. Soldier deaths fell in October to their lowest levels in 17 months, that news was buried on page A-14 of the Washington Post and on A-12 in the New York Times.

AND: Al-Qaeda's support in the Muslim world has plummeted, partly because of the terror group's lack of success in Iraq, more because al-Qaeda's attacks have mostly killed Muslim civilians. They have been run out of Baghdad, partly by there own sect (Sunni).

Since the last soldiers of the 'surge' deployed last May, Baghdad has undergone a remarkable transformation: No longer do the streets empty at dusk. Liquor stores and cinemas have reopened for business. Some shops stay open until late into the evening. Children play in parks, young women stay out after dark, restaurants are filled with families and old men sit at sidewalk cafes playing backgammon and smoking shisha pipes.

We've won the war in the real Iraq, but few people in America are familiar with anything other than its make-believe version from our own media.

09 November 2007

Veterans’ Day #2

I am now here for my second Veterans’ Day in a row; ironic how the government gets this whole weekend off…

395 days done and I should be back in the states a day or so before Christmas. It is the final countdown- and what little time I’ve had each week to write in this blog is going away (not to mention the Army has blocked my ability to get to this blog web site). I hope to get in one or two more entries; and then after being back for a few weeks – one last update. I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts... to agree or disagree; I have truly enjoyed the feedback and support.

I will miss this interesting and demanding job... I live near the Baghdad international airport on the edge of the city and I work almost daily with the Iraqis (from the man on the street to senior level politicians and businessmen). This is still a dangerous place, but the people here are doing better and so appreciate the basics. It is so upsetting watching our (US) media cover Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears etc and all their troubles, when there are some good people here happy to just have water and a secure trip to the market. I have seen true heroes (both American and Iraqi) risk their lives for the future welfare of a nation and the stability of this part of the world (and in turn, our safety). Then I see our media cover the Oscars and Emmis like these actors are who we want to be... I tell you, the coverage should be on real life (and by this, I do not mean “reality” TV) - because it is much more to be proud of (and interesting).

Our Soldiers live here in Iraq on average for 12-15 months at a time working long hours seven days a week; most on their second or third tour. Away from family; comforts of home; normality; and safety... but most are very proud of what they do and would never ask to be recognized for their daily accomplishments - but as the situation here becomes more stable; and celebrities continue to drive drunk/take drugs/get divorced/ect - this life our American Soldier live will too become ancient history in our short term memory, like all the rest: We have forgotten the Soldiers in Bosnia, Korea, Africa, Central America, etc. All away from home and family - protecting the world from bad people. Quiet professional Soldiers… Happy Veterans’ Day

GEORGE

* "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men/women do nothing."

27 October 2007

World Youth...

Today and yesterday I passed along some happiness from America to Iraq.

Yesterday I was able to visit a Hospital in Baghdad in an area called Adhamiyah, and found some children there (some from the orphanage next door) and today I visited an elementary school in a village called Makasib. All I saw was the biggest smiles (children/parents/teachers) as I passed out hundreds of new Beanie Babies and school supplies from Boy Scout Troop 969 (help organized by my cousin Betsy) from Virginia.

I also got a couple of dozen letters from the Scouts – very moving thoughts from such young men… it makes me so proud to know of the thoughtfulness, concern, and compassion in our American youth.

There is much hope in the youth of our world… They have no understanding why some people hate others so much – and perhaps they never will.

GEORGE

18 October 2007

The Zoo...

I like Zoos… Everywhere I have visited, I have made the point to visit their zoo.

Today I went to the Baghdad Zoo – not a standard trip to the zoo with full battle gear on and weapons loaded, but this is not a typical city.

The first thing I noticed is how normal life seemed - it was a nice cool morning and love was in the air. I saw so many couples having picnics, using the paddle boats, and even holding hands… Families seemed very happy and all the children smiled and waved at the group of Soldiers (we might have been just as interesting as the animals).

The Baghdad zoo was built in 1971 and was the largest zoo in the Middle East hosting 1.5 million visitors a year and 600 animals. During the 2003 invasion, the Iraqi Republican Guard troops used the zoo as a defensive position – following the invasion, only 35 animals remained.

The zoo and surrounding park reopened to the public on July 20, 2003 and was the home to 86 animals. Conservation organizations such as the Born Free Foundation, Wild Aid, Care for the Wild, the International Fund for Animal Warfare, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals to restore the zoo and improve the health of the animals.

Currently, there are over 500 animals at the zoo representing 100 species; many from private zoos owned by the Hussein family.

I spent some time getting to know some monkeys; made it to feeding time for the lions (nine lions vs. three donkeys each day); and hung out with Mr Hussein’s private horse.

It was a nice and almost normal day.

GEORGE

13 October 2007

Nothing to Report

Not much new to report – by nothing new I mean that:

Criminals/fanatics still randomly fire rockets into American camps and set off road side bombs. But the numbers of attacks/injuries/deaths maintain a downward trend.

The Iraqi politicians are still out for themselves first, their sect second, and the Iraqi people they represent last.

Daily life for the Iraqis has become more safe and routine; and they are getting used to the freedoms of speech/communications (satellite TV/internet/independent local newspapers/cell phones/etc).

Essential services continue to improve. The biggest complaint has always been electricity, but local micro power generation as augmented the national grid and power is now available almost all day in the majority of Baghdad.

Local businesses are popping up everywhere like mushrooms.

Traffic Jams are common.

Industry has started; a few already at western standards.

The only major change I can report is that the high temperatures have finally dipped below triple digits… this is a noticeable and welcomed change.

GEORGE

04 October 2007

Stability and Security

Stability and security depends on the knowledge that if you do wrong, that you will be caught, and there will be a negative impact on you directly. This works (or doesn’t work) on the local level just as it works (or doesn’t work) on the global scale. When a rouge nation abuses its power; ignores its responsibility to the citizens; and harms its neighbors there must be known, dependable, and swift consequences.

Like it or not, America has a responsibility (and desire) to support stability in the world- yet after Vietnam and Beirut, the world saw that our government was not up to this dependability and was not able to stay the course during the evils of war.

Desert Storm also added to our mistakes by (1) not completing the mission (removing the dictator/supporting the revolution) and (2) making massive reductions in the US military during a critical time in history (the collapse of the USSR).

America then stood by, and did virtually nothing after the bombing of the Khobar Towers; USS Cole; two Embassies; Twin Towers (the first time) and ran from Somalia after one disastrous mission.

Our failure and lack of action has had massive international repercussions.

The US shoulders the lead with treasure, blood, and the ethical burden of the lethal challenge of killing those who want to slaughter us. Most of our allies limit their support for fear of reprisals. Sacrifices are required… If the world would have stood with us on Iraq to start with, this war would have never been necessary.

Even the US Government has not stood together 100%, but the mission and Soldiers have been maintained and we now have the positive results we have fought so hard for.

GEORGE

26 September 2007

Thank You

I have said it before – and now it is visible to most… Iraq has hit the tipping point and is now moving quicker and faster toward a more secure and stable country. This is an exciting time for Iraq and success in our mission, even when many said we were failing. Granted, most of the cries for surrender came from politicians, only interested in getting votes - not in doing the right thing; or by our media, hell bent on giving doom and gloom stories because it sells better.

In Baghdad, people are going about their business, the shops are open, and they’re filling the streets. You are greeted by children who laugh and adults that smile and gave the thumbs up. There is a sense of normalcy - people getting on with their lives.

But it is not over…

While security has improved with Iraqis turning away from al-Qaida, there are still neighborhoods where fighting remains intense. It's still very dangerous and al-Qaida has sort of dug in some of the neighborhoods; the Iraqi Army, National Police, Iraqi police and U.S. and coalition forces are still engaged in some very heavy, tough fighting.

To those who have supported us; believed in us; and never wavered after we were attacked by al-Qaida in 9/11… Thank You.

GEORGE

22 September 2007

War...

There will always be war…

As far back as history can tell us, mankind has killed each other- and continued to get better at it. On this beautiful planet, we have cycles of stability; then in a region of the world, one person lets power corrupt; this person wants more and more… and is so distant from reality, has no problem doing anything to get it; most of the population suffers, and often it spreads to neighboring counties; then, the citizens from that country rise up, or another country attempts to help; then we have a war being fought; just more misery of the people because of one person’s desire for power…

Afterwards we promise never to fight again – because we have learned how awful war is…

the problem is- people forget

the unimaginable human suffering

the direct experience of death

the permanent loss of family and friends

the unimaginable sum of man-made devastation

the destruction of the irreplaceable

the quantity of carnage

the magnitude of maiming

the colossal amount of terror

the lack of basic security

the economic ruin

the feeling of hopelessness; despair; emptiness…

Reading about war; seeing movies about it; hearing the stories in all it’s glory is not the same as living it… it is not the same at all.

War IS hell – all that can be done to avoid it should be done, but the key is to not wait too long (because waiting will make this very bad siruation even worse)… it is evil, but a necessary evil that we will never outgrow… sad.

GEORGE

15 September 2007

Middle East Miracle

I have read over and over again recently about how we have made numerous military gains here in Iraq, but slight advancement on the political side. What is missed in all of this is the massive amount of Iraqi political pressure that is being placed on the militias and Iran to stop the hostilities.

I have been in meetings, every few days, with exceptionally senior ranking officials in the Iraqi government- and each and every one of them are finding ways to support security for this nation.

Even the tribal leaders – who once fully supported fighting Americans – have turned 180 degrees and are now working side by side with our Soldiers. Thousands upon thousands of volunteers, in what were the most violent neighborhoods, are securing critical sites.

The politicians here may be having trouble passing meaningful legislation, not much different than our own government, but they are running the country and making it a better place to live.
You can be for or against this mission in Iraq – but no one can avoid the obvious progress that is being made here – and a stable democratic Iraq, in the Middle East is nothing short of a miracle…

GEORGE

11 September 2007

9/11

Do you remember how you felt on 9/11? The world changed.

A day when almost 3,000 people were murdered. Do you remember watching on the television as the Work Trade Center towers were pierced by airplanes and then collapsed? What about the Pentagon? And a field in Pennsylvania? Remember how you felt then?

We were attacked – not by a country but by a shadow group that likes to shoot us in the back when we least expect it. How does that make you feel?

We were violated and the world should never look the same. We no longer have the feeling of security we thought we had…

The Islamic fundamentalists want nothing more than the total destruction of freedom, America and all we represent. These fundamentalists do not threaten more attacks, they promise them.

How do you feel now? Does it still make you angry?

GEORGE

09 September 2007

100

Today marks 100 days to go... I would have been going home this month (one year), but the surge and the extension will now have me here until around Christmas.

I have the opportunity every week to see many Troopers soon after they have been wounded – what really amazes me, is that no matter how serious the injury, the Soldier’s motivation is still high. They typically have the same requests: 1) let his unit know he is ok and 2) that this will not keep him down.

It blows me away each and every time – when entering their room, they attempt to salute and look strong – there is no self-pity. They are true heroes that would never admit to it. Those quiet and humble professionals that see the world as a place they can contribute to, and not as what the world owes him.

I am proud, that as a country, we can honor these courageous heroes that supersedes all political views.

GEORGE

06 September 2007

Support

I have been asked what could be done to support the troops – directly.

For me – I only ask for one thing: photos from home. My wife and family have done very well taking care of me…

But…

Many of our Soldiers came here with little to no supporting family; girl/boy friend or wife/husband that have left them (could not wait – or just wandered off with someone else); battle buddies that have died or left because of wounds. If they could have anything on this 15 month deployment, it would be to know someone back home is waiting for them. There needs to be a pen-pal system in place.

Other items that are great to get (to be honest, just getting a box/letter is what is really important):

1) Home-made anything is very popular, but keep in mind that the mail goes a long way, so things crumble. Also, the temperatures will melt food items with chocolate.
2) Drink mixes - artificially sweetened. Instant teas are especially popular, but also the vitamin drink mixes from crystal light. As we move into winter, cocoa, tea and coffee will get more popular.
3) Otter pops are a nice treat, now that some out posts have a way to freeze them.
4) Jerky is huge - Slim Jims, too.
5) Chips, Cheeze-Its, snack crackers (like nabs), trail mix, nuts, granola bars, etc.
6) Snack mixes (like chex party mix, cajun spice crunch, poppycock, etc).
7) Candy like: Twizzlers, gum, tootsie rolls, caramels, suckers, (no need for hard candy, we have plenty).
8) Health and beauty aid items: shave cream, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razor blades, disposable razors, deodorant, etc.
9) Magazines: muscle/fitness, cars, sports, women's/men's magazines (however; pornography is against the rules)
10) Good Coffee and powdered cream
11) Phone cards
12) Photos…

For the Iraqis (given out on the streets by our Soldiers):
1) School supplies (paper, pens, and backpacks)
2) Toys
3) Children’s clothes

If interested - you can send directly to me (until Chistmas) and I will deliver. Email me for my address: Brown-George@US.Army.mil

This site has a good listing of supporting web sites*:
www.military.com/benefits/resources/support-our-troops

*I have seen more support from USO than any other group

GEORGE

01 September 2007

A Good Night in Iraq...

ASU- 34
Michigan- 32


What is being called the biggest upset in all of college football history:

Appalachian State University (Boone, NC), my alma mater, and a level below Division I college football- the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS, formally known as Division I-AA)

DEFEATED

Michigan- ranked #5 in the nation. The game was played in Michigan…

ASU has won the Football Championship Subdivision two years in a row (in a playoff system)… and is well on the way to a threepeat.

I talked before in this blog (see title "300") how football is a great distracter to this 15 month deployment – and with my ASU winning tonight, it was the greatest diversion I could ask for. I smiled; cheered out loud; jumped up and down; wore my ASU hat; and told anyone walking by how proud I am to be from ASU. It was a good night- and good nights are really hard to come by here…

WOW – Go Mountaineers!!!


GEORGE

29 August 2007

The Salute

I have always been a bit uncomfortable when asked to stand up and singled out at a major show or sporting event to honor those who are or have been in the service (but I always stand up). Not that I’m not proud of what I do – but because standing up brings too much attention directly to me, when the true honor is to those who over the hundreds of years have give there life before I was even born. We have something very special, but it did not come easy, nor by those content to just complain and take no real action.

I did not know this, but a US bill (S.1877) clarifying U.S. law to allow veterans and servicemen not in uniform to salute the flag has been passed. The old law (US Code Title 4, Chapter 1) stated that veterans and servicemen not in uniform should place their hand over their heart without clarifying whether they can or should salute the flag.

From U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK): "The salute is a form of honor and respect, representing pride in one's military service, veterans and service members continue representing the military services even when not in uniform. I look forward to seeing those who have served saluting proudly at baseball games, parades, and formal events. I believe this is an appropriate way to honor and recognize the 25 million veterans in the United States who have served in the military and remain as role models to others citizens. Those who are currently serving or have served in the military have earned this right, and their recognition will be an inspiration to others."

I could of not said it better myself.

25 August 2007

Sunrise or Sunset?


Fact: The ‘surge' (both in numbers and living into the local neighborhoods) of U.S. troops has lowered the violence in and around Baghdad, and given the Iraqi government a chance to succeed.

The Bottom Line: If the Iraqi government can't or won't use the window of opportunity provided by the surge, the U.S. might have to switch strategy. There's a frustration by Iraqi citizens and military leaders with PM Maliki’s inability to be a reconciliation leader, and a fear that the momentum generated by the surge could be lost. But there is still time... and PM Maliki seems to be making efforts - and we are at the tipping point...

GEORGE

20 August 2007

Tipping Point


There has been a positive tipping point in this war on so many fronts:

Liberal think tank members that have recently visited Iraq are reporting positive trends, and are now calling for a strategic patience for the effort. This is a major change from the excessive doom and gloom reported before, and the demand for a complete and immediate retreat.

The local Iraqi population is not reporting security as their main concern any more. Attacks are way down (and crime: esp murders) and bombings are becoming much less effective because of the walled areas with security checkpoints.

Calls to the “Tips Lines” by local Iraqis are way up with credible and actionable information.

Most Iraqis complain about essential services. This is partly due to the extra electricity demand caused by new air conditioners; refrigerators; satellite TV; etc, that were not available in abundance before the war. This, and all the extra trash now being created, are difficult to deal with, but are signs of progress.

What is often not reported is that the citizens ARE getting close to 20 hours of electricity a day; the reported 2-3 hours a day is the free electricity from the government, the rest of the electricity is being bought off the local economy. I often fly over the Baghdad area at night – and I see the lights on in and around every house.

Our Soldiers are living with the Iraqis. This could be a very dangerous situation, yet there is a trend emerging of far fewer American deaths and injuries over the last two months (JUL-AUG).

The Iraqi Security Forces are becoming more reliable and conducting missions on their own.

Iraqi health care system and emergency services (first responders) are coming on line.

Markets are packed full of people every day. This includes some major markets that were dead as recent as eight months ago – yet in many markets, hundreds of vendors (reaching capacity) and thousands of shoppers are filling the streets today.

Before the war, there was a very limited land-line phone system. Now, just about everyone has a cell phone… or two… or more.

I now see the children out playing (like in the photo, in the pool). They smile at the Soldiers when they walk the street.

The Iraqi national soccer team (a mix of all sects) won the Asian Cup – a real national pride has surged because of this.

The Iraqi government is reaching out to all political groups to form a larger and stronger unity coalition. The parliament may be on summer recess, but some work is being done.

Both local and national government is learning to manage and spend their budget. The government here is not short money – it is short in an experienced government to run a country of 26 million (six million in Baghdad)… but it is learning.

Sunni tribes are turning on Sunni Al Qa’ida. Al Qa’ida was too radical with forcing its very strict religious practices and was indiscriminate in who it killed in the mass vehicle bomb attacks.

It has become a well know fact that Iran is supporting many of the insurgent groups in Iraq. Having this is the open had made it more difficult for Iran to operate as freely in Iraq as it has in the recent past.

Even our own media is starting to report the good news… or just not reporting on Iraq at all. In either case, there is much less bad news to report. I can only hope that the leaders we trust in Washington put politics behind them and do the right - not just what they feel it takes to get re-elected.


GEORGE

17 August 2007

Family Reunion

I've a family reunion this weekend – I’ll of course miss it, as I have often recently because of my job; but I still have great memories of the ones I did make:

I remember the drive, and knowing I was very close when I found the “barrel” house. The challenge then was finding the correct dirt road to turn on

I remember once I was close, just about every house in sight was of someone I was related to

I remember showing up, around noon – there would be a hundred people, some unfamiliar, but feeling very comfortable and at home

I remember the best BBQ ever – the whole pig roasting over the fire in a homemade grill with homemade “Carolina” sauce

I remember the plates never being large enough to hold all the food

I remember the sweet tea; Wow that was good stuff

I remember always having space for the great cream style corn from my grandmother

I remember getting three different kinds of stuffing and three different kinds of deviled eggs

I remember, no matter how full I was, going back for dessert – I would get several, including the coconut cake… also from my grandmother

I remember spending a lot of time attempting to figure out how the kids my age were related to me

I remember all the Aunts telling me how little I used to be

I remember horseshoes (the game, for those not from the South and do not make that automatic connection)

I remember feeding the chickens (and the story of how my Great-Grandmother could just pop the neck of the chicken… and how I think one poor chicken was a pet of my Mom, when she was young… but not for too long)

I remember how much fun it was exploring the area around my Great-Grandmother’s house; I think I remember there was a very, very old still in the large dilapidated storage house.

I remember finding pecans and crushing two together to eat right on the spot

I remember those who arrived first, left last because their cars were blocked in by everyone else

I remember how friendly everyone was – nothing but smiles and many many great hugs (oh and lots of delicious, scrumptious, mouth-watering, delectable, yummy food… did I mention that already?)

I do not remember the ride home; I think I was asleep, every time…

George or "Tripp"

15 August 2007

What have we forgotten?


We are at war with Al Qa’ida. They have attacked us over and over and over again before 9/11 (www.haveweforgotten911.com). Our nation had had enough (about time) and we launched a campaign to defeat this terror. Just killing them (we do this well) does not work – that is just like kicking the ant mound (see “Fire Ants” below)… we must change the environment in the region. That is what we are attempting to do in Iraq.

Peace and democracy is not easy to create from a dictatorship – in a region that has only known conflict and little essential services infrastructure. The American military leaders here work seven days a week; 17-18 hours a day; short meal breaks; every moment of the day accounted for… even getting briefing while moving from one meeting to another; out with the Soldiers; for 15 months with only one two week vacation – on top of getting shot at or experience incoming indirect fire every week... But on TV, who do you see more... reporters and politicians who visit only for a few days? It that where you have formed your opinion from?

There are many Soldiers that never leave the Forward Operation Base (FOB) in Iraq, and some that when they do leave, are just moving from one place to another (no interaction with the population). These jobs are well respected, dangerous and very much required for our military to operate, but their blogs are also not where you should derive your opinion on this mission from. Get the “ground truth” from the military leaders that are fully engaged in the complete spectrum of this process.

I have the opportunity to converse to both the senior leaders of Iraq and the common citizens of Baghdad every week… There are incredibly excellent reasons for you to be extremely proud of this mission and how your Soldiers are going about to be successful.

While there is a distrust of virtually anything the US administration says about Iraq, real military progress (both combat and economic projects) is taking place and the US State Department in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political progress. Additionally, a substantial numbers of tribal leaders have turned against Al Qa’ida; the number of total attacks/events has gone way down; murder (both crime and sectarian) rates are at a fraction of the numbers from last year; the massive increase of actionable tips from Iraqi citizens; more of Baghdad is secure than ever; and the US causality numbers have been cut in half.

I admit, like the “drug war”, it will be virtually impossible to fully defeat terrorism – but ask anyone that has lost a family member or friend to drugs or a terrorist act if what we do to limit the impact is worth it… and if we should have been doing more sooner.

Al Qa’ida does not care if it loses every battle – only that they just survive until we give up. Thank God American public support is increasing a bit now for patience in favor of success in this mission. I think this is partly because they see we are “winning”; but more because our eyes are being opened to what our world can be if we lose.


GEORGE

11 August 2007

“Victory”

Americans are still concerned with finding ways to define “victory” in Iraq, yet virtually the entire world already perceives the US as having decisively lost. We probably cannot entirely reverse these attitudes, however, we may be able to improve them over time. It seems likely that the US will ultimately be judged far more by how it leaves Iraq, and what it leaves behind, than how it entered Iraq. Our global image, and how we see ourselves, is at stake.

We are winning – change in an area like this could be expected to take decades, if not hundreds of years… this is just how it is here, where much is the same as it was in biblical times. Yet despite this, many rapid changes are happening: success of joint security (and less Soldiers getting hurt or killed), reconciliation and the increasing ineffectiveness the insurgents are giving the government a chance to organize itself to provide essential services (water, sewer, electricity) to the people. A central democratic government is very difficult to run, even in the best of situations, but in this region the concept is similar to America deciding to change from a Capitalistic Democracy to fully state run Communism during the conditions of the depression. It takes time.

Never has the single most powerful nation on earth taken over the responsibility to bring independent democracy to other countries. In the past, (Romans, Ottoman Empire, British Empire, etc), as the balance of power has shifted to just one country- that country was intent to use that power to plant their flag around the world. In contrast- America has a history of going to war, winning, and then becoming that nation’s best friend. This dates back in our own history, when much like Iraq and Afghanistan; we were occupied by France to help gain our independence. And to put things in perspective- it took eight years from the start of the revolutionary war until the Treaty in Paris. We are directly part of a noble quest and I am so very proud to be part of this slice of history that will be significant for centuries to come.


GEORGE

06 August 2007

300

300 days here; 134 to go…

While I am still here, I have stuff to look forward to (only stuff I can get in Iraq - the stuff I look forward to outside of Iraq is too long of a list...)

I look forward to hearing from and seeing photos from home (home is not a location; home is where the family is).

I look forward to having the time to write to this blog (the goal is once a week); and checking every couple of days for comments.

I look forward to the weather cooling off (but I guess I'll have to deal with the rain and mud then).

I look forward to mail call.

I look forward to the days I finish work early… by 2200 (10pm)

I look forward to when the MPs bring in the military working dogs for a rest day in the HQ.

I look forward to football season (1SEP) – by the time the NFL season and NCAA bowl games are over, I will be done.

I look forward to the football games that serve as a reminder that we have made it to the end of another week. I can’t wait to see Appalachian State football win their third straight national championship and the Panthers to make it back to the super bowl. It would also be nice to see NC State make a bowl game.

I look forward to finding out in November if I will become an exchange student with the Irish military for one year. The odds of this are very low, but I submitted for it anyway.

I look forward to days when I have time to take a nice long jog.

I look forward to peaceful flights over Baghdad and the surrounding areas – watching the city go about their lives. The markets are full, the streets are full of cars and children are out on the soccer field playing…

I look forward to having the opportunity to talk to the common citizen of Baghdad and learning the “ground truth”.

I look forward to seeing the progress here; the whole time I have been here I have not seen it get worse. 20 years from now I want what we did here to have real meaning for the world; just like the sacrifices a couple of generations ago directly effected who I married to today : )

I look forward to the end of each day; taking a quick shower and enjoy a bit of silence before falling asleep.

I look forward to taking a day away from my countdown calendar each early morning.

I look forward to the days that no one dies; and even better, when no one is even hurt. That is been happening more and more often recently – but not nearly often enough.

GEORGE

01 August 2007

How do you know you are winning?

I propose that there is not a proper in progress measurement for true lasting success in Iraq while fully engaged, especially during a this surge of American troops. This is like attempting to get your car’s tire pressure while moving on the highway at 65 mph. But it is possible to know you are “winning”; the key is not just knowing, but then doing something about it; not the necessary the same thing.

There has been experiment after experiment in the US that has shown an increase in policemen in an area appears to have no significant effect on the actual rate of violent crime, and a roughly proportionate negative effect on the actual rate of property crime. The same could be said in parts of Iraq where the surge has found more “crime” and caused panic attacks from the anti-Iraq forces (similar to attempting to catch a cat and during the chase, trapping him in a corner causing a panic attack directly at you). But recently, the numbers of events have actually gone down (lowest in eight months); markets have gone from practically dead to hundreds of stores, filled with merchandise; schools open (also allowing female children); hospitals and emergency services able to respond; and essential services coming on-line (by the government or private enterprise). I propose this the key indicator that we are winning and that we can start removing our Soldiers now from living with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

The irony is that as more intertwined we become with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) with the co-habitation surge and in the Joint Security Stations (JSS), the more [not less] dependent the ISF is to us. The American Soldiers is a great example to follow, but also has the habit of taking on too much responsibility and leadership (taking assuming on the role of the alpha male). It is time to start pulling back and give the opportunity for the ISF and the government to fail and learn from mistakes and learn to succeed.

We should take our cue from nature: during the time of training young eagles to fly, the mother eagle throws the eaglets out of the nest and because they are scared, they jump into the nest again. Next, she throws them out and then takes off the soft layers of the nest, leaving thorns. When the scared eaglets jump into the nest again, they are pricked by thorns. Shrieking and bleeding they jump out again this time wondering why the mother and father who love them so much are torturing them. Next, mother eagle pushes them off the cliff into the air. As they shriek in fear, father eagle flies out and picks them upon his back before they fall, and brings them back to the cliff. This goes on for some time until they start flapping their wings. They get excited at this newfound knowledge that they can fly and not fall at such a fast rate...alone.

We have given and demonstrated to the ISF and GoI the proper tools needed for success with security; our job now is to move to a close over-watch position and allow the incubation of this infant democracy develop into the type of free government that matches the culture and in turn become both permanent and contagious in the region. The situation is some areas will get worse, like the thorns, but is will be part of the growing pain. I recommend we do this soon, and under the leadership of the military commanders on the ground before our leaders 6211 miles away take this decision away from us.

The point of measurement of lasting success will start after the removal of American Soldiers in the JSSs and concentrate on the avenues into the city and the borders of Iraq. I would expect there would be an initial increase of negative events, but like the young eaglet, the panic of new found freedom of flight will eventually have Iraq flying on their own.

There will be issues in Iraq for many years – but that is to be expected. The American experiment with democracy and capitalism for 231 years has had many ups and downs… many of the downs have been nothing to be proud of, but the final product is. I expect Iraq will have many of the same experiences, but now that the people of Iraq have tasted freedom, they will never let go.


GEORGE

31 July 2007

Sad day in Iraq...

Iraq's parliament adjourned today (31 July) for over a month (until 4 September), as key lawmakers declared there was no point waiting any longer for the prime minister to deliver Washington-demanded benchmark legislation for their vote.

The Iraqi Security Forces are improving – but the government is stubborn and is getting very little done. They were elected by the people and for the people of Iraq, but they have forgotten that (or never cared); but I guess the government of Iraq has learned this from many of our own politicians (who are also taking the month off with almost all of the US budget issues still on the table).

While the Iraq government is on vacation, our Soldiers will still be on guard next to the Iraqi Security Forces... it was over 140 degrees today.

30 July 2007

Is Soccer the Answer?

Iraq delivered an inspirational soccer victory Sunday by winning for the first time ever the Asian Cup with a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia, a beacon of hope for a nation divided by war.

It was an extraordinary triumph for a team drawn together from all parts of the Gulf and with its players straddling bitter and violent ethnic divides.

The jubilation over the team known as the "Lions of the Two Rivers" gave Iraqis a rare respite from the daily violence. The victorious run sent men of all ages cheering and dancing in Baghdad*.

Iraqis welcomed the victory as a chance to show the world they can come together and expressed frustration that their politicians couldn't do the same.


*One sad note - the traditional firing of weapons in the air was discouraged by both the government and from the speakers of the mosques; yet several people were killed when the bullets came back to earth.