It has been a pretty long last couple of days and its about time for us to take a break, so we are having a 24 hour stand down and maintenance day. I can’t tell you how important it is for us to take a day to just relax sometimes. This last 24 hours had been pretty rough, and we all were getting pretty edgy, that’s for sure. But, now that we have had a day off, we are re-energized, and ready to go at it again.
Having been around the block a couple of times, I can say it’s pretty amazing how far the military has come in the past few years. The gear that the modern Marine gets issued now a day is so much more sophisticated then it was even 10 years ago. During the first Gulf War, I remember I had an M-16, a set of bino’s and crude set of Night Vision goggles. We wrote letters with pen and paper, computers were huge desktop items the size of suitcases, and I still had an old Sony walkman and a bunch of cassette tapes.
Today’s military has it so much different. Now, my rifle is an m-4 carbine, with laser sights, and optical target enhancers so I don’t really even have to aim, just put the red dot on the target. I have a small pocket sized GPS, a digital camera the size of a box of cigarettes, a digital radio that I can communicate with for miles that weighs like 3 pounds, and fits inside my pocket. I have a laptop computer, DVD’s that store my entire music library on 1 disk, and optical bino’s that way less than 12 ounces that can tell me the direction I am heading in. I have a wireless mike that I can use to talk to my team members, Thermal sights that can let me see through walls, and a telescoping lens that will allow me to shoot a target from 2000 meters away and put a round right through a 4 inch hole.
All this stuff and here I am finding myself having to teach the basics of military skills. The Iraqi’s, as I learned, can’t read a map. They have a very hard time shooting at things farther than 20 feet away, and they don’t have the discipline to learn how to use the radio, because they have trouble understanding the manual.
My concern is that I think we have forgotten what it took to get here. We have become reliant on technology to do the job for us, and have forsaken the simple field skills that most every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine will need to survive once the batteries run out. I thought for a long time that I was a techno holdout, because I prefer the compass and map to the GPS. I have a computer, but I still write my orders by hand. I keep written records instead of electronic ones, and I prefer the iron sights on my rifle. I think that gives me the edge when I am teaching the Iraqi’s, because I understand that they are not so far from me, they don’t have the tech stuff, and I don’t use it. But what about the other soldiers? I have said before that some of my other teams complain that they don’t have the newest gear to do this job or accomplish that task. Since when in the service, does that matter? You are expected to accomplish the mission any way you can, but do you have the basic skills to do the job? If you remember the basics, then it should be easy. But if you don’t practice the basics, and rely on the tech to do the work, then you are just asking for trouble.
Case in point. The Iraqi commander can’t read a map very well. He has a small GPS, but it’s in English, so he can’t really use it, and it doesn’t make sense to him in the first place. So, how I tell him where to go and how to get there? Well, I break out the old handy map, and with my handy compass, I show him how to read the map, and plot a point, and navigate from one point to another. He was pretty excited about that. Lesson learned.
Another example. Communications are key on the battle field, but the Iraqi’s don’t have radios. Some of my other teams were at the point where they had decided to do the missions themselves, but that isn’t the solution. You can’t do the missions, because its their problem to solve and their country to run. Are you going to do it for them? So, I suggested and showed the soldiers basic Hand and Arm signals, so they could communicate without yelling. BAM! Worked pretty good. So good that they are making up some of their own.
Technology is a wonderful thing, and can add simplicity and accuracy to our lives. In the service, it can make an average soldier or Marine and turn him or her into a serious and deadly threat on the battlefield. It turns night into day, and clears up some of the fog of war. It is a force multiplier, but, it can stop a unit in its tracks if they forget the basic skills that have made soldiers for hundreds of years. It becomes even more critical as we teach armies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other 3d world countries, because the basic skills is all they know. In the case of the Iraqi’s they don’t have much time to learn anything else, because the war needs to be won now, not when they have technical superiority.
I will go back to watching my DVD on my laptop now..