Small Wars Journal

In Afghan war, officer flourishes outside the box

In Afghan war, officer flourishes outside the box - Denis D. Gray, Associated Press via The Taiwan News.

You may wonder how Thomas Gukeisen made it to lieutenant colonel, and by age 39 at that. He breaks Army rules and operates by his own rendition of counterinsurgency warfare whose arsenal includes Afghan poetry, chaos theory and the thoughts of a 17th-century English philosopher. A towering, rough-and-ready 205-pounder (man weighing 92-kilograms), the officer from Carthage, New York, peppers his sentences with unprintables and reads Karl von Clausewitz's classic on war in the original German. The high-ups seem to like what they see. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who commands U.S. forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, has visited his sector, as have Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry. Substantial resources have flowed into Gukeisen's hands, including $850,000 in small bills for such jobs as building schools and putting carpets in the mosques of Afghans who turn against the Taliban.

Col. David B. Haight, Gukeisen's superior, calls him one of the brightest officers he has met. Gukeisen wages his war across 620 restive, rugged square miles (1,000 kilometers) of Logar, a strategically important province bordering Kabul where he has implemented what he calls an "extreme makeover." Rather than rigidly applying the current mantra "Clear, Hold, Build" he has held back from trying to clear large, Taliban-influenced swaths of territory, focusing instead on areas he believes are ripe for change, and then injecting aid where it counts most. Combat, he says, is driven by reliable intelligence and limited to eradicating Taliban fighters...

More at The Taiwan News.


Papa Ray (not verified)

Wed, 12/23/2009 - 12:21pm

<i>While opinions are like ass*****, I will put mine forth also.</i>

It matters none what age he is, and talking about it is only germane in that most Armies have a narrow and regulated method to getting rank.

And as far as "throwing money at it" goes. In the world bribery is not exceptional, it is not only mainstream but in some areas like the ME or FE has been the accepted way of life for thousands of years. I will interject it is becoming the accepted way of life in the U.S. Congress and Administration now. But I believe that no judgment nor criticism is warranted in this case.

<b>"I'd like to be here another year."</b>

Yea, I heard that same thing long ago and far away. Men who had already spent two tours in NVN, saying the same thing. Myself included, but was denied due to not ducking fast enough.

<i>Why is it that some men understand the values needed and placed on the line, to bring other men to liberty while disregarding their own welfare?</i> In this case and others this man is doing his job and doing it well but at the neglect of his family.

<b>As thousands of other American and NATO warriors are doing also.</b>

<i>What motivates these men and women to put others before themselves and even in some cases before their own families?</i>

The article doesn't cover this man's personal religion or even if he has one but I am going to venture that he is a Christian and it goes without saying he is a Patriot in the real sense of the word.

Will the Afghans really understand or appreciate his personal honor? Will they understand or appreciate his families sacrifice and the sacrifice of the "invaders" who are occupying their country now? In most cases I doubt it. But I do know the Afghans have a high personal sense of honor, but how can they understand his sacrifices and his sense of honor, when all their honor has to do with their family and their tribe only.

There is no sense of National pride in Afghanistan, in fact the majority is against the central government in Afghanistan. This is one weakness that the Taliban use to their advantage. No doubt it is not changed nor helped by the fact that the central government is corrupt and cares little about the welfare of the various tribes, only their own little world and their bank accounts.

<b>I really doubt that you would find many Afghans that would go off to other country to fight for someone else's liberty.</b>

There is an old saying among many in different countries. <i>"What can you do for me?"</i> People need to unlearn that and change it to <i>"What can I do to help my family and myself, with honor."</i>

Or as said by an American, long ago:

<i>"In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free - honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just - a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless." <b>Lincoln's Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.</b></i>

Papa Ray
West Texas

Tim Gilhool (not verified)

Mon, 12/21/2009 - 11:25am

Tom Gukeisen was a SAMS classmate of mine. He is by no means any sort of self-promoter or egomaniac. My impressions of him, both then and thru infrequent correspondance since graduation, are of a energetic, serious, and good-humored officer who cares about his profession. I am glad he is getting his "15 minutes of fame," and have no doubt he and his BN are getting after it in his AO. Concur with Phil Ridderhof's comments that is it standard for an officer to reach LTC by age 39 (I did, and I have never been BZ). The concern, as always, is that whatever progress Tom and his BN make may not be sustained as he is backfilled by a different, and possibly not as dynamic, BN CDR.

Bill Moore (not verified)

Sun, 12/20/2009 - 7:49pm

Successful officers like LTC Gukeisen need to be rewarded so they become the shapers of the tomorrow's Army (the senior raters that determine who is going is going to get promoted and who will be in command, and as many of you know a maverick who wasn't risk adverse in the 90's likely would have seen his career fade away into the unremarkable).

I like the point that he is focusing on areas that are ready for development (presumably not supporting the enemy), instead of trying a blanket approach where one size fits all.

Have to admit I do have my doubts about his embrace of Keyes' economic theory, as must of us recall seeing a "lot" of seed money thrown at developing (or non-developing) nations that didn't kick start anything. Keyes points may have been on target in certain societies, but in large areas of the world that theory has yet to prove itself.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 12/20/2009 - 7:36pm

Phil Ridderhof: An interesting perspective. We have indeed fought a mix of regular and irregular warfare, in recent memory, in Vietnam, and thank you for the discussion board link.

Incidentally, in our build-up during Desert Shield, several IDF individuals indicated to me they were holding there breath on how well we would operationally execute. I pointed out to them we had General's leading the parade, that had learned their lesson's well in Vietnam. And like Israel, we wouldn't be up against that worthy of an opponent, but certainly wouldn't underestimate the threat.

Hubris at the time I'm sure!

The Clausewitz and Irregular warfare argument is currently ongoing "down the hall" at the SWJ Discussion Board:

While LtCol. Gukeisen sounds like a smart, talented and successful leader, I didn't read anything in this article that places him significantly out of the mainstream. "You may wonder how Thomas Gukeisen made it to lieutenant colonel, and by age 39 at that." Assuming he was commissioned at age 21 or 22, I think being a LtCol in command by 39 is about par for the course. I can only assume that this might sound strange in Taiwan (the source of the report).

Just a general comment on this and many of the recent similar posts/discussions of the institutional problems with the military: if we were as inflexible and unthinking as is asserted, we probably also wouldn't have done very well against a competent "conventional" opponent. I don't think that success in regular or irregular warfare is a matter or degrees--more or less complicated, graduate vs. undergraduate(?) level of war, etc.--but rather is more a difference in quality or character. I don't want to take away from the difficulty of fighting the irregular conflicts we are currently undertaking. However, I don't think it does us any good to do so by denigrating the skills and intellect required to fight a conventional enemy (and I'd offer that what we tend to think of as "conventional" has historically been a more complex mix of regular and irregular than we choose to remember). I believe our perspective is skewed by the fact that we have not faced a competent conventional adversary for a long time.

David Ucko

Sun, 12/20/2009 - 6:36pm

Very interesting, indeed, but I think this:

"Rather than rigidly applying the current mantra "Clear, Hold, Build" he has held back from trying to clear large, Taliban-influenced swaths of territory, focusing instead on areas he believes are ripe for change, and then injecting aid where it counts most."

... is either a misunderstanding of 'clear, build, hold' on the part of the article's author or of those seeking to implement it in the field. The implication is that if you do it gradually (as appears to be Lt-Col Gukeisen's wont) it isn't clear-hold-build. That is a false dichotomy if I ever heard one.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 12/20/2009 - 6:20pm

A refreshing article on what seems to be a most erudite man in uniform (or out).

One quick possibly amusing comment: I wonder if the mention of reading von Clausewitz's Vom Krige in German isnt antithesis to how Gukeisen is approaching his craft, as Clausewitz advocated destroying one's enemy on the battlefield being of supreme importance.

And if not reading baron Jomini, who advanced that controlling an adversary's territory is was what was most important, might not be more in line with the good Lieutenant Colonel's thought process?

Then again, Chinggis Khan practiced both, and as I recall, a descendant of his, Baber the Mughal, had some difficulty in the same region.

Cheers SWJ and happy holidays!