Small Wars Journal

Tomorrow: Lest We Forget

Cross-posted from the Center for Defense Studies, Lest We Forget by Tom Donnelly.

One of the reasons that Gen. Stanley McChrystal can argue that victory in Afghanistan is achievable is that he counts on a force forged in the years since 9/11 into a superb instrument for irregular warfare. Indeed, Americans in uniform have done much to rescue American strategists from their mistakes.

Yet we in Washington take the quality of the force too much for granted. We tend either to stand in awe of people in uniform or pity them; rarely do we devote much effort to simply understand them, be it individually or collectively. Tomorrow, CDS will try to rectify that with a conference "Surviving and Thriving in Harm's Way," a look at how soldiers are managing the many stresses of repeat deployments to some very cruel wars.

We'll begin with a presentation from Nate Self, a former Army Ranger who led the desperate fight of "Roberts' Ridge" in March 2002, during Operation Anaconda which swept the last major al Qaeda force out of Afghanistan. Though Self and his men passed a pure test of courage under fire--the fight has passed into Ranger legend and is honored in displays at Ranger Regiment headquarters--he suffered from a severe case of post-combat stress that drove him from the Army. Yet despite the contention of professional PTSD advocates, Self is not only himself recovering from his trauma but now works with other soldiers who suffer from similar problems.

And we will conclude with a presentation from Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, another stoic soldier. In 1991, while serving as a flight surgeon on a search-and-rescue mission to save a downed F-16 pilot, the Blackhawk helicopter carrying Cornum was shot down; many of the crew were killed and she was held as a prisoner of war until the cessation of hostilities. Her subsequent memoir, She Went to War, focused the debate on women's roles in combat. An M.D. and PhD., Cornum now heads the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, a effort to prepare soldiers and their families for the personal challenges they now face.

AEI's Sally Satel will also moderate a panel assessing and discussing new clinical thinking about PTSD. Many of elements of past PTSD mythology--especially those that comprise the caricature of the "broken veteran" in popular culture--do not withstand rigorous scientific scrutiny.

In sum, this promises to be a conference that digs more deeply in search of the understanding needed to formulate wise personnel policies for the "Long War." For if we do "break the force"--if we break these people--we cannot win.

More on Surviving and Thriving in Harm's Way - Friday, September 25, 2009; 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM; Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, American Enterprise Institute; Washington D.C.



Wed, 02/17/2010 - 7:14pm

Arshad, in YOUR opinion, how many Pakistani army officers agree with your views?
Just curious.
If most of them do and their bosses make the mistake of acting on these views, we are totally screwed....

Adnan Arshad M… (not verified)

Wed, 02/17/2010 - 4:11pm

Whatever American Participants tried to paint American Role at Afghanistan here-at above as if such Role is very much appreciated at Afghanistan moreover this role is very remarkable over-there.

Being a Pakistani & according to reliable sources Americans were welcome at Northern Afghanistan tentatively 15 to 17% of Local Population although accepted but with some serious reservations Americans Presence mostly War Lords or Opium Cultivators Atheists or their associates rest of Afghans they deadly hatred with Americans as a result every 2nd/3rd day Americans are Killed brutally over there. Moreover as we know Obama needs to start earning his keep. He already got overpaid with the Nobel prize for doing nothing so now he has to show before his nation & at other Western Countries that he can lead the world supposed only superpower who is right now on the road namely Af-Pak mind it this Road directly Leads to Zero-Power.

You all Americans must know & realize who spreaded all around too much unbearable Philosophy Cum Analysis at different forums who have forgotten this fact of the only matter that Obama & his Administration -- believe me they all are just declared certified Nut Case as you Americans, Brits, Americans & Jews quiet Underestimated to Pakistan & Afghanistan you all are just Smart, Sensible & Far Sighted only in American & Jewish Hollywood Based Movies -- But as far as Pakistani ISI or Mullah Omar & Co. are concerned -- they are really Extra-Ordinary Smart & Far Sighted they just remain Silent for the last eight years but as & when realized the position of HIGH TIME has come, as right now Americans & Brits have been Trapped into their own Net Pakistani Army Tabled the Pre-Conditions at Brussels - Belgium at Nato HQ i.e. --- "To FINISH the PARTLY AMERICAN/Brits along-with Entirely Indian ROLE at Afghanistan" rather I must declare to the same as Gen. Pervaiz Kiyani put the Prime Condition which was comprised only on One Point --- "that Until & Unless Indians are not GET LOST from Afghanistan We Pakistani Army is not ready to PLAY own Due Role to Provide Americans for FACE SAVING"--- mind you all Americans this is an UTMOST REQUIRED EXIT as your own Economy has been touching Bailed Out System in current Financial Year just because of this War against Terror so in constant manner War Action of Americans with Afghanistan & Pakistan --- this War against Terror is breaking Americas back bone anyway in short through out this imposed War Against Terror worked with Americans Pakistani Army Posed as if they were suppose to Duffer & Dumb & only Americans, Brits, Israelis & Americans the combination of Smart & Far Sighted People as usually Jews Plus Americans propagandize in their respective Electronic Media i.e. controlled by the Jews, the gist of such propaganda is Americans & the Westerners are Smart & Far Sighted only & the Pakistani Army is just a follower of these bunch of Stupid in other words Just Smart-alecky people rather Pakistani Army, Military Intelligence/MI or ISI posed Blind as per followed Youtube Link -- specially regarding to these Pakistani ISI officials who pretended always with innocence as if they only watch the Horrible Consequences of War Against Terror with the glasses of Made in America only but in actual terms they are Trend Setters as they have been trend setting now-a-days upon the humble request of Red White & Blue Countries to Negotiate even with their own Deadly Hatred persons namely by the way --- now who have been turned status wise in-to honorable Mullah Umar & Haqani Network - pls. keep in mind how Ms. Hilleary Clinton paid respect to Mullah Umar just a week ago & the only Americans Puppet how Hamid Karzai named & called to such Mullah Omar & Haqani Network on behalf of the West now he has been declaring to them Muslim Brothers.

The actual Blind Man who was in Toilet = Taliban -- as Taliban have been fighting with Americans & Nato Forces Just Blindly & His Companion another person who posed himself as Blind i.e. Pakistani Intelligence Agencies (ISI & MI) -- The thief Girl = America who came here-at South Asia just for plundered the Caspian Oil of Central Asian Countries Oil & Gas Resources worth Amount 49.00 Trillion US$ but caught red handed by Taliban, Pakistani ISI & MI.

120mm (not verified)

Fri, 09/25/2009 - 1:21am

AJM: I would be interested to see who was doing the "estimating" in your statistics. Also, the categorization in the sample is nonsense. 'The number of former servicemen in prison or on probation or parole is now more than double the total British deployment in Afghanistan" is so obviously biased toward an end, and overlooks so many variables that it's laughable.

Similar mistruths and pop b.s. were propagated after WWII and Viet Nam about servicemembers; a gullible (and militarily naive/inexperienced) public is all too willing to accept data like that.

As time passes, we'll see, just like in any other conflict, that combat troops reflect the population they came from, crime and mental health-wise.

Greyhawk (not verified)

Fri, 09/25/2009 - 12:24am

Can't speak to the UK stats, but it seems that's one alternative to what I was getting at.

I was once trained how to properly shackle (and unshackle) a guy who had deserted a unit before I joined it but was apprehended after. Purpose was to transport prisoner from place of confinement to medical facility and back. Non-violent offender, no previous history, "quiet type" and "good worker", I'd been told. Not in war zone, never had been. One day he just no-showed. Eighteen years in. Family devastated, youngest son enlisted to support mom and siblings... no one saw it coming.

Even though from time to time it seems desirable, putting chains on your troops is not an experience you'll remember fondly.

Greyhawk (not verified)

Thu, 09/24/2009 - 4:58pm

All too often in looking at the big picture, the high drama, the great political background games - we tend to overlook the fact that whatever we accomplish in war, that whatever we call the tactics, the strategy, or the goal - that whatever other factors contribute, that however many exceptions get the attention...

...whatever gains we do make are made by young men and women with training, courage and dedication - often in spite of everything in paragraph one.

They're ever in our thoughts, but from time to time we can express our appreciation for their deeds in our words and actions, too.

Those among us who know this best, who know <em>them</em> best, who are most familiar with all that, sometimes seem to miss the point that what is obvious to us - what <em>we</em> believe "goes without saying" - actually doesn't, or at least isn't said enough.