Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Marine Corps’

53rd Academy Assembly and Olmsted Scholar Panel

January 17, 2012

In October 2011, I had the opportunity to go down the road to the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs and participate in their annual foreign affairs conference, called the Academy Assembly. 2011 marked the 53rd running of the event, and in the past it has featured speakers and participants from the likes of Paul H. Nitze (1959) to Donald Rumsfeld (representing the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1970) to John Nagl (2009).  It was a great experience, not only professionally, in what really was my first opportunity to interact with some really bright cadets and also undergraduate students from various public and private universities across the U.S. who were delegates of their schools to the Assembly, but also personally, in that I had never really been any of our nation’s military academies before. While I was there I had a chance to tour the famous chapel (see a few of the photos I took at the chapel below (along with some other photos from the week) – really beautiful!), take a meal with the cadets (all 3,000 of them!), and stroll the grounds of what really is a fantastic location, situated hard against the front range of the Rocky Mountains overlooking Colorado Springs. I came away from the experience really impressed by the caliber of cadets at the Air Force Academy and hoping that I have a chance to visit again soon!

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My official duties at the Academy Assembly were threefold: first, moderate the discussions of  the several cadets and civilian delegates assigned to my roundtable. I believe there were about ten of us, in total, including me and the cadet who was assigned to guide me around the campus during the week I was there, Cadet Second Class Andrew Gallion. After each major event/speaker during that week, we convened a roundtable to discuss what we had just heard attempt to tie it in with the overall Assembly theme, “Power and Influence: Global Dynamics in the 21st Century.” Speakers at this year’s assembly (bios here) included Mrs. Gillian Sorensen, United Nations Foundation Senior Advisor and National Advocate; several Olmsted Scholars (include myself; more on this aspect below); Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton; Mr. Peter Brookes, Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation; USAFA’s own Dr. Schuyler Foerster, Brent Scowcroft Professor of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Air Force Academy (I liked his presentation the best of all the week’s presentations – it was candid and realistic), and finally, Ambassador Christopher Hill, currently Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver (and previously U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, Poland, South Korea, and Iraq, as well as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs from 2005 – 2009). All the roundtable discussions augured towards a final deliverable: a set of “findings” that distilled each small group’s several hours of discussion and debate on the issues presented into a short document complete with conclusions and recommendations.

The second thing was to participate in a special panel featuring all the Olmsted Scholars who came to the Assembly, which in 2011 totaled six (there were originally supposed to be seven of us, but one scholar had to cancel at the last minute). This was an inordinately high number of scholars, according to the scuttlebutt floating around the Assembly, so the organizers decided to devote an entire panel to our insights. We each had a chance to speak for a few minutes about some of the major issues facing our nation/region of study, and after everyone had a chance to speak, the floor was opened to the cadets and delegates for questions. By the miracles of modern technology, I have obtained for you a chance to watch the Olmsted panel in full, which runs about 1 hour and 6 minutes. There are some pretty interesting perspectives shared by the various Scholars on Turkey, China (x2), France, Russia, and, of course, Taiwan.

The final role of Olmsted Scholars at the Academy Assembly is just to interact with the cadets and delegates, and for the cadets in particular, be a resource for them regarding the Olmsted Scholar Program and service as a military officer in general. (Full disclosure: the Olmsted Foundation is one of the primary donors which fund the Academy Assembly each year.) This was perhaps the easiest role to fill – after all, it’s pretty simple to convey the sheer awesomeness of the opportunity available to young military officers to spend 3 years studying the language and culture of their country of choice, spending at least 2 of those years overseas and essentially “own your own program” to pursue a master’s degree and advanced language and cultural studies. The Olmsted Scholar Program is pretty well-known amongst the U.S. Air Force Officer corps, and, from what I saw at the Academy, also amongst cadets. Obviously, part of the reason past Olmsted Scholars such as myself are invited to these conferences (similar events are held annually at both the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy) is to help spread the word about scholarship to cadets who in a few short years will be in the eligibility window for the program.

Finally, the 28 October 2011 edition of Academy Spirit, the official newspaper of the U.S. Air Force Academy, carried a two-page spread about the 53rd Academy Assembly. You can see it here (html), or, if you prefer to read a “broadsheet” format, check out pages 8-9 here (PDF).

Bonus: on the final day of the Assembly, I had the opportunity to see the entire USAFA Cadet Wing put on a parade in honor of General Peter Pace, USMC (Ret.), who was being honored with the 2010 Thomas D. White National Defense Award, the highest honor the Academy can bestow. You can see some of the photos from that event here.

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Links of Interest 03/25/2011

March 25, 2011
  • tags: soft_power China FC

    • What kind of national image has China sought to project to the world through its cultural diplomacy that distinguishes it against other Asian nations?

      I’m not sure China is trying to portray itself against other Asian nations, but I think it has used its soft power to boost its image compared to its own image of the past—its image in the 1970s and 80s and early 90s—as either disinterested in regional affairs or difficult and aggressive to deal with. Also, I think China has utilized its soft power and cultural diplomacy to try to create the idea, at least regionally, that it’s truly a good neighbour—that it shares values and heritage with its neighbours—and that the United States, in contrast, doesn’t.

  • tags: guam buildup FC USMC V-22

    • The Navy is looking for eight MV-22 Block C Containerized Flight Training Devices to be delivered starting in 2013, with the last two being installed on Guam in 2015, the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division said. Containerized Flight Training Devices are self-contained units, which house a non-motion simulator, a host computer, a visual display system, and an instructor operating station.

      The Navy, which is preparing for the transfer of 8,600 Marines, their family and support staff from Okinawa to Guam as early as 2016, said the first delivery of the CFTD’s will be to the capitol region in April, 2013.

  • tags: China internet censorship activism FC

    • The question for U.S. policymakers is how to manage these different views of cyberspace. There is going to be no silver bullet solution. There are economic disputes such as access to the Chinese market and competing technological standards. There is the espionage issue. There are the human rights and access to information issues. And there is the cyber war problem: how states might use computer network attacks in a conflict.
  • tags: us carrier Japan FC

    • THE aircraft carrier USS George Washington was moved this week from its Japanese port to avoid a potentially costly and complex clean-up to remove traces of radiation, the US Navy revealed.
  • tags: US China maritime navy book FC

    • Three members of the U.S. Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) collaborated on a recently released book titled, “China, the United States, and 21st-Century Sea Power,” which explores areas of mutual maritime interest between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.
  • tags: taiwan US FC

    • Former US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will lead a delegation to Taiwan on Sunday for a four-day visit.
    • The delegation will meet with President Ma Ying-jeou and other high ranking officials. They will discuss US-Taiwan relations and cross-strait issues.
    • Armitage will be joined by a group of former US foreign policy and security officials on the four-day visit. The delegation will include former state department officials such as former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall Schriver.
  • tags: FC guam buildup

    • Yesterday, Naval Facilities Marianas released a statement detailing some of the projects, which amount to about $1 billion in total cost. Projects can now be awarded to contractors, who can begin designing or building complexes that Marines will use when they relocate from Okinawa to Guam in coming years.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

“A disaster of absolutely historic proportions”

March 14, 2011

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard about the massive earthquake (they’re giving it a 9.0 magnitude now), then tsunami, now nuclear disaster of unclear proportions that struck Japan starting on Saturday, March 12. It seems almost like the “perfect storm” of calamities is unfolding –  a national security strategist’s worst nightmare. The most surreal part of it all is that it took place in the middle of the day and that people around the world were able to watch the destruction unfold live on television and online.

For its part, the U.S. Navy has kicked its deployments in the region into high gear in order to provide as much humanitarian assistance / disaster relief (HA/DR) as possible, as soon as possible. At least eight warships have been dispatched to the area to render assistance, with more to follow. And it’s not just the Navy pitching it – the Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, from Okinawa, Japan, are embarked on the USS Essex (LHD-2) and related ships of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and are also on the way after a brief stop in Malaysia. Already there has been a nuclear issue, with personnel from the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) being irradiated to an as yet-to-be-determined degree after the ship steamed through the nuclear fallout cloud emanating from the damaged nuclear reactor at Fukushima. Some people believe that the nuclear crisis we are witnessing in Japan will be the death knell of the resurgence of nuclear power in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Michael Turton over at The View From Taiwan muses about a similar disaster striking Taiwan. From what he says, it leaves one with the distinct suspicion that the regime that brought you the botched handling of Typhoon Morakot in 2009 would not be making the strong showing that the Naoto Kan government in Tokyo is (though he also emphasizes that it is not simply a Ma Ying-jeou issue or a KMT issue).

Finally, the best bunch of photos of the destruction in Japan I have yet seen are here at the Atlantic’s In Focus blog – truly worth looking at. Amazing, terrifying stuff.

Links of Interest 01/21/2011

January 21, 2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Pacific: Endgame

December 31, 2010
Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Image via Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this post in May 2010 after viewing the final episode of HBO’sThe Pacific” miniseries.  I think I meant to work on it more and then post it a bit later, but since it’s now the end of the year and I am just now posting it, clearly it fell by the wayside.  Previous posts on the series can be found here and here.

The final episode of HBO’s original miniseries “The Pacific” aired last night in Taiwan.  As I have written about a couple of times previously here at Facing China, I’ve been doing some reading related to the series and the World War II in the Pacific.  My final selection related to HBO’s The Pacific was the new book about the survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back. But before I get into the book at all, let’s discuss The Pacific, shall we?

I enjoyed the series.  It had big shoes to fill, though.  I would say that if The Pacific had come out 10 years ago in place of Band of Brothers, people would be gushing about it, me included.  But since it had so much to live up to, I must reluctantly admit (I already admitted that as a U.S. Marine myself, I am biased) that in my opinion Band of Brothers is the superior series.  Why?  I am not completely sure…perhaps it was because Band of Brothers focused on a smaller “scene” in the European theater of war, as compared to the far-ranging American effort across virtually the entire vastness of the Pacific Ocean.  I think that as a result The Pacific was a bit disjointed, it didn’t flow as smoothly as Band of Brothers did.  Then there was the characters – none of the actors in The Pacific really excelled and stuck with me the way certain characters did in Band of Brothers, like the crazy-legs lieutenant that seemed invincible running across many a battlefield, inspiring the troops to greater accomplishments.  Or Dick Winters, the ultra-charismatic officer who Band of Brothers followed throughout the war.  His equivalent, Sledge’s company commander at Peleliu, “Ack Ack,” did not survive that island’s fighting.

I asked at the outset whether or not the producers of The Pacific would be able to do justice to the baseness and ferocity of the fighting in places like Peleliu and Okinawa as described in Eugene Sledge‘s book.  I think they did a fair job in showing the incredibly demanding conditions the fighting took place in, like the never-ending rains in Okinawa that turned everything to a sea of mud.  In his book, Sledge described one Okinawan vista this way:

It was the most ghastly corner of hell I had ever witnessed.  As far as I could see, an area that previously had been a low grassy valley with a picturesque stream meandering through it was a middy, repulsive, open sore on the land.  The place was choked with the putrefaction of death, decay, and destruction.  In a shallow defilade to our right, between my gun pit and the railroad, lay about twenty dead Marines, each on a stretcher and covered to his ankles with a poncho – a commonplace, albeit tragic, scene to every veteran.  Those bodies had been placed there to await transport to the rear for burial.  At least those dead were covered from the torrents of rain that had made them miserable in life and from the swarms of flies that sought to hasten their decay.  But as I looked about, I saw that other Marine dead couldn’t be tended properly.  The whole area was pocked with shell craters and churned up by explosions.  Every crater was half full of water, and many of them held a Marine corpse.  The bodies lay pathetically just as they had been killed, half submerged in muck and water, rusting weapons still in hand.  Swarms of big flies hovered about them.

In the end, it’s back to the old cliché – read the book.  At one point in The Pacific, a Marine on Okinawa slips down the side of a hill of mud while trying simply to get from one place to another.  He ends up in a deep puddle of maggotty mud-water along with a rotting corpse or two.  While it is disgusting by any measure on the screen, here’s how he described the same events in the book:

My buddy rose, took one step down the ridge, slipped, and fell.  He slid on his belly all the way to the bottom, like a turtle sliding off a log.  I reached the bottom to see him stand erect with his arms partially extended and look down at his chest and belt with an mixed expression of horror, revulsion, and disbelief.  He was, of course, muddy from the slide.  But that was the least of it.  White, fat maggots tumbled and rolled off his cartridge belt, pockets, and folds of his dungaree jacket and trousers.  I picked up a stick and handed him another.  Together we scraped the vile insect larvae off his reeking dungarees.

I’d certainly recommend The Pacific as a good series to watch about World War II in the Pacific from the U.S. point of view.  It doesn’t tell the whole story, but how could it?  Four years of fighting can hardly be compressed into under 10 hours of television.  Nice effort – 4 of 5 stars.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I also wanted to talk about the book The Last Train from Hiroshima.  First, it’s important to note at the outset that the book is controversial because of problems with key sources of information the author used in researching the book.  In fact, because of these source problems, the publisher pulled the book from further sales earlier this year and the author is re-writing the book without the tainted sources.  Oh yeah, the sources scandal also raised questions about the author’s academic credentials, and it turns out that the PhD he claimed wasn’t real.  Due to all these problems, Last Train may not have been the best book to choose in retrospect, but in my own defense, I bought it soon after it was released, prior to all these skeletons coming out of the closet.  I decided to read it to tie in with World War II‘s “endgame” – nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and a few days later, Japanese capitulation.

The nuclear attacks on Japan are not a major event in The Pacific – they occur at the end of the 9th episode, and are not shown, only alluded to in a conversation about some fancy, new “super bombs” wiping out a couple Japanese cities.  This is not to downplay their significance; it is simply because the attacks themselves are beyond the scope of the story.  It is because of the atomic bombs used on Japan that the story ends as it does, with a U.S. victory on Okinawa, with no need to chance the estimated 1 million U.S. casualties that would be necessitated by a breach on mainland Japan itself.

Last Train talks about some of the poor souls who managed to survive the bombing in Hiroshima and thought that fleeing would be a good idea, to get out of the area.  I agree, but a few who fled Hiroshima went to join family in Nagasaki and were there a few days hence when the second, more powerful nuclear bomb was detonated.  This could called “really, really bad luck.”  The book also asserts that the Hiroshima bomb was a “dud.”  The yield was only about 10 kilotons (KT), even though it was supposed to be between 20 – 30KT. (The Nagasaki bomb‘s yield was in this latter range.) One Japanese survivor, a medical doctor who wore glasses to correct his eyesight, had his vision corrected by the blast.  In what might be the ultimate deadpan, he said that he does not recommend weathering a nuclear attack as an alternative corrective vision surgery. (!!!)

I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier this year.  I wanted to see both of the bombing sites and see what the cities that still exist there are like now.  It’s remarkable, really – what I took away most from the visits was the resilience of mankind.  To see the photos of the destruction the bombs caused and to stand at the hypocenter today and take a look around, to see all the bustle and urban metropolis still surrounding you there, is quite a testament to being able to bounce back from a really, really big setback.

A related book I also recently completed was John Lewis Gaddis’s newest book of history related to the aftermath of World War II, called The Cold War: A New History.  I found the book to be quite interesting in how it ties so many different themes together, from the evolution of containment, detente, the creation of the Iron Curtain, the Cold War in Asia, the opening of China, and on and on.  It was a nice way to bring me pretty much right back to the modern day, tracing out the results of World War II to (near) the present.  Excellent book.

Still in business

December 17, 2010

R.O.C. Marine band members

Since my last post, I’ve been busy pursuing my hobby (triathlons / triathlon training), made a quick trip back to the U.S., and as of late, been burdened quite heavily writing papers and presenting on them at grad school.  First, I’d like to talk a little bit about this last point, sharing a little bit of what I’ve been researching, writing about, and presenting on.  I’ll also share what remains “in the hopper” – requirements left to be satisfied before the end of the semester about a month from now.  Be warned: there will also be a fair amount of miscellany tossed in for good measure!

  1. I wrote a paper and made a presentation this week entitled “China’s Rise and the South China Sea.”  I find China’s recent aggressiveness over its claims in the South China Sea to be part of their overall trend toward consolidation of territorial claims, both maritime and land-based (for example, the September 2010 row with Japan over the Chinese fishing boat which rammed Japanese patrol vessels near the Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands not far from Taiwan in the East China Sea is another example of aggressive behavior over a disputed maritime claim).  While China’s claim of “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea made just after the July ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi made headlines, in fact China has been making the same types of claims about the South China Sea for decades, going back to not long after the establishment of the People’s Republic.  What was significant in China’s rhetoric about the South China Sea this year was the elevation of the area to “core national interest” status, something that heretofore only long-standing PRC irredentist claims such as those involving Taiwan or Tibet were assigned.  Looks to me like China is positioning itself to be more aggressive about the South China Sea, not less.   There is a chance that the paper might be accepted for publication next year in an edited book on topics related to China’s foreign policy produced by my school, National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU), so I will refrain from posting it until that situation is sorted out.
  2. I also participated in the creation and delivery of a presentation this week about Japan’s national security strategy under Koizumi (2001 – 2006).  There was no paper for this project, just the presentation.  It was interesting to me to learn about how much the U.S. has pressured Japan to assume a greater and greater security role as the decades passed after World War II, and to see how changes in Japan’s laws governing overseas deployment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) marching in lock-step with U.S. overseas wars since 1990.  Today, Japan is assuming more and more of a “normal” role in terms of its own security, though a there is still a long way to go until the process is complete.  It will be interesting to see how far the process goes, and whether or not at some point perhaps in the next decade Japan’s people reach enough of a consensus to make changes to or perhaps eliminate altogether Article 9 of their American-authored post-WWII constitution that currently outlaws Japan from possessing “military” forces and bans aggression as a policy choice.  You can see the presentation here. (Google Docs)
  3. Papers I am still working on this semester include an examination of the continuing utility of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that established the current non-official relationship between the United States and Taiwan when the U.S. decided to switch official recognition to the PRC, another on non-traditional security issues in Southeast Asia (probably focusing on pandemic disease threats and response preparation, since this [East Asia]  is the region that suffered the most in the SARS outbreak back in the early 2000s and has also been subject to not a few bird flu scares).  The final paper will deal in with national security / crisis management, and will likely revolve around a case study of one or both of the Quemoy crises in the 1950s.
  4. I talked in a recent post about deliberations over selecting a thesis topic.  I decided that the anti-access/area denial (A2AD) realm is the one I am truly interested in with regard to China’s military modernization, so that will be what my thesis will be on – the effect of China’s development of A2AD capabilities like the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and associated systems on Taiwan Strait security.  At the very least, the Navy guys should be interested in it.
  5. We continue to benefit from NSYSU professors “mining their Rolodexes” when they will be unable to give classes due to international travel or other conflicts.  This week Ambassador Feng Tai (酆邰), formerly Taiwan’s ambassador in Tuvalu and 37-year veteran of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered a talk on crisis management and negotiating skills.  By far the best parts of the talk were when he leavened it with personal anecdotes from some of his own experiences, from hosting the Saudis here in Taiwan in 1990 when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was weighing switching its recognition of Taiwan to the PRC (it ultimately did so) to stories about preparing to negotiate with meticulous and well-prepared Japanese and Chinese delegations on various issues.  Ambassador Feng mentioned that he is weighing retiring from the MOFA next year and going into academia, teaching foreign affairs at a university in Taipei.
  6. Not really related to academic affairs as the rest of this post has been, but interesting nonetheless: last month I traveled to Taipei to attend the U.S. Marine Corps birthday celebration.  The U.S. Marine Corps was established 10 November 1775, and every year about that time Marines pause to remember fondly those who have gone before us.  The interesting part about this year’s celebration here in Taiwan was that it was the first official celebration of any size since the late 1970s when the above-mentioned Taiwan Relations Act was passed.  For decades after the TRA, there were no active-duty U.S. military officers stationed as attaché with AIT.  It was only in 2005 that the first active-duty military folks returned to AIT.  A couple years later, the first post-TRA U.S. Marine attaché came to Taiwan.  Since that time, every year the celebration of the Marine birthday grew a little bit, and now, in 2010, the celebration of the U.S. Marine birthday here in Taiwan (235 years young!) was on par with celebrations held at places with very robust U.S. Marine presences (like Marine bases in the U.S. or Okinawa).  There was one key difference, though – here we were able to celebrate hand-in-hand with out R.O.C. Marine counterparts, who attended in force this year, led by their Commandant, Lieutenant General Hsia Fu-Hwa.  The Taiwan Marines were even gracious enough to offer up their band’s jazz ensemble to provide the music for the event – that’s them in the photo at the top of this post. (Good thing, because we couldn’t make much of a U.S. Marine band here with the two of us, no matter how talented we are!)  I have no doubt that in the future these birthday celebrations will only become more and more like the finer Marine Corps Birthday Balls put on by embassies and equivalent worldwide each November.
  7. Blogroll update: I’m adding the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank that put out a fine report on the future of security in Asia this year, and also China SignPost, an effort by Dr. Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Gabe Collins.  They publish periodic analytical briefs on various aspects of China and the world.  I’ve found especially their report on how China’s dependence on oil imported by sea will only continue to increase, despite efforts at developing overland pipelines.

Matterhorn

September 22, 2010

Long-time followers of this blog (all two of you) will already know that I like the programs the Pritzker Military Library has from time to time.  Located in Chicago, Illinois, the Library hosts authors of military-related books for talks about their works.  The most recent program I caught featured Matt Gallagher, author of Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, one of the truest memoirs of the Iraq War I have read. (Side note: go check out Matt’s latest post on his new blog, Kerplunk, about an academic conference he recently attended – good stuff!)  I caught the podcast for that one, but on other previous occasions I have endured the often-painfully early wake-up calls required to watch the streaming video live as the event happens.  This time around, to watch author Karl Marlantes talk about his brilliant novel of the Vietnam War Matterhorn, I won’t have to get up early at all – thanks PML!

I read Matterhorn after seeing the high praise heaped upon it from various sources, including James Fallows of The Atlantic.  While I had little doubt that the book would be interesting to me – it’s about Marines and war, a couple of topics near and dear to my heart – I wasn’t as certain that the book would be able to live up to the hype.  Well, it did, and then some.  It’s been a while since I have read a book that I literally didn’t want to put down (especially when considering that some of my academic pursuits of late have included political economy and philosophy), but that’s how Marlantes’ novel was.  Marlantes himself was a Marine who served in Vietnam and started writing the novel soon after his service there ended.  More than 30 years later, the product is worth your attention.  Read the book, and if you haven’t yet, still tune in (or get the podcast) to see him talk about the book on Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 6PM Central (US) time (7AM on Friday morning here in Taiwan – no problem tuning in for me!).  Read on for all the details.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/events/2010/09-23-karl-marlantes.jsp

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pritzker Military Library

610 N. Fairbanks Court, 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60611
312-587-0234
Make a reservation

Member reception: 5:00pm
Presentation and Live Webcast: 6:00pm

Books are available for purchase at author events courtesy of The Book Stall at Chestnut Court. Library members receive a 10% discount.
As a young man, returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam, he began writing an epic novel about the war he experienced and the way that combat changes people. More than thirty years later, his work is done.

Matterhorn draws from Karl Marlantes’ experience as an officer with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. The year is 1969, and 2nd Lt. Waino Mellas has been assigned to lead a rifle platoon of forty Marines as their company builds a fire support base in the mountains near the border of Laos. His platoon is full of young men who have been at war for years; Mellas, fresh out of college, is overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a leader and the dense jungle landscape that surrounds them.

As casualties mount, Mellas and his platoon fight through a series of conflicting missions – they are ordered to abandon their newly built base, the ordered to take it back from the North Vietnamese Army, and then ordered to abandon it again. While their commanding officers fight the war from a distance, little aware of how their decisions affect men on the ground, Mellas and his platoon endure sweltering heat, monsoon rains, and a growing sense of futility; they struggle to understand and trust each other, and they forge powerful bonds that will overcome fear, doubt, and loss.

Karl Marlantes was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals for his service in Vietnam. Matterhorn is his first novel. A graduate of Yale and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he lives in rural Washington.

And we’re back! Thoughts on new Cyber Command deputy

July 2, 2010

Closed out the semester at school this week, so I should have more time to post things here now.  First thing I wanted to talk about was a recent general officer announcement that caught my eye yesterday:

Defense.gov News Release: Flag Officer Announcements.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced today that the President has made the following nominations:

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle Jr. for appointment to the rank of lieutenant general and assignment as deputy commander, U.S. Cyber Command.  Maj. Gen. Schmidle is currently serving as assistant deputy commandant for programs and resources (programs) in Washington, D.C.

First, this is a good thing for the Marine Corps.  It’s useful for us as an institution to have our senior officers serving at high levels amongst the various combatant and sub-unified commands.  For instance, right now we’ve got one Marine general serving as Commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command, and I know of at least one other Marine three-star (besides the new one announce above) who is serving as a combatant command deputy commander (at Central Command).  Of course, we also have Gen Cartwright, former U.S. Strategic Command commander, who is the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Secondly, the selection of General Schmidle for Deputy, U.S. Cyber Command it a bit odd…I mean, the man is a career pilot!  What specific knowledge about cyber operations does he have?  Well, as it turns out, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot.  Seems that even at the senior officer ranks, it’s often the requirement that a person bring “general-purpose smarts” and adaptability to a position, not that the absolute perfect expert in a particular field or discipline be magically assigned to the job in question.  It’s clear to me that this has long been the case at the junior officer ranks; I am beginning to see that it does not change as one moves up the ladder.

Also, if for some reason you think that I was calling General Schmidle a dummy or disparaging pilots in general, that is most certainly not the case.  A brief glance at Schmidle’s bio shows you that he has a proven record of success in challenging assignments  apart from flying and command jobs that require a fair amount of grey matter activity.  For example, he’s a distinguished graduate of both intermediate and top-level professional military education schools, and he is currently pursuing a PhD from Georgetown during his “off time.”  He’s been involved with some of the Marine Corps’ most prominent warfighting experiments, served as military secretary to a pair of Marine commandants, and most recently, was the Marine Corps’ lead representative for the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

There’s nothing in there about computer network operations, or any cyber this, that, or the other.  But it won’t matter.  General Schmidle is a well-educated, smart, adaptable leader who will do a great job as the Cyber Command deputy and learn a lot in the process.

Congratulations, Lieutenant General!

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“Too Big to Fail,” U.S. Marines Version: The V-22 Osprey

May 1, 2010

MV-22 Osprey in Afghanistan

A USMC V-22 flying in Afghanistan [From http://www.flickr.com/photos/marine_corps/ / CC BY-NC 2.0]

I first saw the V-22 in person in the summer of 2005 while stationed in Quantico, Virginia.  I was at an event at the officer’s club there, and just as we were walking out to the parking lot to head home, we saw them across the road, two of them, using the nearby parade grounds as a landing zone.  At that time, most of us had never seen them in person before, so we stood slack-jawed, watching as they prepared to take off, and then, improbably, leapt forth into the sky vertically and transitioned their propellers from helicopter mode to “go fast” mode, rocketing off to the horizon at an impossibly fast speed for a “helicopter.”  It was quite remarkable, I remember thinking at the time – they don’t look like they should even be able to fly, yet there they went up, up and away.

I was no stranger to the V-22 – probably no Marine was.  Full-page glossy photos of the machine had been adorning defense contractor advertisements in the Marine Corps Gazette and other defense periodicals since before I had first taken an interest in the Marine Corps in the early 1990s.  The V-22 had been “hyped” so hard for so long, I figured it was little more than a pipe dream.  Lo and behold, a decade hence, there it was!

The Dream MachineBut it was gained at no small cost, as two reviews of a new book about the V-22 assert: 25 years of development, $22 billion, and over two dozen lives.  Influential defense blog Danger Room recently interviewed Richard Whittle, author of the new book The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey and the May 2010 edition of the Marine Corps Gazette also features a review of the book.  Taken in concert, they’ve got me hooked on wanting to read the book.

From the Gazette:

The major credit for the Osprey’s repeated leases on life can be traced to many familiar names in our current and recent Marine Corps. From majors and lieutenant colonels who believed in the dream to general officers who recognized its potential, there is no shortage of Marines who literally staked their careers and reputations on the success of the program. Just as important are the members of Congress and industry who shared the vision and continually resurrected what appeared to be a dead program by providing support and, most importantly, money to keep the dream alive.

I worked in close proximity to Marine general officers in 2007 – 08, and I recall that at the time of the first Osprey deployment to Iraq in September 2007 the “pucker factor” was high – there was simply no way that the Iraq deployment could fail.  Too much money, too much time, and too many lives had gone into the development of the airframe and its revolutionary capabilities; it had to be a success.

I’ve discussed the V-22 with Marine rotary wing pilots who fly other airframes and who served in Iraq at the same time the initial deployment was made, and they were of the opinion that the V-22 deployment was successful in no small part because the missions assigned to it were “cherry picked” to maximize the chances it would not be put in an ambiguous situation where failure would likely result, i.e. a V-22 crash or shoot-down.  If this is the case, then the strategy was a success – no Marine V-22’s crashed or were lost in Iraq.  Here’s what Whittle had to say about the Marine V-22’s in Iraq:

Riding in [the V-22] in Iraq wasn’t much different from flying in it elsewhere, except that a crew chief fired some rounds from the machine gun on the back ramp to test it after we took off. In theory, there was a chance somebody would shoot at us, but peace had broken out in Al Anbar province at the time – this was December 2007. Besides, while helicopters usually fly low in combat zones, the Marines cruise their Ospreys at 8,000 feet or more, well above the range of AK-47s and RPGs. The Osprey gets to that altitude quickly enough that getting shot at wasn’t a great worry when I flew in Iraq. It also gets you where you’re going a lot faster than a helicopter can, and it doesn’t shake and rattle you the way many military helicopters do.

Recently a U.S. Air Force V-22 variant crashed in Afghanistan and several servicemen were killed.  When I saw the headline talking about a V-22 crash in Afghanistan, I automatically assumed it was a USMC aircraft and that after such a long development and fielding process followed by an extremely careful method of making the initial combat deployments that the inevitable had happened and that a “knee jerk” reaction would be forthcoming, removing all V-22’s from the Afghan theater.  Thankfully, this has not been the case.

It takes a certain amount of risk to even develop an aircraft like this.  Its unique design gives it capabilities that far surpass any other rotary wing aircraft in the U.S. inventory (along with certain drawbacks that are also unique to it).  In his interview with Danger Room, author Richard Whittle had this to say about Marines, risk, and the V-22:

The Marines are risk-takers by nature, but as I explain in the book, they’ve been in love with vertical-lift aircraft since the helicopter and the atomic bomb emerged during World War II. They saw very quickly that in the atomic age, it might be impossible to do amphibious assaults — their trademark mission — from ships anchored close to a hostile shore, the way they did them in World War II. They fell in love with the tiltrotor because it offered a faster and better way to take Marines to a fight from ships at sea. Their passion for it, though, stems from their unique culture. Unlike the other armed services, the Marines are also a tribe or even a cult, and one of their tribal beliefs is that they have to be different to continue as a separate branch of the military.

Amen, brother!  I am glad that the Marine Corps stuck with the V-22, despite the costs in lives and treasure, for it has the capability to change the way that we are able to move around the battlespace.  Indeed, the combat radius of a V-22 compared to the aircraft it is designed to replace, the Vietnam War-vintage CH-46E is almost funny:

combat radius comparison

Combat radius comparison

For an example of what could be done with the V-22 a little bit closer to home (I live in Taiwan), if you took off in a combat-loaded CH-46E from Kaohsiung, you probably would not be able to make it to China and back. (The CH-46’s advertised combat radius is 184 miles, which is pretty close to the approximately 190 miles that Google Earth tells me it is from Kaohsiung to the Xiamen / Zhangzhou area in China’s Fujian province.) Contrast that with the V-22’s combat radius of 426 miles.  You would not only be able to reach China, you would be able to make it all the way to Hong Kong, 407 miles away.  And then after dropping off its cargo, the V-22 could then return to Kaohsiung, without refueling.  Let’s take a look at the graphic, courtesy of PowerPoint and Google Maps:

Distances from Kaohsiung to selected Chinese cities

(Or, if you’d prefer to see the actual PowerPoint slide, it’s here (.pptx): KHH – HKK)

Not bad.  Nice capability.  This is only a hypothetical situation, though – I don’t think the V-22 will be among approved weapons sales to Taiwan anytime soon. (Better luck with the F-16s that have been promised since the George H. W. Bush administration.)

Marine load cargo on Osprey

Loading an Osprey in Afghanistan [From http://www.flickr.com/photos/marine_corps/ / CC BY-NC 2.0]
In summary, Richard Whittle’s new book about the V-22 looks pretty darn interesting to me and I plan to add it to my “to read” stack.  Maybe you should check it out, too.

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Halfway through “The Pacific”

May 1, 2010
Guadalcanal map

Guadalcanal campaign map

Episode 5 of HBO’s The Pacific aired here in Taiwan last Saturday night.  I’ve seen all five episodes thus far and want to offer my impressions of the series halfway through.  I think it is useful to tie in some related reading I have been doing.

In a previous post I talked about reading E.B. Sledge’s account of the fantastically terrible fighting on Peleliu and Okinawa as preparation for the series.  Selection of Sledge’s book, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa was in fact a matter of convenience; it had been setting on my shelf, begging to be read for nearly a year since I found a very affordable paperback copy used at a bookstore in Monterey, California.  My latest tie-in selection, William Manchester’s Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War was also one of convenience – during a “fire sale” on Audible.com in September 2009, I picked up the unabridged audiobook for cheap.  It had been waiting in my audiobook queue, also beckoning – “Listen to me!”  The time had come.

First of all, my full review of the book, which I finished yesterday, is here at Goodreads.  However, there are a few things I would like to mention about it here in contrast with what I read in Sledge’s book.  Not that  really creates any disputes in the descriptions of the fighting – far from it.  Rather, it is a matter of scope.  Sledge’s book takes an almost “soda straw” view of the fighting he personally engaged in on two islands in the Pacific during World War II.  Much has been written about how successful he was in describing the undeniably brutal combat in both places.  Manchester’s book contains some of the same intense accounts of personal battle, but to it he adds a great deal of context, both from at the time the Pacific campaign was taking place, but also, and very uniquely, from the future – looking back at the battles and their aftermath from the vantage point provided by over three decades of hindsight and perspective.  Writing in the late 1970s, Manchester was critical of the return of the Japanese in commercial and consumer roles to many of the same places that so many U.S. servicemen died in securing during the war, for instance Guam.  I have spent some time on Guam, first in late 1996 and most recently in early 2008.  If he though the place was overcommercialized and had too many Japanese tourists in the late 1970s, I shudder to think what he would make of it today.  The main drag along Tumon Bay compares not unfavorably in terms of commercial development with Waikiki and is now studded with high-rise hotels and fancy boutiques.  Yet only a few miles away in little villages life is completely different, lacking in basic needs like fresh water.  As a legacy of the war, the island is already has a large U.S. military presence, but that will increase by a large margin when in the coming decade nearly 10,000 Marines and their families will most likely move from Okinawa to a new installation on Guam.  Guam’s sons and daughters serve and give their lives in a disproportionately high percentage in today’s U.S. military forces, yet the people there cannot vote in the American presidential elections.  Conditions in Guam today, faced with the impending U.S. military buildup, have many residents feeling like they are colonial subjects of the U.S.  This situation bodes not well for the stability of the island in the future and is even more important as Guam takes a more central role in American strategy in the Pacific as traditional basing locations like Okinawa become less palatable, as the recent protests about the relocation of the Futenma Marine air base in Ginowan, Okinawa and the ongoing friction between the government of Japan and the Americans about what the plan is for the relocation of U.S. forces.

View of Guam from the air, 2008

Manchester also visited Okinawa during his return to the Pacific, and was appalled by what he saw there as well.  He called the base exchange he saw at Camp Foster, the largest of the Marine bases on Okinawa, bigger than any department store he had seen in the U.S.  His return to the Philippines was a bit less shocking, if only because it seemed a bit less “Americanized.”  I’ve also been to Manila and other places in the Philippines and what shocks the most is the contrast between rich and poor.  Manila has no shortage of high-end Western hotels, shopping malls (the Mall of Asia there is the one of the largest in Asia), restaurants, and so forth, but oftentimes just a block or two away are people living in some of the most grinding conditions imaginable.  Panhandling is epidemic.  And then there is the Manila American Cemetery, where many of America’s battle dead from World War II are buried.  When I visited it in 2007, I felt almost as if I had stepped into Arlington National Cemetery, with the rolling expanses of white cross-studded greenery.  It was spacious and peaceful, a stark contrast to the teeming metropolis that surrounded it.

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Even with Manchester’s and Sledge’s lucid descriptions of the combat all across the Pacific, it’s hard for me to imagine fighting in some of these places.  Conditions on Guadalcanal sounded absolutely oppressive.  It’s no wonder the 1st Marine Division emblem still boasts of their fortitude there.

1st MarDiv insignia

1st Marine Division insignia

Finally, specifically about The Pacific, I am enjoying each week’s episode.  I prefer the installments that are more heavy on combat, less so the ones that are about “chasing tail” (i.e. episode 3 about Marines resting and refitting in Australia between the battle on Guadalcanal and the Cape Gloucester landing).  In this respect I agree with critics who say that the series tries to hard to make a “love story.”  Perhaps the second half of the series will be able to tie it all together.  All in all, I would say that halfway through the ten-part series, I prefer Band of Brothers, though it left some seriously big shoes to fill.

Episode 6 of The Pacific airs tonight in Taiwan.  Tune it to HBO to watch.

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