18 June 2012
Amid the sea of milblog riffraff are a few islands of hope. Hershel Smith is one of those islands:
Why I Am A Milblogger
Written By: Herschel Smith
Occasionally I receive a note from someone or read something that confirms my hard work as a Milblogger and gives me the energy to move forward. That recently happened, but more on that in a moment. I began blogging (and arbitrarily selected a name for my blog) just before my youngest son entered the U.S. Marine Corps. But after my son’s decision, I began to focus on different things than politics. I have recently taken to writing about guns, second amendment rights, the militarization of police tactics, the Southern border with Mexico and other things. But I will always write about the military in one form or another.
It has been a rocky road. The Milblogger community is a rough bunch, easily drawn into a fight. So am I, I guess. I cannot even begin to share the obscenities and ugly names I have been called in both comments and e-mail (some of it over my interactions with and support of Michael Yon), or share the accusations or charges that have been leveled against me (from “stolen valor” because of the name of my blog given that my son served but I didn’t, to violating OPSEC due to my work on trying to change the ROE). The contact page currently doesn’t work, causing the ugliness to abate a bit. I have had physical threats (not that I am concerned about those), and one exchange of e-mail with a prominent blogger and writer that to this day, after 32 years in business and industry and 53 years living remains the most bizarre, strange, inexplicable and indiscernible exchange with anyone over anything in my entire life. I finally inquired into whether the individual had been consuming alcohol, and shared the notes with friend Joshua Foust (to which Foust recommended giving this individual a wide berth).
While the Marines were in the Anbar Province I followed their hard work even on a personal basis. The U.S. Marines lost just over 1000 men, and I knew many (or most) of their names. I knew how they had perished, oftentimes, and from press reports I knew how their families reacted. I wept over many of the lost Marines, and also over many of them who had lost limbs. Over the years it became so emotionally difficult and taxing that I had to disconnect a little in order to remain sane. On the other hand, perhaps blogging kept me sane while my son was deployed to Fallujah in 2007.
So why have I done this? Well, while I know that the standing rules of engagement of the JCS have not changed, or even the theater-specific rules of engagement, I do know that the manner and temperament with which they were applied by JAGs at the unit level was modified over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would like to think that my work on the ROE added in some small fashion to the feedback to command, both civilian and military.
While General McChrystal’s downfall was his having surrounded himself with adolescents rather than adults, and I’m sure that I didn’t add to his demise in command over the campaign in Afghanistan, I hope that I helped to catalyze the ejection of the Army officers who denied fire support to the Marines and Soldiers at Ganjgal. McChrystal’s directive was immoral. But the application of it by officers who should have known better was equally immoral. In the end, if I didn’t persuade the Army to eject these defective officers, at least I gave the grieving fathers, mothers and wives a chance to express their grief. The comments in response to Reprimands in Marine Deaths in Ganjgal Engagement are stunning and breathtaking.
I have also been able to make wonderful friends with a man far better than I, and had to watch while hegrieved his lost son. I have grown to know a man whose opinion on Afghanistan (and many other things) I would trust above all others and who has probably been in Afghanistan longer than any English-speaking man alive. But just when I grow weary of this, someone sends me refreshment to keep me going. In response to Enemy Sniper at COP Pirtle-King in Kunar I recently received two letters from a friend, summarized below.
" I spoke with you months ago but I wanted to attach some photos of the kind of terrain that we had to battle. Granted my unit was mounted most of the deployment but I wanted to illustrate by showing you pictures some of the dismount patrols we did and also mounted patrols. Being on a PRT allowed us the opportunity to travel most of the province so we had to deal with humps up mountains, and traversing one lane roads surrounded by mountains.
I also wanted to attach pictures of what an OP looks. OP Bullrun (the pictures that looked like a bunker) which we manned (I was up there every other week for approx 7 days with a 8 man crew including myself) was a relay station to Camp Wright (or asadabad as some of the saltier guys call it) and also the trip flare if the indians came over the mountain to hit Camp Wright. We were an hour and a half away hump from Camp Wright and we had to rely on ourselves and fires if we came on contact. I currently don’t know if it’s being manned or if it’s an ANA post now.
I’ve also attached pictures that at the time was OP Nevada was an ANA OP across the Asmar/Kunar River from Wright. That was also a two hour hump. Now a lot has changed in two years so I couldn’t tell you it’s current status but I hope the terrain and some of the conditions that you see will further illustrate why in this particular province holding the high ground is a motherf***** (pardon my langauge).
I’m sorry if some of the pictures were “cool guy” pictures. I also wanted to point out that the individuals in most of the pics were my two buddies who I got recalled off IRR with for Obama’s half assed surge. They are [names deleted] from the 82nd Airborne and Spc. [name deleted] from 1st Ranger Battalion. A lot of infantryman got recalled to active duty for the surge to support the national guard operating as manuever elements in RC-East. That’s another story for another time.
I am a big proponent of your blog. I actually discovered your blog October 2009 at the MWR at Ft. Benning when I was recalled to active duty and I was trying to get info on Afghanistan. You actually published an article where my future Squadron Commander (1/221 Cav NV National Guard were the battle space owners for Laghman and provided the manuever element for PRTs Kunar, Nuristan, and Khost) about fighting the taliban. I was originally with 1/221 Cav manuever element that was assigned to PRT Kunar from December 09 to March 2010 and due to man power issues OP Bullrun was originally a 4 man OP. When the boys went home (I actually moved to Las Vegas from Phoenix when I got back from Afghanistan in Oct 2010 and joined the unit so I can still serve while I go to school full time) PA National Guard and the New PRT took over. Because PA Guard’s manuever element was larger, myself and my three recall buddies pressed the issue to plus the OP to 8 guys.
The reason why we did this is from actually reading your reporting on Wanat, Keating, and various COPs and OPs getting hit in the AO. Because we had increased manpower we made it a point to work on the OP everyday by reinforcing bunkers, adding more C wire and razor wire, filling sandbags, placing claymores with breadth and depth (That was my dad’s advice. He was an Infantry Company Commander in Vietnam with the 101st), getting our Terp fired (we had issues with Claymores being cut and the previous PRT commander stated we needed to catch him in the act but with the new PRT I was able to convince higher to get rid of him), and daily patrols walking the perimeter (we did that to let whoever was watching us know we were active)
Now in terms of OPSEC (Editorial note: In an intervening e-mail we discussed issues of OPSEC) upon further reflection I don’t think that would be an issue because these photos are over 2 years old. From what I’ve heard through the grape vine OP Nevada is run by Americans now and OP Bullrun is an ANA OP now (which means it’s worthless) and apparently Camp Wright is getting shut down in the next 4-6 months.
In terms of losing all the hard work we did to be honest I really don’t care anymore. If there’s no will to secure victory and do it the correct way I see no point in being there. I don’t want anymore of my friends to die because of an incoherent strategy. Myself and countless others busted our ass and we did it for nothing. The only thing that helps me sleep easy at night the fact that I brought all my soldiers home.
And I thank you sir!