Michael's Dispatches

Last to Die

806113-1000(Photo Credit dvids)

17 January 2013
[Authored by a Marine Field Grade Officer]

Over the weekend, I received an order from Higher Headquarters to ask for volunteers for 2013 and 2014 deployments to Afghanistan.  Their mission: train and fight with Afghan National Security Forces during the same time that America is leaving Afghanistan.

This is not the first time we have asked for volunteers to deploy.  In the reserve community, we have done this since at least 1995 when I volunteered to deploy during humanitarian operations to deal with the Haitian and Cuban refugee crisis.  During the Global War on Terrorism, we routinely asked reservists to volunteer for deployment.  When I returned to the reserve community after active duty in 2006, I witnessed this practice first hand, this time for combat deployments.

When directed, our job is to augment the active duty force.   But many of our servicemen and women are not actually deploying because they have been recalled to active duty; they have elected to stay at a unit and have volunteered to deploy.  These Marines are usually called “non-obs” or “non obligated” and can, at their convenience, drop to the inactive ready reserve or transfer to another unit.  Once a unit is slated for deployment, there is usually a decision point for these individuals; they must leave the unit or deploy.

It has been my experience that the vast majority of Marines will volunteer to deploy if their unit is activated.  Their professionalism, dedication and patriotism compel them to go into harm’s way with the Marine on their right and left.

When I decided not to deploy to Iraq with my unit because of a serious family illness, I felt like I was abandoning my brothers.  It was my company commander who sat me down and provided sage counsel:  your family is your priority. Our Marines will be OK without you. 

His leadership helped me understand that it was perfectly acceptable to decide not to go.  I was grateful for his honesty.

This past weekend one of my Marines, a young father with a new baby, sought my counsel.  He is a Marine with several combat deployments and he and I had served together in Afghanistan. He had always wanted to deploy with a mentor/training team and was interested in volunteering.   I told him unequivocally that he should not volunteer.

At virtually the same time we were collecting the numerous names of Marines who had volunteered, the following exchange occurred between George Stephanopoulos and the Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass on the Sunday ABC news show “This Week”:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Richard Haass, the president also addressed our overall success in Afghanistan on Friday…Is he right about that and is it sustainable after 2014?

HAASS: The short answer is no. What we started in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a warranted war of necessity. We expanded it over the years, particularly under President Obama in 2009, when we tripled our forces, we decided to go after the Taliban, essentially join Afghanistan's civil war and nation build.

The idea that we're going to be able to leave behind a self-sustaining, capable Afghanistan able to -- or a government that's able to keep control of its territory, we are not going to be able to do it. It was a mistake to try. We are not going to achieve that result. Essentially what we're going to fall back to I would think is what we could have fallen back to years ago, a limited counterterrorism mission with trainers and advisers on the ground. And when we have to, we'll send in special forces or drones to deal with if there are, for example, remnants of al Qaeda to ever come back into the country.

So in other words, Afghanistan is lost.

The ethics of asking for volunteers to wade into the problem that is Afghanistan is simple: asking Marines to volunteer prays on their loyalty and dedication in order to satisfy requirements from HHQ.

It is an abdication of responsibility and leadership to commit to a flawed [course of action] that has no hope of success.  Our leaders are transferring the burden of mission accomplishment to a group of volunteers; dedicated men and women who haven’t been read in on the current friendly situation and have no idea of the enemy’s most probable course of action.  They don’t even have the tools to do a simple METT-T in order to assist them in making an informed decision.

Its one thing if a unit is assigned the mission and Marines are ordered to go, but these volunteers are making a decision to go to combat with people they don’t know at a time when political imperatives overwhelm tactical considerations and our Afghan “friends” are ambushing American Soldiers and Marines.

In the end – those who volunteer will go because they feel that it is their duty as Marines to share the burden of combat.

I have a responsibility to provide my Marines with a frank and honest assessment of the situation; if they want to volunteer, they need to know what they are getting into.

I am not confident that other leaders are doing the same and that is an absolute travesty.

Semper Fidelis.

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