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| PHOTO GALLERY | REPORTER'S
"Change is Hard"
|Reporter Anthony Brooks at the Army's training ground
in Yakima, Washington. (Photo: Joe Barrentine)
First Sergeant James Kemp stands in the middle of the town of Jezebar,
a shabby hamlet that has apparently seen better times. Surrounded by
a forest of pine trees, the small village is littered with the detritus
of warfare, including shreds of barbed wire and a ruined, burnt-out
car carcass, which rests at the edge of the muddy town square across
from the church. Sergeant Kemp, a veteran of the U.S. invasion of Panama,
is waiting for an attack to begin, and he doesn't expect his soldiers
to perform that well. "You'll see a lot of the mistakes I was talking
about," he says with the tone of a slightly indulgent yet disappointed
schoolteacher. Suddenly Jezebar erupts with the sound of gun-fire. From
the north, a light armored vehicle sweeps one side of the town with
a fifty caliber machine gun; from the south, several squads of soldiers
storm the small, wooden buildings, and begin moving through them, one
room at a time, shouting and firing their M-4 assault rifles at the
hooded gunmen hiding in the dark corridors. When the raid starts, Sergeant
Kemp springs into action, running from building to building to watch
the action and to judge the performance of his troops. When a canister
of smoke detonates outside the town hall to provide cover for the raid,
Kemp disappears into the purple cloud then emerges a short time later
shaking his head. "One guy went into the room by himself,"
says Kemp. "That's a non-starter, getting himself killed like that.
The team leader isn't articulating himself well."
It takes the soldiers of Charlie Company more than an hour to secure
Jezebar, but the cost has been high. Sergeant Kemp says seven of his
men were killed and wounded, mostly because of too many "simple
mistakes that got people hurt." Of course the soldiers were firing
blanks, and none of them was actually hurt in this training exercise
at Fort Lewis, Washington. But the exercise made the point of just how
unforgiving and unpredictable the business of warfare is. "It's
a very tough business," says Sergeant Kemp. "Going through
a maze and making decisions on the fly - it's not easy."
Charlie Company is part of the Army's effort at Fort Lewis to transform
itself from a heavy, cumbersome force, that took six months to deploy
to push the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait during Desert Storm, to a more
nimble and quickly deployable fighting force. At Fort Lewis, it is developing
Interim Brigade Combat Teams, or ICBTs, which will rely on light armored
vehicles instead of tanks. They will also rely on advanced information
technology designed to allow them to fight more effectively even with
less firepower. At Fort Lewis, and at the Army training ground in Yakima,
Washington, the new technology includes unmanned reconnaissance drones,
and an elaborate system of portable computers that provide commanders
with real-time information about their battle environments. But at the
end of the day - and this is a point made by soldiers again and again
- there is no technological silver bullet. As the mock raid on the town
of Jezebar demonstrated, and as Captain John Kiriazis of Charlie Company
says, war is ultimately a messy fight in the mud. "Technology is
a great tool before a fight," says Kiriazis, his cheek bulging
with chewing tobacco. "But when it comes down to pulling triggers,
people going down, it's always gong to come down the individual soldier
and his training."
As the daylight fades over the town of Jezebar, Captain Kiriazis assembles
his men to dissect what went wrong in the raid. By the time the briefing
is finished, the town is cloaked in darkness, and Kiriazis says he will
give the men of Charlie Company a few minutes to eat, but then they
must reassemble and do the exercise again. This time in the dark.
When the Inside Out Documentary team set out to do a project about
the effort to reshape the military the big question was, where do we
start? And where to we end up? For us, the challenge was trying to find
a few small anecdotes that explain something about the huge challenge
of reforming an immense organization that is rooted in the political
world, the corporate world, and of course, the military world. In the
end, we decided to tell four discreet stories that give the listener
a chance to latch on to the story from several perspectives. So this
was a little bit like the effort of four blind men trying to describe
what an elephant looks like: depending upon where they stand, and what
part of the huge body they are touching, they will give very different
We did feel strongly, however, that we wanted to begin and end the
project with the men and women who are actually engaged in the work
of the military. So we started in Fort Lewis, Washington, and we ended
at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where tomorrow's officers
are minted, and where the idea of change runs counter to a two centuries-long
history of discipline and tradition. And in between we explored a conversation
about new technology and an old debate about national missile defense.
Through these four scenes we found a few consistent themes. First and
foremost was the idea of change and how hard it is. Perhaps William
Crowe, the gruff and plainspoken retired naval admiral who served as
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff put it best when he said, "It's
difficult to change the military because of its nature. You can change
foreign policy in two or three minutes, but [with] military policy you
have a base structure and investment in equipment that's going to be
with you for forty years." But that is not to say that the military
is immutable to change, according to Crowe, who spent 47 years in the
military, and says, the military from which he retired was completely
different from the one he joined. "[The military] probably doesn't
change with the pace that people would prefer, but the fact is the military
is evolving constantly," says Crowe.
One of the reasons the military services are so slow to embrace change
is a function of human nature. "Every time you change something
some guy looses," says Crowe. He recalls, for example, the immense
resistance to doing away with the battleship, which put at stake the
pride, tradition and livelihoods of two generations of military professionals.
But eventually battleships were mothballed (many of them were also destroyed
by Japanese aviators at Pearl Harbor), as naval power was redefined
by aircraft carriers and submarines. Today, the debate continues. Some
military experts believe aircraft carriers, slow and vulnerable, should
give way to a new generation of speedy arsenal ships, which could work
close to the shorelines and deliver an array of precision-guided weapons
instead of aircraft. But don't expect aircraft carriers to sail away
toward the setting sun any time soon. There are too many careers at
Beyond human nature, it is also the nature of corporate and political
interests that make the process of change so slow. In "Fighting
the Next War," we make the point that even weapons that military
planners in the Pentagon say they no longer need continue to absorb
billions of dollars of national treasure. A case in point is the Army's
Crusader Howitzer system, a massive self-propelled gun that can fire
100-pound rounds some twenty miles. The Crusader was originally designed
during the Cold War to stop columns of Soviet tanks, which threatened
to swarm across the Fulda Gap in the great European land battle that
never came. The Crusader, which is expensive, large, heavy and difficult
to transport, would appear to be completely out of step with the Army's
stated objective of building a more agile and quickly deployable fighting
force; and it has been on just about everybody's list of unnecessary
weapons programs. Ashton Carter, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense
in the Clinton Administration, calls the Crusader "the poster child
for military waste." Nevertheless, the Pentagon has spent almost
three billion dollars developing the program, which will ultimately
cost at least 11-billion dollars. The reason, of course, is not news.
What Carter calls "an iron triangle of support" between contractors,
politicians and the military make it virtually impossible to unplug
support from even the most unnecessary programs. "A lot of careers
are tied to these programs," says Chuck Spinney, a Pentagon analyst,
and outspoken whistle blower, who has been raising the alarm about Pentagon
waste for years. "The reason the Crusader continues on," says
Spinney, "is because of politics."
Our visit to Huntsville, Alabama, also known proudly as "Rocket
City," amplified Spinney's point about the role of politics in
matters of national defense. Huntsville is mad for rockets. As we explain
in "Fighting the Next War," Huntsville's evolution from sleepy
cotton town to a booming hi-technology center was fueled by the missile
and aerospace industry. Today, given that companies in Huntstville hold
some 900 federal contracts for missile defense, it is hardly surprising
to find such devotion to the proposition of national missile defense.
Alabama's senior senator, Richard Shelby, is one of the program's biggest
boosters, and he is supported with generous campaign contributions from
companies that stand to gain the most from continued federal investment
in missile defense. The network of mutual support is also reinforced
by a revolving door, which allows senior military officers to move right
from the Army's Redstone Arsenal, which oversees a large portion of
the missile defense program, into senior positions at corporations in
Huntsville that profit from that same program. The Pentagon's Spinney
calls this a "self-licking ice cream cone." Of course there's
nothing necessarily untoward about this, and in fact there's an argument
to be made that these corporations, which provide essential technology
in support of the nation's defense, benefit from the skills, knowledge
and experience of these retired officers. But Spinney is worried about
what this system does to the principal of the arm's length relationship
between the government and its defense contractors. With the promise
of lucrative job offers awaiting these senior military officers after
retirement, Spinney says, "think about how that might color [their]
decisions" about the merits of the programs they oversee.
The events of September 11th have left their mark on the discussion
and the debate about how to reshape the military. The Bush Administration
proposes the largest defense budget increase in two decades, which includes
new investments in, among other things, hi-tech weapons and missile
defense. Ashton Carton, the former Assistant Defense Secretary, hopes
that the attacks on New York and Washington have rekindled awareness
that "Security doesn't come free." But Carter also hopes it
has sparked an effort to clean up what he calls the "embarrassingly
critical" mismanagement of defense resources. "One hopes,"
he says, "that the events of September 11th mean that we are finally
going to pull up our socks and get to genuine transformation in the
Department of Defense."
Such concerns are generally not the province of soldiers, who have
more immediate challenges at stake. But still, the events of September
11th are very much present on the training fields of military bases
across the country. One consistent theme we heard again and again was
how September 11th has added urgency and relevance to their training.
"Any real world situation is going to spark an infantry soldier
out here," according to Army Captain John Kiriazis at Fort Lewis.
"Ever since September 11th there's a new fire in these guys."
We heard the same from Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, who
are part of a new anti-terrorism battalion. "Prior to September
11th we were thinking, will we ever use this [training]?" according
to Lt. Michael Hoffman. "Now there is a pretty big perception that
we are going to go out and execute these operations in the near future."
And at West Point, young cadets are thinking about their futures in
a world where the nature of warfare itself is changing. In the past,
notes Paul Waldof, a third year cadet from Hattiesberg, Mississippi,
the difference between combatants and non-combatants has been uniforms.
"But the people the Army are fighting now could be civilians with
AK-47s," says Waldof. "It's very difficult to fight an enemy
like that," he says. "And it makes me wonder, should I be
doing this?" It's a startling confession from the disciplined ranks
of West Point, but hardly surprising given the nature of warfare today.
It was also a confession that Waldof quickly amended. "I have to
do it," he said. "I feel that without the people in the Army
right now, we would not survive as a nation," Waldof declared.
"That's what drives me."