The Perfect Storm of Stupid

24 JUL 2008: The higher ups also have a brilliant plan for replacing the 101st stationed here in Ghazni with a Polish Battle Group currently stationed on the Afghan-Pakistan border.  The Afghans in Ghazni (especially the Governor and ANA Battalion Commander) HATE the Polish, without ever meeting them.  The Ghazni Afghan leadership regards the Polish as Russians in disguise, a fact they attribute to the Polish’s Soviet-style military equipment and Slavic-sounding language.  The Governor has stated on numerous occasions that he refuses to work with the Polish and will personally complain to President Karzai.  Despite his threats, someone with way more power and authority than the Ghazni governor continues to get their way, as the Polish have begun moving into Ghazni and the 101st have begun moving east.

The RIP (relief-in-place; the swap) takes place over the month of August and finishes in September which is just in time for Ramadan.  Ramadan is the worst month for attacks in Afghanistan.  In 2007, attacks in Afghanistan peaked in July, declined through August and September, and then skyrocketed back to July levels during October (Ramadan).  This year, Ramadan begins on September first (the Islamic calendar is lunar, hence the changing dates between 2007 and 2008) and we expect to see a dramatic spike in attacks.  Attacks increase because Islamic fundamentalists believe that any fighter who dies during Ramadan instantly becomes a martyr, a huge incentive for would-be Bin Ladens.  Even worse for us, September traditionally marks the end of the Afghan fighting season.  Snows return to the mountains beginning in October, making the re-supply routes from Pakistan often impassable.  Ramadan + Traditional End of the Fighting Season (might as well go out with a bang, literally) + Incoming Polish (the Taliban will undoubtedly want to test their abilities and willingness to fight) = Perfect Storm.

The incoming Polish Battle Group is being replaced by a different Polish Battle Group that is currently back in Poland; the guys replacing the 101st are leaving one month to the day after they take over.  A RIP is a long, complicated process, during which activity (especially offensive operations) almost always completely falls off; the outgoing unit has “short time syndrome” ( doesn’t want to do anything too dangerous) and the new unit has “FNG (fucking new guy) syndrome” (they haven’t a clue about the magnitude of the hornet’s nest they just entered…and won’t for at least two months, at which time they’ll finally adopt a comfortable battle rhythm).

25 JUL 2008: Team One’s major operation, an assault of Deh Yak, kicked off today.  As they left the FOB, I could only hope and pray that they all returned safe and unharmed.

Recently, Team Four took their ANP up to Jalalabad for a few months of training designed to transform them in to a proficient and “honest” police force.  Under new rules since the Tangei Valley incident that injured Major Malokt and killed three of his team, we must get an O6 (a full bird Colonel) to personally approve our CONOPS (missions) before we can set foot outside the gate.  Moreover, we must roll with a requisite number of U.S. military vehicles; the number changes based on the CSTC-A (Combined Security Forces Training Command – Afghanistan, our overall command) determined threat level for the areas through which one wants to travel.  Interestingly, there’s been absolutely no study to suggest that the number of vehicles has any impact on or correlation with the probability of the Taliban attacking a convoy.  The general rule of thumb is one’s convoy must have at least six vehicles (at least three U.S. military) to go anywhere but FOB Ghazni.  Team Four and its horde of ANP (four vehicles and three charter busses) had the requisite number of vehicles to travel to Jalalabad.  Once they dropped those ANP off for training, however, they needed someone to “give them a ride home” (as each team only has three vehicles of their own). Thankfully, an element of SECFOR (security forces) from Camp Phoenix obliged and made the trip to Jalalabad to pick up Team Four.

Originally, the plan had Team Four waiting at Camp Phoenix until Team Two came back from Kunduz (where they dropped off their ANP for training).  Once linked up, both teams would travel back to our FOB in a joint six vehicle convoy.  Then the 101st stepped in and planned a mission for Team Four, requiring them to be back at our FOB by 25 JUL so that they could Air Assault (fly by helicopter) out to Waghez on 27 JUL.  Team Four had no choice; the 101st had ordered them to return to Ghazni immediately.  Playing by the rules, Team Four couldn’t travel without at least three additional vehicles accompanying them and a Colonel approving the movement.  Captain Ricker, Team Four’s team chief, approached the Camp Phoenix SECFOR and once again asked for their assistance, which they happily gave.

The joint convoy sought and received approval from the ARSIC-C commander to move back to Ghazni.  NATO, for the purposes of command and forces management, divided Afghanistan into six regions: ARSIC-S (South), ARSIC-E (East), ARSIC-W (West), ARSIC-N (North), ARSIC-C (Central), and ARSIC-Kabul (Kabul city).  A Colonel heads each ARSIC.  The ARSICs oversee the training of the ANA and ANP and “command” our ground-level ETT (ANA trainers) and PMT (ANP trainers) units.

The joint convoy had basically made it back to Ghazni when they received a text message on their BFTs from the ARSIC-E commander ordering Team Four NOT to leave Kabul for Ghazni. Apparently, the ARSIC-E commander, Colonel Wilde, did not care or know about the 101st’s plans for Team Four and wanted them to remain at Camp Phoenix until Team Two arrived (as originally planned).  By the time Team Four received his orders, they had already disobeyed them.

Colonel Wilde blew his top when he found out that Team Four had left for Ghazni without his permission.  Colonel Wilde held the opinion that only a unit’s specific ARISC commander can approve them to move; even though Team Four received permission from ARSIC-C (the area of the country in which they were located at the time), they also need ARSIC-E’s permission to move as well as they “belong to” ARSIC-E.

Regardless of doctrine and unclear rules of movement, Colonel outranks Captain, and thus Colonel Wilde felt he had been directly and purposely disobeyed by an insubordinate Captain Ricker.  Colonel Wilde ordered Major Garrison and Captain Ricker to fly to FOB Lightning (his headquarters) in Gardez ASAP, an air movement that occurred in record time for Afghanistan (ordered on the 26th and executed on the 27th, only air MEDEVACs move faster).  Captain Ricker would have to sit out the operation in Waghez.  Captain Ricker is a classic Infantryman: a man of few words, strong opinions, little emotion, and a thirst for combat who possess an unbridled and yet expertly controlled rage ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice.  To miss a major operation, to deny him the opportunity to lead his men in combat was to deny the man his essence.

Captain Ricker had the next 48 hours to contemplate his fate; rumors swirled that Colonel Wilde would relieve him, but Major Garrison hoped he could mitigate that by chalking up the whole episode as nothing more than a giant misunderstanding due to confusing and ill defined rules of movement.  As Captain Ricker contemplated his fate, he continued to assist his team in their preparations for the operation in Waghez, a consummate leader till the end.

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