Friday, October 15, 2010

What makes the grass grow?

Let's do a couple of thought experiments:

  1. You're a military truck driver in one of the 'Stans, hauling gas, beans, and bullets across mountain passes to our troops in Afghanistan. Most of the drivers in your convoy are contracted local drivers, who may or may not be unarmed.  You're one of a few Americans in the convoy, and you're carrying your M-4 carbine and basic load of 250 rounds of ammunition.  As you wend your way through the mountains, you're ambushed, and the convoy is forced to stop and fight for its life.  You unass the truck, and return fire.  Rapidly, your load of ammunition dwindles as you try to drive off the ambushers while you wait for air support and rescue.  Eventually, you're down to one magazine of ammunition, and you can hear the bad guys maneuvering to close with the convoy and either capture or kill you and the rest of your unit.
  2. You're an infantry soldier, serving along the DMZ in South Korea when Jim Jong Il goes to the Great Worker's Paradise In The Sky.  In order to cement himself as the new national savior and dictator for life, his son picks a fight with South Korea and the United States, and brings along the Chinese just for kicks and grins.  Instead of spending a year watching the border and partying in the local bars, you get issued ammunition and become part of Pusan Perimeter the Sequel.  Supplies are low, and artillery and air support are hard to come by.  Welcome to an infantry war circa 1949, except it's in 2010.  You never seem to have enough bullets, but the Chinese and North Koreans never seem to run out of bad guys.
  3. You're a Military Intelligence pogue at a rear area base in Kuwait.  Life sucks, but it's not too bad.  You're not issued ammunition, but your commander insists you carry around your M-4 all the time.  Suddenly, trucks at all of the gates to your compound explode, and screaming jihadis are running through the camp, shooting everything that moves.  You don't have any bullets, but you have your LBE, your helmet, and your M-4, and all your gear-do battle rattle that you picked up at the PX.

In all of these situations, you're in a world of shit.  American soldiers are trained to always have the best of everything, and plenty of it.  Everything from cold sports drinks and coffee at the AAFES mall to flat screen TV's in the MWR tent are taken as a given in most units.  Only at the very sharp end of the stick do these luxuries start to disappear, but firepower and ammunition on tap are still considered essentials. 

But when the world falls in, and you can't have hell rain from the heavens on demand and your ammo pouch feels a little light, what do you do when confronted with a situation that requires you to stand and fight?

If you ask a soldier today, you'll probably be told it's time to fix bayonets and fight.  American soldiers have been taught the rudiments of bayonet fighting since Baron von Steuben talked his way onto Washington's staff.  Yes, it's a tactic that was born centuries ago, and U.S. Army units haven't done an organized bayonet charge since the early 1950's.

But the bayonet is still there as the weapon of last resort for American soldiers.

Recently, the Army announced that due to time constraints bayonet training will be dropped from Army basic training.  I'm assuming it will be kept for Infantry training, but that leaves the majority of soldiers without this skill. 

As you can guess, I think this is a mistake.  Bayonet training not only gives soldiers a skill they can use during worst case scenarios, but it also takes away the fiction that fighting is a real-world analog to video games.  Let's face it,shooting a rifle at the range is pretty impersonal, as is calling in artillery or setting mines.  When you practice butt strokes, thrusts, and blocks, you're looking at another soldier that's almost at nose picking distance from you.  Do it often enough, and you might start to take all that GI Joe stuff seriously. 

Also, it's good physical exercise.  Think you're in good shape?  Take a 20 pound dummy rifle with a sharp bayonet on the end of it, swing it around for an hour, then run a 2 mile bayonet course.  I was in what was probably the best shape of my life, and I was laying in a pool of sweat after doing that.

The Army needs to either find time in the training schedule to put bayonet training back in, extend the schedule to accommodate it and other basic combat skills, or take a lot of the feel-good sensitivity training that has crept in over the past couple of decades.

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