Peter Nealen’s three part series in this forum is a fairly apt analysis of the state of the profession at arms. A lot of things important were said that many of us have been grumbling about for years.

Since September 11, 2001, the force has struggled to maintain manning while minimizing diminishing returns on the quality of soldier entering the army. Good order, discipline, physical fitness, and a solid foundation of basic soldiering skills seem increasingly elusive. Seemingly concomitant has been the reluctance to allow the backbone of the military, small units led by junior leaders, the ability to make timely and effective battlefield decisions without being lorded over by higher commanders situated far from the fight.

In my time in Army Special Forces, there was much lamentations and gnashing of teeth about the 18X recruitment program that brought soldiers right off the street for initial entry training (IET) and straight into the “Q,” presuming they passed through the requisite gates. They weren’t soldiers, they said. They didn’t spend time in a conventional unit to learn the discipline of a soldier and to have the skills to make them ready for SF. I was one of those soldiers, and stayed around long enough to pick up E-7.

However, I also watched my leaders and peers frustrated by in-service recruits to the regiment who were unable to perform skill level 1 and 2 soldiering tasks. Some of these men were already NCOs before selection. Given the period and policies in place, which I can talk about in another piece, they were selected for innate traits that were perceived to make them successful in completing Special Forces training, not because they were a well-rounded warrior that was ready to employ mastered skills. Most of them were great dudes, and with experience and mentoring made great SOF warriors. Again, I am not saying this was the best approach, but this seemed to be how the show was being run.

But this is not what Nealen’s series is about. It is a searing attack on the political/cultural divide within our country between the warfighter and the vast majority of the American people who will never step up to the thin red line. My response is not an apologia for our civilian and military leaders, nor do I completely buy into Nealen’s perspective. But hell, it is a great read and it definitely hit the mark.

In truth, the basic points are right. We as a war-making nation give greater emphasis to technology over humans. Our civilian and military leaders are risk averse. Finally, the military’s overlords (the dreaded elected politician and his over-educated functionaries) are detached from the realities of war, and unable to take decisive action to fight and win our conflicts. All those points are right, 100-fucking-percent right. However, I want to make a few points to bring clarity to this discussion and make an argument that there are some deeper, longer-standing roots to the “decline in American war-making.” I’ll deal with each point out of order, but I think my order builds a pretty good case to explain why and what is actually happening.

First and foremost, I think we should all wake up and listen to spoken-word tapes of former Delta commanders’ maxims the way some people listen to words of affirmation to get through their day. Peter Blaber is right; for that half of a grid square that the guy decisively engaged sits, all the homies back in the TOC need to pay heed. But that is one TIC in a multi-dimensional battlespace where land, air, sea (I know Afghanistan is landlocked) and apparently, cyber assets are engaged in the full-spectrum of war. Neither Blaber, nor any ground force commander, nor even a battlespace owner in a small segment of Afghanistan, is evaluating the equities of the entire operational environment, which extend way past our thin red line of heroes ready to pipe hit their way to Valhalla.

I am talking about strategy, military strategy in particular. Echelons above the guy digging his fighting position (tactical) and even above the division-equivalent commander (operational) running RC Southeast-Central of Nowhere. And here risk aversion is the maxim. It is the strategy.