“We’re going to bring everybody back.” How often have you heard a commander say that?

How often have you heard comparisons of casualty counts between OEF/OIF and Vietnam? In about the same timeframe, we’ve suffered 5,312 combat deaths and 1,434 non-combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, as compared to 58,300 combat and non-combat deaths in Vietnam. This is universally pointed to as a good thing. (Unless you are politically opposed to the administration in office at the time, in which case ever single death is highlighted as the personal fault of the politicians of the opposing party. More on this later.)

But is the ultimate goal when you go to war to minimize your own casualties? If it is, you may as well not go to war at all. War is lethal violence applied against an opposing party to force them to your will. The other party will be applying, or attempting to apply, the same lethal violence to force you to their will. This means people are going to die, on both sides. If you cannot stomach that from the get-go, don’t go to war.

There’s a word for that, especially when the other side fired the first shot: Surrender.

Minimizing casualties has become an obsession in the US military. Most of the reason for this is politics and careerism (which are two sides of the same coin). Eighteen combat deaths were enough to cause the US to withdraw from Somalia in 1993, mainly because the administration believed that losing soldiers in combat was going to make them look bad politically. The result has poisoned combat leadership, as the officers who came up during that time have become the senior leadership now. Too many casualties are bad for your career, so avoid them if at all possible.

This has metastasized to the point of platoon sergeants checking that every man in the platoon has every single piece of higher-mandated PPE, right down to the proper gloves (even if the nomex gloves tend to disintegrate in about a week of hard use).

This risk aversion has led to three major problems on the operational level: micromanagement and the death of small-unit leader initiative; increasingly immobilizing weight from protective requirements; and the death of maneuver.

The above example of the platoon sergeant confirming that everyone in the platoon has all their PPE is a shining example of micromanagement. Making sure that everyone has the kit they’re supposed to have should fall on fire-team and squad leaders at most (team leaders in Recon). The platoon sergeant has other things to focus on. The platoon commander even more so. But officers and SNCOs are now so terrified of somebody under them getting wounded or killed, and it reflecting badly on their career, that they have to personally check everyone. Then they have to personally make sure everyone is in the right place. Then…it just goes on, until you’ve got squad leaders who aren’t there to lead, but to fill a billet. This leads to paralysis on a small-unit level. Little things become big things.