Saturday, May 02, 2009

Where Do We Get Men Such As These?
They absolutely humble me

Helmet tip to PreVat2

I'm breaking my rule of steering clear of long posts, but this one's worth it. Sleep well tonight, America - your Marine Corps is on duty. (Emphasis mine) A Young Marine’s Dream Job
By C. J. CHIVERS

Lance Corporal Murray, left, and Corporal Conroy at Firebase Vimoto.

FIREBASE VIMOTO, Afghanistan — Three stone houses and a cluster of sandbagged bunkers cling to a slope above the Korangal Valley, forming an oval perimeter roughly 75 yards long. The oval is reinforced with timber and ringed with concertina wire.

An Afghan flag flutters atop a tower where Afghan soldiers look out, ducking when rifle shots snap by.

This is Firebase Vimoto, named for Pfc. Timothy R. Vimoto, an American soldier killed in the valley two years ago. If all goes according to the Pentagon’s plan, this tiny perimeter — home to an Afghan platoon and two Marine Corps infantrymen — contains the future of Afghanistan. The Obama administration hopes that eventually the Afghan soldiers within will become self-sufficient, allowing the fight against the Taliban to be shifted to local hands.

For now this vulnerable little land claim — in the hostile village of Babeyal and supported by a network of American infantry positions nearby — offers something else: a fine-grained glimpse inside the Afghan war, and the remarkably young men often at the front of it.

There are nearly 30 Afghan soldiers here. Their senior mentor, Cpl. Sean P. Conroy, of Carmel, N.Y., is 25 years old. His assistant, Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Murray, of Fort Myers, Fla., is 21.

On the ground, far from the generals in Kabul and the policy makers in Washington, the hour-by-hour conduct of the war rests in part in the deeds of men this young, who have been given latitude to lead as their training and instincts guide them.

Each day they organize and walk Afghan Army patrols in the valley below, some of the most dangerous acreage in the world. Each night they participate in radio meetings with the American posts along the ridges, exchanging plans and intelligence, and plotting the counterinsurgency effort in the ancient villages below.

In Corporal Conroy’s war, two Marines train Afghans in weapons, tactics, first aid, hygiene and leadership. They keep the firebase supplied with ammunition, water, batteries and food. They defecate in a rusting barrel and urinate in a tube that slopes off a roof and drains into the air. Fly strips surround them. They have no running water; their sleeping bunker stinks of filthy clothes and sweat.

The corporal has tied a flea collar through his belt loops; he needs it like a dog. He served two tours in Iraq. His four-year enlistment ended last month, but he extended for nine months when promised he would be assigned to a combat outpost in Afghanistan.

He hopes to attend college later. For now, he represents a class of Marine and soldier that has quietly populated the ranks since 2003. He enlisted not to pick up job skills or to travel the world at government expense. He enlisted to fight. “We’re the new generation,” he said. “I’ll tell you what — there are a lot of young Marines who’ve seen more combat than all of the guys up top who joined in the ’90s.”

He is supremely cocky, but unpretentious. When he met two journalists from The New York Times he asked what news agency they represented. Hearing the answer, he replied with one extended syllable: “Boooooo.” He prefers a good tabloid, he said.

He does not hide that he likes his life here: the senior man in an isolated post, surrounded by the Taliban, waking to a new patrol every day and drilling what he calls the Alamo Plan, to be executed if the firebase is overrun.

“This is the sweetest deal ever,” he said one evening between firefights. “There is no other place I could get a job like this — not at this rank.”

He woke the next day before 4 a.m. for a patrol. As he slipped into his ammunition vest, he groused that back home, when conversations drift to the war, the infantry too often is misunderstood. “You know what I don’t like about America?” he said, in the chill beneath lingering stars. “If you do what I do, then they think either you should have PTSD or you are some sort of psychopath.” PTSD is post-traumatic stress disorder.

He exhaled cigarette smoke. “This is my job,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

The war in Afghanistan defies generalization. Each province, each valley and each village can be its own universe, presenting its own problems and demanding its own solutions.

In large areas of the countryside, the Americans try the softer touch of local engagement: distributing aid, seeking allies and coaching a nascent government to provide services on its own. Corporal Conroy and Lance Corporal Murray drew a different sort of assignment.

Here there is no Afghan government. The valley long ago sank into an old-school fight. Whether and how the contest for the Korangal can be shifted into something different, through negotiations, force or a counterinsurgency campaign, is not clear.

For now, the villages are eerily empty of men between the ages of 15 and 45. They are in the forests and mountains, from where they stage attacks and disrupt efforts at aid and development. They appear openly only on Fridays, when they gather without weapons at mosques, one of which is 150 yards from the firebase. The Afghan soldiers sometimes visit the mosque to pray at the same time, and the two sides eye each other warily, sharing a sacred space in a lull between fights.

The firefights between the insurgents and the Americans vary widely. Some are a few rifle shots or bursts of machine gun fire. Others are intensive ambushes of foot patrols. Many are attacks on American outposts and firebases. Sometimes all the firebases are struck at once.

In all, Corporal Conroy said, in five months here, he and Lance Corporal Murray have been attacked more than 70 times. He said he respected the insurgents’ courage, but was grateful that most of them lacked an essential skill.

“They are experienced and understand the principles of the ambush,” he said. “But they are not very good shots. If these guys knew how to shoot like even the U.S. Army, we would be taking 50 percent casualties on all of our patrols.”

He looked himself over. “Not a scratch yet,” he said. He balled his left hand into a fist and knocked on a sagging plywood table, warding off the jinx.

How effective the American training mission will be is unclear. The corporal said it would be years before the Afghan Army was ready to operate independently full time. But he said he had seen reason for optimism.

The Afghan captain who worked here until early April was overweight, lazy and rarely left the firebase. He used Afghan infantryman as valets. “I expected to come in and find the soldiers dropping grapes in his mouth,” Corporal Conroy said.

“Or fanning him with a palm branch,” said Lance Corporal Murray.

A new Afghan lieutenant rotated in last week. He is neat and lean, and has shown self-discipline and tactical sense. The Marines celebrated his arrival by buying a chestnut-and-white bull.

The Afghan soldiers bound the animal’s legs and flipped it onto its side. A soldier worked a blade across its throat. These Afghan soldiers eat meat once every two or three weeks. Tonight they would feast.

They were palpably happy. “Let Barack Obama come here and kill a cow for us,” one said. The rest laughed.

Corporal Conroy watched until the jokes subsided. War, like politics, is local. He reminded the Afghans that a platoon looked out for itself, and that he was the senior American on hand. “You don’t need Obama here,” he said. “I bought the cow.”
Thank God the Marine Corps still thrusts leadership on our youngsters. I have a funny feeling that any other Branch (or an allied country) would place a Captain (pay grade 0-3) and a senior Enlisted (pay grade E-7) at this Firebase... but The Corps sends a Corporal (E-4) and a Lance Corporal (E-3) to honcho this effort. Hell, and I'd wager neither of these gunslingers even have a hashmark between 'em.

God bless ya, Marines. I'll keep the both of you in my Rosary.

11 Comments:

Blogger Adeodatus49 said...

“But they are not very good shots. If these guys knew how to shoot like even the U.S. Army . . . .I just love this comment! LOL

10:21 AM  
Blogger Vir Speluncae Catholicus said...

Ade,
I know!!! I was tempted to place that quote in bold, but decided that may be just a liiiiiiitle too much of me rubbing it in the nose of mt brothers-in-arms is a different Brannch of the Armed Forces.

It is a kick ass quote.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Adeodatus49 said...

I thought the statement was funny because I already knew that the U.S.M.C. has placed enormous emphasis during boot camp and follow-on training on putting rounds on target. It comes down to rifle marksmanship. Every Marine is a rifleman, after all. It is not about the number of rounds per unit time, but the accuracy of the fire. Good show!

2:05 PM  
Blogger Nate Wildermuth said...

Thank you for this post, Vir. I run a site called Catholic Peacemaking, and have written a response to your thoughts that I hope will lead to dialogue about the issue of war, the military, and killing. I think you might be surprised to find out what the Church teaches regarding violence. Here's the link:

http://www.catholicpeacemaking.com/YoungMarinesDreamJob

God bless,
Nate Wildermuth

2:44 PM  
Blogger Former Altar Boy said...

Where Do We Get Men Such As These?

From God-fearing, America-loving homes (something we can no longer count on the publis school system to support).

4:25 PM  
Blogger Vir Speluncae Catholicus said...

Here is what Nate posted, and my response below --- (http://www.catholicpeacemaking.com/YoungMarinesDreamJob?show_comments=1)

Lair of the Catholic Cavemen - A Young Marine's Dream Job“This is my job,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”"While the Catholic Church admits that some wars may be just under certain conditions, the Church also teaches that peace can only be won through forgiveness and reconciliation. The American military is not designed to make peace. The American military is designed to kill people.

There are nearly 30 Afghan soldiers here. Their senior mentor, Cpl. Sean P. Conroy, of Carmel, N.Y., is 25 years old. His assistant, Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Murray, of Fort Myers, Fla., is 21 . . . Each day they organize and walk Afghan Army patrols in the valley below . . . In Corporal Conroy’s war, two Marines train Afghans in weapons, tactics, first aid, hygiene and leadership. They keep the firebase supplied with ammunition, water, batteries and food.The problem with this approach to peacemaking is that it is not Catholic. Catholic peacemaking is about uniting to fight violence, not about uniting to promote violence. While legitimate self-defense may be a right, Catholics are called to sacrifice their lives for their enemies. It is only in that sort of sacrifice that true peace is won. Arming men and training them how to kill will not lead to peace, but will only sow the seeds of future conflict.

Thank God the Marine Corps still thrusts leadership on our youngsters . . . God bless ya, Marines. I'll keep the both of you in my Rosary.My question for the Catholic Cavemen, which I hope can lead to dialogue, is what does God's blessing upon a Marine look like? Does it make him a better shot, so that he can kill more of the enemy? Does it make him a better leader, so that his soldiers will kill more of the enemy? Or is it the reverse? Would God's blessing actually lead to the miracle of reconciliation among Marines and Insurgents, among the splintered groups of Afghans? What do you hope that God will do for these young men? My prayer is this: "God, please bless these young soldiers with protection from the physical and psychological evil of war. Bless them with love of enemy, and give them the weapons to make peace among those at war in Afghanistan. Bless them with merciful and meek hearts. Bless them, and make them into Catholic Peacemakers."


The Catholic Caveman responds --The American military is designed to kill people - Incorrect. The American militarty is designed to protect. Are policmen designed to kill, or even better... the Swiss Guard. Are they "designed to kill" as you say? No one despises war more than those who are willing to defend those who can't/won't. If it weren't for the American military, you'd be speaking either German, Japanese or Russian. As I've posted on my blog before, 98% of the world is sheep. 1% are wolves. The remaining 1% are the sheepdogs. Sheepdogs will give their lives to protect the flock. Sometimes the wolves are killed... sometimes the sheepdogs are killed. I'm not asking you to "like" or even approve of those who have the moral fiber to grab a weapon and defend the defenseless. But an iota of respect instead of slanderous hyperbole would be the decent thing for you to do.

The problem with this approach to peacemaking is that it is not Catholic. - I suggest you take another look at the CCC. But let's cut to the chase... if what these Marines (and every other memeber of the US Armed Forces, as well as those of our allied nations) are really so out of step with the official teachings of The Catholic Church, then by your rationale, hundreds of thousands of Catholics, as well as hundreds of Catholic Chaplains, are de facto excommunicated.

Catholics are called to sacrifice their lives for their enemies. It is only in that sort of sacrifice that true peace is won. Arming men and training them how to kill will not lead to peace, but will only sow the seeds of future conflict. - Hmmm... so what all those Marines, sailors, and soldiers did at Pearl Harbor did was wrong? By shooting back, did they somehow violate the tenants of Catholicism? In fact, when Marines, sailors and soldiers liberated the island of Guam (I'm half Guamanian) during WWII, are they now in hell for killling Japanese? The same Japanese who threw my mom and her entire family in a death camp? The same Japanese who tortured then beheaded my cousin, Father Jesus Duenas, fo rnot revealing the whereabout of an American sailor hiding in the jungle?

Does it make him a better leader, so that his soldiers will kill more of the enemy? - Let's hope so. Obviously, dialogue with the Taliban and al-Qaeda hasn't worked. They still carve peoples heads off. Still throw acid in the faces of little girls for having the audacity of actually going to school. They still slowly crush to death women who have been accused of adultry. They still set off car bombs in market places. As Sacred Scripture tells us; "there is a time for war... there is a time for killing'. In the name of Christian Charity, the flame of evil needs to be extinguished. Blowing them kisses and throwing flower petals at them just won't cut it.



John Stewart Mill pretty much nailed it.
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

But on second thought, I think Chesterton said it best with “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him but because he loves what is behind him.”

5:08 PM  
Blogger Adeodatus49 said...

I do not personally like the way the Afghanistan War has turned out, but when the invasion of Afghanistan started, the Catholic Church in the prudential opinion of the Pope (prudential, not "de fide" opinion) stated that it was a just war because the U.S. had been attacked by al-Qaeda with the support of the Taliban.

The invasion of Iraq in the prudential opinion of the Pope was negative as was the (prudential) opinion of Cardinal Marini, although one must be careful with Marini's opinions. They are informed in my opinion by anti-Americanism, the specific circumstances of Iraq notwithstanding.

Truth and reconciliation with the Taliban? I don't think the Taliban are ready for it. First, let them give up their Emir of Afghanistan and head of the Taliban at the time of the U.S. invasion, Mullah Mohammed Omar, to U. S. justice.

As far as the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as they are now, I am very much of a negative opinion about them, although my main concern and political and moral support has always been for the American military, Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, & Coast Guard. It is their interests with which I personally am most concerned. But this doesn't mean that I trust those SOBs in Iraq or Afghanistan [or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia (especially), or . . . .].

5:52 PM  
Blogger Simplex Vir said...

Nate,

It is a funny thing about dialogue (that favorite red herring of the pacifist/appeasers like yourself). When you try to use it with the enemy you pretty much DIE A LOG!

10:04 PM  
Blogger TCN said...

Nate: You are a sheep. These men are the sheepdogs. You are allowed to bleat, but not to lead. You will get us all killed. They will see us all safe.

I can sleep at night knowing these men are on the job. I have only to defend my son, but they defend the world.

If you do not believe the military is a fit place for a Catholic, then don't sign up, but leave our heroes alone. Some day, after we all meet our end, you will be able to discuss this topic with the likes of Fr. Capodonno, and perhaps he can set you straight.

Until then, I suggest you stop poking the bear.

10:28 PM  
Blogger chestertonian said...

It is not about the number of rounds per unit time, but the accuracy of the fire.No shit. Keep your M-249 SAWs, your M-60s, and all that other fancy hardware. Give me my one shot, one kill, semi-auto M-16 any day. And keep your three-round burst too. Any asshole can spray ammo downrange like he's watering his garden. A true man takes aim and fires one shot at a time, each one a kill.

At 29 Palms, they had one shooting range where computer-operated targets popped up and simulated a company rushing your position. Every man with a fully automatic weapon scored lowest. Each of us with "just" an M-16 scored the most kills.

11:07 PM  
Blogger Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

I don't have any problem with Nate's spirituality. There is grace in martyring yourself in order to provide Christ's enemies with the Truth.

But there is also grace in offering your life to protect others from those who would kill them, and Nate is naive if he sees no good in defense.

I agree about marksmanship, as well. I think Col. Jeff Cooper was right when he declared that an infantryman should have a mighty, long-range, semiautomatic rifle and the skill to use it at range. I think something with an actual rifle stock, carbine length, chambered in 6.7mm SPC would probably be an ideal infantry weapon.

2:12 PM  

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