Report: Trump makes SEAL Gallagher a chief again

According to the the Military Times

President Donald J. Trump has decided to restore convicted SEAL Edward Gallagher’s pay grade to chief petty officer, overriding a decision last week by the Navy’s top admiral, both Navy Times and Fox News learned.

This trial, the revelations that came from it and I suppose the eventual outcome has deeply divided the SEAL community with groups such as “The Brotherhood” and “The Real Brotherhood” both arguing to represent the real deal in terms of what occurs and how it ought to be depicted. Believe it or not this discussion all began on a forum called the “Sewing Circle” but has spread far and wide. There have been hints and innuendo that folks on either side of the issue could come to violence in some distant future as scores are settled over perceived abandonment of some unspoken code.

It has been my argument for years that the military must find again a moral foundation. I argued as much in a paper called Moral Underpinnings of the Military Profession. The events that led to this trial are related to morality. In this case, the Navy was trying to self-correct and President Trump reversed that.

There is more of course. The SEALs as an organization have certainly demonstrated more than a small problem with discipline –cocaine, murder, etc. Perhaps this is a result of the SEALs taking on jobs in the Global War on Terror that they were not really designed or trained for, traditional Army SF roles, unconventional warfare (UW) in particular. Perhaps it is the fact that the SEALS recruit younger folks than the Army for such roles – folks with less experience and a greater thirst for personal glory. Maybe again it is a result of some of the inaccurate movies and books that became part of American culture over the last decade that push them to want to live out a dream that was never real. Whatever it is, it is undeniable that as an organization they have failed to keep to the path of the moral silent warriors that most perhaps hoped. This is not a slight on all, simply an observation of where the organization’s culture has gone.

I am personally saddened by President Trump’s action in this case. To those that much is given, much is expected.

It is dangerous to tell someone they are special, misunderstood and necessary and then pay them to do violence. Violence is necessary, special people to do that violence are necessary but the danger comes when there is a separation from foundational principles and isolation of the group. Us against them is a dangerous mindset.

It is for this very same reason that I recoil in horror when I hear a cop describe himself and a “SWAT Operator”. I could write pages about how ridiculous that term is and how little his skill set actually aligns with a real operator but here I will focus on how dangerous the mindset it. I simply do not want a guy working in my city, that might inadvertently come to my home all dressed up in black that thinks of himself as an “operator”. One does not have to look too far in the news to see where that sort of attitude leads.

President Trump should not have interfered with the military justice system for Gallagher. Any time a Soldier, Sailor or Marine fails morally there must be consequences. The same goes for local cops, whether they shoot someone they should not have out of fear for “officer safety” or do something more nefarious. When you give people guns and allow them to do violence the standards have to be high.

UPDATE: 7 November 2019

The Military Times reports today that President Trump is planning to issue the pardon on or around Veteran’s Day. The Times also reports that Defense Secretary Mike Esper has had “a robust” conversation this week with Trump about the issue.

Pardoning Gallagher is not about “taking care of the troops”. Quite the opposite, pardoning him insults those that go and do arduous things with honor. The testimony of his teammates and those that saw him in action should have been enough to convict him of crimes far worse than merely posing with a dead detainee. The body of evidence is pretty strong.

I understand the optics, the narrative that America asks people to go do violence and then makes criminals of them for doing so. I understand for many this seems like something Trump ought to do. I am telling you there is a vast difference between doing violence because it is required and doing it because you can. The first we need and sanction, the second we must punish. We need to reward true sheepdogs and weed out and punish wolves that pretend to be such.

A pardon is not the action Trump wants to take if he looks at the situation from a moral perspective.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

What an interesting drama this has turned out to be.

Russia reports they detected no activity near the site where the US claims the operation occurred.

The US reports that Baghdadi “whimpered and cried” before blowing himself up in an underground tunnel.

In our world where truth seems to be an elusive commodity, we are left to wonder. Let’s consider the facts.

First, despite the fact that we might rightly not trust politicians and governments in general, because they do often lie, it is not common for the military to blatantly lie. Not a lie as in say something happened when it did not. The military will lie, has lied and does lie about the scope and nature of things – but generally not so far as to fabricate a complete fiction; not generally.

Second, it seems unlikely that if the operation occurred that one could actually know that Baghdadi whimpered and cried in a tunnel and that he actually blew himself up, as opposed to say perhaps someone else did the act of blowing those in the tunnel up. It is difficult to state unequvically that he did the whimpering and the blowing up of himself. These are small details but perhaps items that were just best to leave out of the narrative, as they diminish rather than enhance credibility. (yes, there exists technology that would make the knowing, or at least suspecting with a high degree of certainty, the facts of what occurred in the tunnel possible but this is still not relevant to the story).

The operation was reportedly conducted by Delta. These guys are not the ball bouncing amateur SEALS. It is highly unlikely there will ever be an interview, book or movie about this created with the cooperation of any SFOD-D team member. That is not how these guys operate.

It is possible if the reports are correct and the 75th Ranger Regiment provided cordon security for the operation, that some enterprising reporter might track down enough current members of the Ranger regiment and confirm or deny that such an operation occurred on the specified date. This will take time, those youngsters will not talk whilst they are still in the regiment if they hope to remain there.

It is likely this all occurred. It is likely the US suspected with a high degree of fidelity that Baghdadi was there and we are likely pretty confident he could not have escaped the cordon. It is logical to assume that he died.

It is just odd. If the event occurred and if the US government wanted to hold this out as a win why not exploit the site after the operation -of course, after the guys that conducted the event were extracted. Like we used to say when I was an OC/T, “pictures and video or it did not happen.” Why not allow and information operations and a combat camera crew a few moments on the site to document things after it was over? Why rush to dispose of Baghdadi in the ocean so soon after he died? More importantly, why even make a big deal of this at all. If you killed him, great, why talk about it?

I spent two rotations in the middle-east on a team that every evening geared up and departed our little base to hunt folks on a target list. Every night, as soon as it was dark until the early morning we were out raiding houses, blowing holes in walls, kicking in doors and detaining or killing big and small targets. (I was just a geek with some skills in geolocating, validating the target and exploiting some of the stuff left behind).

The thing about the guys on all these target lists, none of them are the villains from a James Bond movie. They are not super-geniuses, hiding out in lairs with extensive and technologically advanced defenses. They are not world-changing philosophers or thinkers that will change the nature of the world with their ideas. These are all just regular guys, many of them with good leadership skills, but regular guys that adhere to an ideology that is different than our own. It is like whack-a-mole, detain or kill one and another pops us. You simply cannot shift the center of gravity of an ideological fight by whacking a few moles.

Baghdadi was just a bigger, fatter mole. He was the leader of a group that did bad things and for that he deserved punishment. However, killing him will not change the world. He deserved to die, kill him and move on, making him out to be a supervillain, hero or a martyr simply inspires others to someday be him.

The More Things Change….

It is my sad duty to report that all is not well with the US Army Signal Corps.

I retired from active duty in the US Army as a field grade Signal Officer after 33 years of service last April. I took a position as a project manager at Augusta University and then a contract position with the Cyber Center of Excellence doing lessons and best practice analysis. (you can read a bit about what that experience taught me here). Last August I took a mundane general service position with the Signal School because I had heard things might be changing and there might be hope for the future. I wrote about those hopes here.

My assessment at this point is things are not better, nothing is changing in a positive way and essentially the Signal Corps is mired in the same sort of ineptitude, bureaucracy and petty political in-fighting and personal empire building that I observed across the breadth of my career.

In short:

  • The organization lacks a clearly defined, articulated and disseminated strategic plan and vision.
  • “Leaders” spend much of their time refining and shaping organizational charts – not to build efficiency and effectiveness but to solidify personal empires.
  • Instead of making many new hires of fresh thinking, eager people with unique skills, the School has populated its upper tiers with people that just walked over from other ineffective entities on Fort Gordon. Some of them came with real baggage and in some ways, it is the island of misfit toys.
  • Senior Civilians on Fort Gordon, in general, exert too much control over the future – as a result of efforts at empire building mentioned above. Senior officers have always been and continue to be either blind to this or afraid to rock the boat.
  • The NCO Corps in the Signal Corps is, at the senior levels, perhaps the worst in the Army. Everyone that wants to become a Sergent Major becomes a Mason and that club exerts undue influence in how the NCOs act and perform and where their loyalty resides. (this became painfully apparent to me a few years ago when I conducted a 15-6 on allegations against a BN CSM and found an entire platoon of Sergeants Major willing to lie for him despite proof contrary to their statements I uncovered later on)
  • Too many Colonels with no other place to go and no real prospect of decent employment after the Army migrate and roost at Fort Gordon, occupying positions that could make a difference, if only…
  • The union at Fort Gordon exerts entirely too much influence on operations. Supervisors are afraid to supervise for fear of a complaint.
  • Too many ordinary civilian GS employees that perhaps could make a difference have simply given up. They come in each morning, put their heads down, do mundane tasks and go home.
  • The Signal Corps was perhaps the originator of the insane concept of the “top 5” or whatever number you want to designate. The notion that you have to have a senior civilian, warrant officer, NCO and other spuriously designated folks to make a “command team” is ridiculous but it is alive and well at the Signal School. This in effect “excuses” every little GO that cycles through there from making hard decisions.
  • Overall the Signal School is like 11 men on a football field, all running around, some trying to secure little plots of land for themselves, others hoping they just get to stay on the field and get paid a little longer and others dancing in the endzone to be seen – yet the ball sits at the 20 and never moves forward.

A friend of mine laughs at me often when I make statements akin to those above saying “man, Barry, you say some stuff”. He is not disagreeing with me, he is stating in his own way that people do not state the truth about the state of the Signal Corps in the way that I do. I realize that making such raw statements sets me up as a straw-man, my assertions are easy to dismiss as rantings. I might even agree, if I were disgruntle or felt slighted in some way but I do not. It took me years to arrive at the conclusions above, years of observing a Signal Corps that was divorced from the real needs of the warfighter. I came back to be a GS employee because I heard there was hope. I am not disgruntle. I am disappointed and perhaps a little angry that such ineptitude has gone unchecked for so long.

It is said often that one should not raise a problem without presenting a solution. I have often found that to be a lazy way for bosses to tell subordinates not to complain. However, there are solutions to all of this. Some big and some small, some painful and radical and some mundane and easy. It is not the point of this post to articulate those. I have rallied for many of those points numerous times in the past to no avail. In my current position I advocate for some of the smallest of fixes – yet nothing changes. If someone with power reads this, does not get personally offended and dismiss it and wants to see real change, contact me, I will join your team and help.

Barring that…

I will soon transition out of my GS position and focus solely other pursuits that interest me. I have done my best during my time in uniform, as a contractor and as a civilian employee to effect change or at least find a team with a leader that wanted to really move the ball. Life is too short, there are too many other interesting things to do.

I have taken numerous oaths over the years, and take the idea of doing one’s duty seriously – I have, yet nothing has changed.

Initial Impressions – GS Service with the Signal Corps

One full month as a government employee working for the US Army Signal Corps is perhaps not enough time to provide a fully informed opinion.  Granted I came into this gig with over 30 years of experience in the military where I formed a very definite opinion about what is wrong with hiring, promotion, retention and utilization of the civilian workforce.  It would be fair to say I am biased, but I believe my bias is based on reflective observations.  I could be wrong but I have come to believe I know what I know – right or wrong.

I recently wrote about my tempered optimism for what the Signal Corps might become in this time of transition.   In the last week, I made a realization that another of my own biases might reinforce this optimism.

In 1993 I was stationed at FT Riley Kansas as a young Soldier.  I escaped The Citadel in 1990 and the South Carolina National Guard sent me to OCS but I still felt there was more I needed to learn and do before I was ready to lead troops as an officer.  I deferred the commision and enlisted in the Regular Army, Fort Riley was my first duty station and as such, it was formative in the way I came to see much about the Army.

Back then we went to NTC every year, prior to that we spent many weeks in the field training for that big event.  We conducted real training on Thursdays for SGT’s time.   Mondays and Tuesdays were always spent in the motor pool with the equipment.  PT was rigorous.   In my mind, that place and that time have always been what the regular Army is supposed to be about.  Training was not easy, there was an expectation that you could do your job and everything was focused on the warfighter.

I remember the company commander,  John Smith.  He did not seem to have much of a sense of humor.  I interacted with him daily, I was his training NCO.  He was prior enlisted, previously Infantry and just the sort of solemn, fair but hard guy I thought I company commander should be.  In 1993 there were I think two computers in the company.  I had one as the training guy and there was one in the motor pool.  When the platoon sergeants would send the Joes out to perform tasks they would huddle in the back office to “work on counseling”, after all, it would not be proper to hover over the junior NCOs as they supervised work.   The same was true for the young lieutenants.  They certainly would look silly sitting in the motor pool all day.  Back then, it was proper for leaders to disappear for a bit to let the junior guys figure stuff out.

I suppose in some companies the CO would tell the LTs to go elsewhere for a bit during the day.  Not so it seems was the inclination of CPT John Smith.  During the afternoons I would take in training schedules for signature, his office was always dark except for the light from the windows.   He had a large couch on one wall and that is where he stored his LTs when they were not out and about being seen and leading.  Every day, every afternoon, two LTs would be reclined in various positions of half-sleep on his couch as he reviewed paperwork.  He was just that stern.

To the uninitiated, the picture above seems ridiculous.   I could belabor all of the reasons why the scenario made sense but for the sake of argument just accept that it was proper.

One of those LTs, asleep on then CPT John Smith’s couch was the current commandant of the Signal Corps, BG Christopher Eubank.   I do not tell the story above to disparage him. Twenty-five years later after having been an LT and having led many of them, I think the exact right spot for LT Eubank and his partner was parked on that couch (when not out and about doing LT work).

I only realized last week that I actually knew the general from all that time ago.  The Army is a small organization really.

My renewed optimism for the future of the Signal Corps is perhaps just a personal one.  I know what I took from that time at Fort Riley, I wonder and perhaps hope LT Eubank took away the same lessons. If so, the Signal Corps is in the right hands.

This is not to say there are not challenges.  I have already observed the mind-numbing ineptitude of some of the civilian bureaucracy that surrounds him.  The problems I observed at NTC a decade ago may or may not be present at the top but they certainly exist in the middle!

The New and Improved US Army Signal Corps

I have been associated with the US Army Signal Corps since 1985, yes sir, that is over 33 years.  For the majority of that time, I have been disappointed with the leadership, direction and culture of the branch.  I tried at various times to divorce myself from the branch, once when offered a menu of options I choose to accept a cash payment in lieu of a transfer and I regretted that decision often.  My views, more or less have always been consistent with the observations I made recently in a post called “Three questions that defined the US Army Signal Corps“. It has been my considered opinion that the branch produced some of the worst officers in the Army.   In my estimation, we have been led over the years by generals that simply did not get it.   The branch, historically, has been burdened by an entrenched bureaucracy at Fort Gordon that was generally out of touch with what the warfighter really needed and often incapable of innovative thought.

I recently discussed my observations out at the National Training Center (NTC) and my assessment is that the Signal Corps continues to fail to provide the types of mobile, agile, secure systems the warfighter wants and needs.  Worse, tactical skills and acumen among Signal Soldiers are, in my considered opinion, at their lowest point in the 33+ years I have been around.  However, upon returning from the desert I saw a reason to hope for a better future.

I contend and will continue to assert, that it was wasteful and stupid to create the Cyber branch.  The roles and functions of that branch are not unique or different enough from what the Signal and Military Intelligence branches were capable of doing.  Creating a new branch just added waste, bureaucracy and desynchronization.  However, it is a fiat accompli, it is done.  With this change, I think the Signal Corps has the opportunity to divorce itself from the computer geek image and culture and become relevant teammates, partners and supporters of the warfighter.

The contract I was working came up for renewal last Friday.  I was offered the opportunity to stay on with the new company, with a significant raise.  However, something interesting happened last Thursday.  I received the offer letter from the new company but I also received an offer for a GS position with the Signal School.  The GS position was for much less money, it is not the ideal role and I probably will not have much of a voice unless I find a way to work myself out of the dungeon.  The thing is, I sense something new is going on in the Office of the Chief of Signal and the Signal School.  I wanted to be part of that.

The contract position was with Capabilities Development Directorate (CDID).  That organization is filled with old bird Colonels that should retire, old GS employees that have been on the job too long (most that have been promoted far beyond their capabilities).  CDID is a dead, old, slow, cumbersome beast that has produced bad doctrine and poor materiel solutions.  The money was nice but CDID, as it stands, is the past, a boat anchor!

Fortunately, the future looks good.   Pieces and parts of what is now CDID will soon have to vet their ideas and products through the Signal Branch, instead of developing doctrine and solutions in a vacuum of old tired heads.

Training is moving out from behind computer monitors into the field.  Soldiers are being trained, for the first time in a long time to be warrior technicians instead of geeks.  Additionally, the model of training is giving way to education, a point me and others have screamed for over the years.   If you educate a young man in the fundamentals he can, over a career, master many skills as opposed to trying to train him in a short period on things that quickly become irrelevant.  These are good changes.

I cannot say with certainty if these changes will hold. It is impossible to know if the vanguard of old heads occupying desks and cubicles will coalesce to inject stupid into this progress.  I also cannot know if I myself will be around as a GS employee long enough to see any of this come to fruition.  As I said, my current role is certainly not intellectually compelling.   However, I do, for the first time in 33 years have great hope for the Signal Corps and I am very happy that at this point in my life and career I have the opportunity to be part of the change.

Signal Corps Soldier