The Front Lines
Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began the U.S. Army has been relearning how to conduct counterinsurgency and stability operations while also trying to maintain conventional war-fighting capabilities.
Last month 900 students in Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College conducted what’s called a Warfighter exercise, which focused on large-scale combat such as the D-Day or Operation Iraqi Freedom invasion. The exercise, using high- tech computer and digital technology systems, also involved some civil stability operations.
“It’s a conventional fight, but we set the conditions during the exercise,” said Bob Garven, an instructor who spent 22 years on active duty in the Army.
Some in the military think the Army has gone too far in the direction of counterinsurgency at the expense of remaining skilled at, say, firing an artillery barrage. How does the Army balance training for both types of warfare?
“I think what you’re hearing is a discussion, much like our political leaders discuss things,” said Lt. Col. John Russell, instructor at Fort Leavenworth. “There’s a lot of former military and still-serving military leaders taking part in that discussion. I don’t think we have reached a consensus one way or the other.”
There are young officers — majors — who may have been in Iraq or Afghanistan the past few years but who haven’t experienced large-scale warfare unless they were in the 3rd Infantry Division or 5th Corps during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“It’s difficult for them to visualize large formations on the battlefield,” Garven said. “You hear about it, read about it but you don’t experience it.”
Should there be two armies, one for each type of warfare? Garven and Russell don’t think that’s necessary. They noted that at the end of World War II the military switched from conventional combat to stability operations during the early rebuilding of Germany and Japan.
“Everybody forgets about the constabulary we set up in Europe, the government we set up in Japan,” Garven said.
Post World War II stability operations are included in case studies, Russell said.
Russell attended school at Fort Leavenworth in the mid-1990s, a time when it was still focused on conventional warfare strategies along with a smattering of peacekeeping operations because of Bosnia and Somalia, he said. He commanded a company during the 1991 Iraq war. In 2006-2007 he led a military transition team in working with Iraqis in counterinsurgency operations.
“I didn’t feel ill prepared for anything I encountered in Iraq because of the focus of the school,” Russell said. “There are certain principles that don’t change much, regardless of the nature of warfare.”
On Tuesday, nearly three years after he was injured in an explosion during the war on terror, Army veteran Gary Connellis will undergo back surgery.
It has been a long, painful wait for someone with a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis. And those are just the problems with his back.
Periodically during the past several months The Front Lines has outlined some of the bureaucratic problems Connellis has experienced in dealing with the Army after he was injured and honorably discharged with disabilities, and especially with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Connellis, a former police officer in New York City, Lawrence and a couple of other Kansas towns, was almost evicted last October from his Leavenworth apartment, where he lives with his wife and daughter, because he didn’t have enough money for rent. Family members and friends came to his rescue, and he continues to receive financial help from them.
Connellis also has post traumatic stress disorder. He said he is now seeing his fifth VA counselor in about a year’s time. Most of them left for jobs outside the VA, he said.
The Kansas National Guard a couple of weeks ago announced that it was sending 180 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment to Saudi Arabia for a joint exercise with the Saudis. About 50 of those soldiers are from the company based in Lawrence.
The U.S. Army is streamlining the way it manages the delivery of “bullets and beans” to its troops and Brig. Gen. Gregory Couch, of Olathe, is at the forefront of the process.Couch is the commander of the Army Reserves’ 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), based in Pennsylvania. The unit was the first of its kind and a few months ago it completed a tour of duty in Iraq. A headquarters unit, it oversaw and coordinated logistics support for U.S. and coalition forces while training Iraqi Security Force logistical units. It provided command and control to all sustainment forces, which includes 20,000 logistical soldiers.The 316th took about 400 soldiers to Iraq in September 2006. It replaced what was known as a Corps Support Command, which had 1,000 soldiers. The size of the unit and the way it does command and control are the big differences. The new logistical command concept is called “modular force logistics.”“What it’s really done is take out a layer of command,” Couch said during a recent interview. “You now have a colonel commander who is dealing directly with division commanders and that’s taken away another layer of a support. When that division commander needs logistics support, it happens much quicker.”http://worldonline.media.clients.elli...Gen. David Petraeus, (left) when he was multinational forces commander, visited the 316th Sustainment headquarters for a tour and briefing with Gen. Gregory Couch. Petraeus then had photographers take pictures of him with 150 individual soldiers, including Couch.The 316th was able to do that because the sustainment brigades under it are much larger and can handle a much larger area than they could before, Couch said.“We were the first unit of its kind,” Couch said of the 316th. “Being the first unit and being a Reserve unit at the same time is pretty phenomenal in my mind because nobody had ever tried it.”Couch’s unit went to Iraq at about the same time the troop surge was being implemented. An extra 30,000 troops were going to Iraq and the demand for logistical supplies also surged. Modular support logistics is all about numbers. If you are going to increase the combat force in numbers you have to design a smaller force to support them, Couch said. There also was a lot of reliance on private contractors to help increase logistical support and get supplies delivered.“Everybody got what they needed,” Couch said.Couch, 49, a Kansas State University graduate, is back in Olathe now. Couch has been in the Army and Army Reserves for nearly 30 years. He intends to stay in the Reserves “until they kick me out” and command the 316th until given a new assignment. He has spent much of his career in logistics units, including a couple of years with Lawrence’s 317th Quartermaster Battalion as executive officer.Of course, logistics soldiers don’t get the attention the combat troops get, but that’s OK with Couch.“We don’t need the glory,” he said. “But it’s very important that people know that there is a band of soldiers out there that on a daily basis is outside the wire on dangerous roads in Iraq, downtown Baghdad, wherever, delivering supplies to those combat guys so they can be out on the streets doing what they do.”
Think outside the box. Take some risks. Surround yourself with quality people who you trust."Leaders change the shape and focus of the world they live in."Those were a few tidbits offered during a talk last week by Mark Johnson, a Eudora man who is a former Green Beret and U.S. Army consultant. Johnson spoke to about 20 people in the Kansas Union's Oread Bookstore. The audience was a mixture of students, employees, friends and family members.I've interviewed Johnson a few times in past years about his experience in the 1991 war against Iraq, and to get his comments on the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this was the first time I had a chance to hear one of his motivational talks. Motivational speaking is something [he does regularly]. He draws on his military experience in talking about leadership and team building. Johnson is a very good speaker: He's animated and holds your attention for the full hour.During the Oread appearance Johnson also had available copies of one of his books, "Lessons in Leadership: Straight Talk From a Green Beret," which he was signing for people who wanted it. The book was published in 2005. He also wrote a 60-page book in 2000 called "How to Get Anyone To Follow You Anywhere."But Johnson said he has no plans to write anymore books. He's too busy. In addition to public speaking he's also an adjunct faculty member teaching leadership at Long View College in Lee's Summit, Mo., and a speaker and trainer at Johnson County Community College. He's also been a guest lecturer at Kansas University.In an exchange of e-mails later, I asked Johnson about his take on the situation in Afghanistan, which has gotten progressively worse in the past couple of years, and in Pakistan.Johnson said he feels good about Gen. David Petraeus being the new head of Central Command, which oversees forces in Afghanistan and Iraq."He's the smartest guy on the war on terror possibly in the world, at least in the U.S.," Johnson said.Johnson noted that one of the first things Petraeus did when he took over CENTCOM was travel to Pakistan to meet with its president to talk about border incursions by the Taliban and al-Qaida. The key to getting things under control is U.S. relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, Johnson said.Johnson also is concerned about Iran. He called President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "a bad, bad dude" and a potential spoiler to any Middle East peace. Iran is also allowing Russian explosives, weapons and ammo to be funneled into Iraq for the insurgents, Johnson said. : http://www.markthespark.com
Gary Connellis and his family are about to be evicted from their Leavenworth apartment.In [a couple] of Front Line [blogs this summer], Connellis' problems obtaining disability benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were outlined.Connellis suffered numerous injuries in 2006 while serving in the Army during the war on terror. He received an honorable medical discharge and the VA determined he was 30 percent disabled.To make a long, complicated story short, Connellis found out additional information about his injuries that the Army hadn't passed on the VA. He has asked that he be declared 100 percent disabled. He has three different types of arthritis, major back, leg and foot problems, and post traumatic stress disorder.In Nov. 2007 Connellis applied for temporary pay while waiting on a new determination about his injuries. That was almost a year ago and he is still waiting on that determination - and any temporary pay.Connellis does receive a monthly tax-free check for $429; that's for his 30 percent disability determination. He is taking classes at the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, and he gets additional VA money to pay for that.Connellis is unable to work, although he is trying to sell books online. His wife has a part-time job. They have a 7-year-old daughter. Their rent is $565 per month. They have additional expenses and a car payment. They use food stamps.Connellis long ago ran out of any extra money he had saved. He has been getting help from his parents and others.Connellis, 39, joined the Army a few years after the 9/11 attacks in New York, where he worked as a police officer for 17 years.Connellis received a three-day eviction notice, dated Thursday. : http://www2.ljworld.com/blogs/military_matters/2008/aug/20/fighting_for_benefit/' : http://www2.ljworld.com/blogs/military_matters/2008/sep/02/bureaucratic_battle/
I called the Pentagon Tuesday. I had a simple request.I wanted the names of Kansans from all military branches who received Purple Heart medals during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was hoping for more than just the names. I also wanted hometowns, military rank, military unit, and the circumstances that led to receiving the medal.I didn't think I was embarking on Mission Impossible.The Purple Heart is awarded to military personnel wounded or killed in battle. I called the Pentagon's number used by the news media to make inquiries. After telling the person who answered what I wanted, I was told to call each of the military branches and make the request. That was, of course, the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. He gave me the phone number for each.I called the Army first and got a recording. I was told I could leave a message and someone would get back to me as soon as possible. The voice also said I could e-mail my inquiry and indicated that might be the quickest way to get a response. I left a voice message. Later during the day, when I had not received a response, I sent the e-mail. I called the phone number again and still got the recording. More than 24 hours later I still haven't heard back from the Army.Next I called the Marines. I was transferred from one person to another and given numbers to call for other Marine departments and individuals. One woman told me straight out as soon I told her I was a newspaper reporter that she couldn't help me. I didn't even have a chance to tell her what I wanted. She said I had to call public affairs. I told her it was public affairs that sent me to her."Well, I'm sorry, I can't help you. You're with a newspaper," she said. Granted, some of the Marines I talked to were as incredulous as I was about the trouble I was having finding the right person to make the request to.The last call was to a Marine major I was told was in charge of the public affairs that deals with the media. I left a voice mail. I called later in the day and still got the same recording. I called this morning and left another message. That was several hours ago and I haven't heard back.This morning I called the Navy and Air Force. The person at the Navy was going to pass my message on to a senior officer who would get back with me.The Air Force guy said he'd check and see if my request could be granted. He called me back a few hours later and said the Air Force didn't have a list that breaks down where Purple Heart recipients are from. I asked about getting all of the names and then we'd do our own research and try to figure out their home state and towns. He said he could only give me numbers of total recipients, but not names.Well, at least the Air Force gave me a definite answer. I'm still waiting on the other branches.The military releases the names of personnel killed in action as soon as families are notified. The names of wounded personnel are not released. I have heard from various sources that it is because of individual privacy laws, in particular the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPA. It is that law that sometimes prevents hospitals from releasing conditions of accident victims when we call.So to find out about the war's wounded, you are on your own.
Army Specialist Jason Neuhaus enjoys being one of the bad guys.At Fort Riley, Neuhaus, of Herrington, is one of the OPFORs, short for "opposing force." He plays the role of an enemy sniper who hides in buildings that other soldiers enter and search.Earlier this week he was at an isolated mock village where training in searching and securing buildings was being conducted. The exercises get soldiers ready for urban combat.Neuhaus' job during those exercises is to shoot as many of the soldiers as he can before they get him."I'll usually start downstairs, engage a couple of them and then run upstairs and wait for them," Neuhaus said.I talked to Neuhaus earlier this week while I was embedded for a day with a Military Transition Team undergoing training at Fort Riley. Transition teams are small units of about 10 soldiers who will go to Iraq or Afghanistan to train and advise Army or national police forces.These soldiers will live among the Iraqis or Afghans they are training. They will eat their host's food and build cultural relationships.MiTTs are getting a special emphasis by the American military. That's because the quicker the two countries can handle their own security the quicker Americans can come home.The unit I was with was a border transition team. They are undergoing several weeks of special training before heading to Iraq, where their mission will be to help the Iraqis learn to secure their country's borders. Lt. Col. Brent Frazier was their commander.Not all of the soldiers in the unit have been to Iraq. Not all of them have previous training in how to search and secure a building. They spent a morning in the mock village learning how to line up and search a building room by room."Do I remember everything now? No, but we'll get it," Frazier said later. He noted that clearing buildings would be a small part of their job in Iraq. Mainly, they would show the Iraqis how to do it.That afternoon the team loaded their M-4 rifles with what they called paintballs. The paintballs are nothing like the round balls shot by civilian paintball game enthusiasts. They look like bullets with clear tips that contain a tiny amount of colored paint. The paint is for marking purposes.I and another writer with the unit got to go into the buildings to be searched with a trainer and wait and watch the soldiers storm in. They knew we were there, and they knew where we would be standing. Nevertheless, we wore at least an extra 20 pounds of body armor and a Kevlar helmet. We already had spent the morning wearing that stuff. Then we were given goggles and a black mesh mask to wear over our faces for additional protection. It made us quite hot, and it was sometimes difficult to breathe. Later that day I asked one of the soldiers acting as a trainer/observer to shoot me in the chest with the paintball bullet. The body armor covering my chest was thick enough to stop an AK-47 assault rifle bullet, so I knew I wouldn't be hurt. The soldier agreed, stood about 10 or 12 feet away and shot me. There was a slight "thud" as the bullet bounced off. It felt like someone throwing a small pebble at me while I was wearing a big winter coat.If I had been shot in my uncovered arms or legs, things would have been different. It would have hurt, like getting shot by a BB, several soldiers had told me.During the last building search of the afternoon, a sniper was hidden and waiting upstairs. I do not know if it was Neuhaus.Staff Sgt. Oscar Valenzuela saw the sniper in an open closet at the end of the hallway. The two exchanged shots. The sniper was "killed," and Valenzuela suffered two wounds from the paintballs the sniper fired in his upper thigh. The wounds looked like nickel size circles with the top flesh scraped away.I asked Valenzuela if it felt like getting hit by BBs."No," he said.Frazier's team did well considering it was their first time searching and clearing buildings, a trainer said."They could be more aggressive. They were afraid they were going to make a mistake. That will change," he said.
I've never served in the military, but by the end of this week, I should have a better understanding of how the U.S. Army does things.I'm one of 10 journalists from around the country participating in the first annual Military Journalist Experience, organized by [Kansas University's William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications] and the Army. It's funded by the [McCormick Foundation].We will be participating in discussions with various officers at [Fort Leavenworth], including the fort's commander, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell.This afternoon we will go to [Fort Riley]. We've been told we will be suited up in combat gear and shown how urban warfare is conducted. No, we won't be shooting M-16s or M-4s or M-60s. Instead, we will be using paintball guns. We will be wearing protective gear but I've been told by people who have played that the balls still sting.Much of this is optional, so considering I'm much older than your average infantry soldier and so very out of shape, I expect to be watching some of this. I will participate until my knees and lungs get overwhelmed, which probably won't take very long. I also will try to take photographs and video. That immersion into combat training will continue through Tuesday before we return to Fort Leavenworth.I will update you as the week goes on. You probably won't hear from me before Wednesday or Thursday. : http://www.journalism.ku.edu : http://www.mccormicktribune.org/ : http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/ : http://www.riley.army.mil/
The last time [we visited with Darrell Hunsaker], he was home visiting his parents in Lawrence while on leave from the U.S. Army. He had been in Iraq for nearly a year and would have to return when his leave was over. That was in November and December 2004.Darrell and his father, Sam Hunsaker, collaborated to make Darrell's visit a surprise for his mother, Robin Hunsaker. One evening dad took mom to Perkins Restaurant, 1711 W. 23rd, to eat. Sitting in a nearby booth with his back turned to his parents was Darrell. When the time was right he got up, walked over to his mom and gave her the surprise of her life.Also sitting in nearby booths were Journal-World and 6News reporters and photographers, cameras and notebooks well hidden, waiting to record the moment.Darrell Hunsaker [made news again at the end of his leave] when he tried making plans to fly back to Iraq. He called a special phone number the Army had given him to make those plans.The number connected him to the Psychic Friends Hotline.I still remember working on that story and calling a Pentagon spokesman for comment about Darrell's situation. There was a silence followed by a huge sigh.Darrell did make it back to Iraq and rejoined the 1st Cavalry Division and went back to work recovering and repairing damaged tanks and other vehicles. He is in Iraq again now, this time as a civilian contract worker for General Dynamics, the maker of the M1A1-A2 main battle tank used by the Army and Marines.Darrell is working on new armor for the tanks and helping to make them safer in other ways, his father said. It's all part of Operation TUSK, an acronym for Tank Urban Survival Kit. He also works on improving armor for other vehicles.General Dynamics recruited Darrell because the company heard how good he was with tanks, Sam Hunsaker said."He just wanted to do more," Sam said. "When he was going out and retrieving tanks with his M-88 (tank recovery vehicle) and was pulling them back and repairing them, he saw the damage that was being done. He saw friends injured. He knew all the weak spots on the tank and he wanted to fix it up."He's of course making more money and General Dynamics has more resources," Sam Hunsaker added.We want to know about people in the military from the Douglas County area. Where are they deployed? When will they come home? What are their experiences? What are families here at home facing? If you are currently in the military and want to communicate with us, that's fine, too. Please [send me an e-mail]. : http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2004/dec... : http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2004/dec... : http://www2.ljworld.com/staff/mike_belt/contact/
Gary Connellis finally got some good news from a physician with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It means his wife and 7-year-old daughter are much closer to getting medical insurance coverage.Since December 2007 Connellis, who was injured two years ago in a bomb blast during the war on terror, has been seeking coverage for his family through the VA's Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA). The first request was denied because there hadn't been a determination that any of the injuries Connellis suffered from a roadside bomb were permanent conditions.Connellis, 39, still suffers from numerous injuries from the incident that occurred in when he was in the Army. He is asking the Army to declare him 100 percent disabled; so far they've found him 30 percent disabled. But he's appealing.Connellis lives in Leavenworth and was honorably discharged from the Army because of his injuries. He is getting treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. Not all of his injuries are necessarily permanent. But he does have three different types of arthritis as a result of the injuries. As far as Connellis knows, there is no cure for arthritis.Connellis recently switched to a different VA physician. That physician agreed to write a letter stating that his osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and arthritis in the knee are permanent conditions.But more is needed. Connellis was told by a representative of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that the physician's statement also has to say that the conditions are "service connected and total.""So I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel but nothing's complete, yet," Connellis said.Updates about Connellis' post-military bureaucratic battles will be carried in future blogs. [You also can read the first blog about him.]We want to know about people in the military from the Douglas County area. Where are they deployed? When will they come home? What are their experiences? What are families here at home facing? If you are currently in the military and want to communicate with us, that's fine, too. Please [send me an e-mail.] : http://www2.ljworld.com/blogs/military_matters/2008/aug/20/fighting_for_benefit/ : http://www2.ljworld.com/staff/mike_belt/contact/