Saturday, December 11, 2004

McMaster Rides Again

During my final year at West Point, I took a required history class called History of the Military Art (we just called it "MilArt"). I remember being very interested in the subjects that were covered (pretty much every war that had ever been fought), but I just didn't have the time to study it as much as I would have liked. My professor was a newly promoted Major named H.R. McMaster. He was a nice enough guy- he berated me a few times for not keeping up with my reading assignments (I was an aero major, dammit!), but he was an excellent teacher- I loved the class.

At West Point they have a saying- "Much of the history we teach was made by people we taught." While I was there, they could have taken it a step further- "Some of the history we teach was made by people who are teaching right now." One of the most important battles of Desert Storm was the Battle of 73 Easting- we studied it in depth. The Cadets in my class, however, had a unique perspective- our teacher was the key commander during that battle- he led Eagle Troop:

With one hundred forty soldiers in nine M1A1 tanks, twelve Bradley Fighting Vehicles, two 4.2" mortar carriers, and other armored support vehicles, Captain H.R. McMaster’s Eagle Troop headed east searching for the enemy. At 1525 Eagle Troop was ordered to advance toward the 70th Easting and find the Republican Guard.

As the troopers approached the 60th Easting, the concentration of Iraqi forces began to increase. By 1530, Eagle Troop had come under fire from Iraqis occupying a group of buildings at the 69th Easting. The troopers returned fire and kept moving forward. Artillery rounds began falling on Eagle Troop. They continued to “hit the leather and ride” forward.

At 1556, Eagle Troop approached an Iraqi bunker that lie directly in its path of advance. As the cavalry troopers closed in, the defenders dropped their weapons, came out, and surrendered. The troopers ignored the surrendering Iraqis and continued to grind forward. At 1607, Eagle Troop encountered dug-in T-72 tanks. McMaster had found the Republican Guard. The Troop's tank platoons moved forward and attacked through a minefield. At 1618 McMaster's gunner fired on and destroyed a T-72 tank. By 1622 Eagle Troop tankers had destroyed eight more Iraqi T-72s. The Troopers continued to plow forward.

By 1636, they had destroyed many Iraqi tanks and were attacking into the bulk of the Iraqi defenses. McMaster had advanced far beyond the 70th Easting. His orders had been to stop the Troop's forward progress at that point. This was no time to stop the attack and become sitting ducks for the Iraqi gunners! McMaster told First Lieutenant John Gifford (who was in radio contact from the command post), "I can't stop. We're still in contact. Tell them I'm sorry." Eagle Troop pushed forward, destroying more tanks ahead. At 1640 McMaster's Troop finally reached a point that was just out of range of seventeen T-72 tanks coiled on the edge of the next defensive perimeter. Eagle Troop stopped its advance. They had arrived at the 73rd Easting.

Read the rest.

While he was teaching us about Vietnam, he shared some unbelievable insight based on research he did for book he was writing- called Dereliction of Duty. It's since been published and it's an excellent read. So this McMaster guy is pretty impressive, huh?

Why Should You Care?

Obviously, the Military brass knew they had a winner in McMaster, and so he is now a Colonel in charge of the Fort Carson-based Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. In a few short months, he will be leading soldiers onto the Iraqi battlefield once again. Of course things will be different this time around. He'll be leading 5,000 troops instead of 140. He'll be less focused on tanks and more focused on meetings with town mayors and police chiefs. I have no doubt he will be even more successful this time around.

My buddy Steve just sent me one of the best articles I've yet seen concerning the ongoing transformation of the Army- fresh off the pages of the Wall Street Journal. It highlights the fact that solid officers like COL McMaster are spearheading the effort, and doing everything in their ability to prepare our junior leaders and soldiers for the task at hand. Observe:

In a training exercise last month, Lt. Doug Armstrong sat down with two fellow soldiers -- both Iraq veterans -- who were pretending to be the mayor and police chief of an Iraqi village. Lt. Armstrong, 23 years old, quickly asked where the insurgents in the town were hiding. The mock mayor shrugged and demanded food and water for the people. He chastised the lieutenant for parking his Humvee in the village wheat field.

About five minutes into the meeting, Col. McMaster cut it short. "Be a little more personable," he told the young officer. "Ask about the mayor's family. Build a relationship before you ask him where the bad guys are."

Col. McMaster then asked the lieutenant if he noticed anything unusual in the room where he was meeting with the mayor. The lieutenant shook his head no.

"Who is that dude on the wall?" Col. McMaster asked, pointing to the only poster tacked to the small office's walls. The lieutenant shrugged. A sergeant standing nearby answered that it was Muqtada al Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric.

"You've got to notice those things," Col. McMaster said.

Absolutely. And it also helps to bring your intel officer with you if you're going to make an important visit with local officials. I had to laugh when I read about that exchange- classic McMaster in action! The training these guys are getting is so valuable, I can't even begin to explain. If someone had told me in January of 2003 that I would be attending daily meetings with Mosul University and City Officials and negotiating contracts with Iraqi businessmen by May of 2003- I would have laughed in their face. I would have reminded them that I'm a Black Hawk pilot and would have suggested that they seek professional help. Well, guess what?

You must read this article if you want to have a solid understanding of where we're headed. There is criticism in the article, but I believe the criticism is fair. It points out where we've gone wrong in the past, but it also highlights what we've done to adapt and overcome. It really does a great job of striking an often hard-to-find balance- showing why there's reason for hope, but clearly defining the tough road ahead. Kudos to Greg Jaffe and the Wall Street Journal. And thanks again to Steve for sending.

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