Saturday, August 13, 2011

Into the Valley of Death

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.


A number of you wrote, wondering why I haven’t said anything about the tragic deaths of US Navy special forces who were killed during a rescue mission a week ago Saturday in Afghanistan.

The short answer is: I really try not to write when I’m pissed off.

I’m not always successful, and then later I sometimes have cause to regret saying certain things in certain blog posts.

I’ve started this post several times in the last few days, only to delete it.  The subject matter saddens me, but that is not what is getting on my nerves. 

No, what is pissing me off are some of the letters I’ve gotten and many of the comments I’ve read in the popular press.


'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd ?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.


I have replied to a number of you, and I hope that my responses weren’t too abrupt.

Understand, I have no problem with those who messaged with reasonable questions about military operations and I don’t mind answering as best I’m able. 

I certainly understand that many folks, hell even those with actually military experience, would have questions and comments when such a tragedy occurs. 

And I understand why you might ask me. 

As most of you probably know, I spent my entire life in the military. In the US Navy to be specific. I can’t discuss much of my career or most of the operations I was involved in, due to the nature of my specialty.  I wasn’t a SEAL. However, I was occasionally privileged to be involved in a few of their operations and rode along on a couple missions in a support role.  I likely know a bit more about them than the average person, but I’m certainly no expert on the intimate details of SEAL teams.

The only real experts on SEAL operations are the SEALs themselves.

Anybody who tells you different is full of shit.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.


I am, however, a qualified expert on war fighting doctrine, tactics, planning, and military intelligence.

I am a certified expert in various forms of weaponry and certain special operations.

I know a fair bit about helicopters too, having been a qualified Navy Surface Warfare Officer and having had the deck of a cruiser during more than one flight operation.

But I also know where the limits of my knowledge are, something that seems to be lacking in more than a few folks.

What pissed me off about the death of seventeen members of SEAL Team 6 and three of their support team, not to mention the Afghan special operations soldiers who were onboard along with the US Army flight crew, are the astounding number of people – news media talking heads, the usual pundits and politicians, and the average mouth breather on the street – who suddenly consider themselves experts on special forces, combat operations, military equipment, the Afghan terrain, and what should or should not have been done last Saturday.

The most common criticism seems to be summed up by the following comment (as usual, posted under a Yahoo news article):

The commanding officer should never had put those Seals in that aircraft. It was bad military tactics.

Technically, it was arguably bad logistics, not tactics – but I’ll try not to slap at the nits when there are larger targets.  Bad tactics? The commenter doesn’t bother to explain how he had access to the commander’s situational awareness or the classified details of the mission that would allow him to make such a post-incident assessment.  Details such as the real-time tactical situation on the ground, the latest threat assessment and intelligence, the availability (or lack thereof) of transport and its capability and equipment, the time sensitive nature of the mission, the number and make-up of mission personnel and their equipment load-out, the experience of the flight crew, the number of expected injured that might have to be lifted out, and about a thousand other things – all of which would have had to been assessed in seconds and decided on the fly. 

Whose tactical brilliance put so many of our elite in one vehicle?

Why 30 Navy Seals in the same Chinook?

All the copters in the US fleet and an idiot had to put all 30 on one...OMG...this person should be court marshaled....What an idiot sending only one copter, there should been 15 arriving with all out firing and shelling killing every single warm body creature in sight. Why does the US military fail to use "overwhelming" fire power at critical time in need????? What an unnecessary loss, if I were the families of these solders I be asking many questions and demanding answers and those responsibe pay a high price.

Why are they still using the vietnam era machine Chinook? Where is the V-22 Osprey?

Why wasn't the big bird escourted by smaller, agile birds. Who's mismanaging this whole mess?

Actual, real, military missions are not, at all, like playing SOCOM on your PS3.

No, really, they are not.

Being a steely-eyed snake-eating bad-ass motherfucker in Gears of War doesn’t actually qualify you to lead or plan real military missions any more than watching an episode of JAG qualifies you to ditch a crippled airliner into the Hudson. 

Real military missions are complicated, even the simplest ones have a thousand moving parts and ten thousand moments where things can go pear shaped.  The operating environment and the clock often relentlessly dictate what you can and cannot do – no matter what you might otherwise desire.  For example, atmospheric density has a direct and significant effect on the performance of helicopters.  The thinner the air, the less the bird can lift, the more restricted its ability to maneuver, the more restricted its speed, the fewer options the pilot has.  Hot air means thinner air.  Higher altitude means thinner air.  The difference of ten degrees or a thousand feet can make a huge difference in what the machine can carry.   Weather makes a big difference.  Rain, clouds, wind affect how the bird performs, especially in the mountains.  Dust and grit in the air affects engine performance and the ability of the pilots and gunners to see, so does smoke – and there’s often plenty of each above a battlefield.  The terrain of the LZ makes a difference, a helicopter with top mounted rotors can clear obstacles on the ground while making a landing far better than a machine with a tail rotor.  The design of the aircraft makes a difference, it’s a hell of a lot easier and faster unloading large heavy items down a tail ramp under fire than manhandling them through a side door –  don’t think that matters? Try lifting a full can of .50cal ammo sometime, or better yet jump from about six feet up while carrying a hundred pounds of equipment see how long your knees hold out.  Different aircraft handle the dangerous and dynamic conditions of a combat LZ in different manners. All have advantages and disadvantages. Every single military mission is a series of trade-offs.  Every single mission requires an ongoing series of decisions and assessments, often with only the bare minimum of information. Every single combat situation is chaotic and fogged and insane.   There is only one truth in combat and that is this: no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Why are we still using the Vietnam era Chinook?  Because it works, most of the time. Because it’s a proven design. Because a replacement costs billions that we don’t have.  Why weren’t they riding a fancy new Osprey? Would using a tilt-rotor have made a difference or would the SEALs have died anyway? You ever seen one of those things? They’re not exactly nimble either, especially while landing.  Why weren’t they riding in three or four or five smaller, faster, more maneuverable H-60 Blackhawks? Because maybe there weren’t four or five or six available. Because maybe there wasn’t room in the LZ to land four or five or six helicopters at the same time. Because every landing in a hot LZ is a risk, landing four or five or six helicopters multiples the risk by four or five or six or twenty.  Why weren’t they escorted by Apaches?  And etcetera and etcetera and etcetera.  I don’t know, I wasn’t there.  Most likely the answer to all those questions is, because the Chinook was what they had at that moment.  Because the SEALs and the Marines and the Rangers and the regular Army grunts ride into combat on the Chinook a hundred times a day, and most of the time they make it. 

As I said, any combat situation is a series of trade-offs. There are always things you can do better if you only have the time, or the assets, or the intel, or more firepower, or those special one of a kind weapons, or more men, or better communications or air cover or artillery support or some damned thing that you don’t have.  But you never do, you never have the time, you never have enough intel or firepower or assets.  So you have to make do with what you have.  The SEALs were on a support mission, coming to reinforce a Ranger unit pinned down under fire.  In such a situation the single most critical factor is time.  All those other things, firepower and intel and equipment and SEALs, don’t mean jack shit if you can’t get them into the fight before it’s over.  Very likely the answer to the question, “Why were the SEALs all riding on a single Chinook?” is because that’s what was available and ready to go when they needed it. 


Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.


Most of the time we win, but sometimes the enemy gets in a lucky shot.  The Mujahedeen have been fighting on their own home turf for decades.  They are smart and experienced and cunning.  Nineteen of them killed nearly three thousand Americans with nothing more than determination and a couple of box cutters.  This isn’t a fucking video game, in real war real soldiers die – even SEALs.  Flying in a war zone is always risky. You take a chance every single time you get on a helicopter in the battlespace. Do it enough, and sooner or later the odds will catch up with you. We lose men and machines with terrible regularity - that's why they call it war.

It’s bad enough when armchair warriors and video game commandos second guess those who command the SEALs and the Rangers and the rest of our military, but then there’s this horseshit:

i am not buying it, something is fishy about putting the best guys in a large chopper and flying them over a hot zone, doesnt add up......

Why would a Seal Team be sent in to "rescue" Army Rangers? Rangers carry more firepower than Seals since they are light infantry, unlike Seals who are usually quick in quick out. Something about this doesnt add up...

It seems awfully coincidental that it just happened to be the same unit that eliminated bin laden. Something dirty is going on.

Like so many things since 9/11/2001, this story almost rings true, but not quite. The media account is a little too pat and reads like carefully prepared propaganda than honest news reporting...on over 100 sites...exactly the same story with exactly the same writer.

if you notice, in the article, it mentions that seal team 6 members were killed in this crash. makes you wonder if someone up top didnt want them talking about what ACTUALLY happened in/at the mission that killed osama

Something is fishy about putting the best guys in a helicopter and sending them to rescue someone.

We are only taking their word that it was none of the men who were on the OBL raid. They know the names of the individuals who died in the crash are going to be released and so of course they are going to deny that these guys were on the OBL raid. They said that the names of the seal's on the OBL raid would forever remain secret, so they can't admit that they were on the OBL raid.. DUH... By the way, I'm a conservative-tea party member who also thinks that 9/11 ( along with many others things) doesn't add up, but I don't believe in UFO's , or any of that other crap you knuckle dragers like to try and discredit us with. If you even did a miniumal amount of your own research into the FACTS of 9/11, you could come to no other conclusion then to have questions. I've met a hundred guys who were just like u until I told them to go home and watch "Truth Rising"..

This kind of conspiracy crap disgusts me. 

These silly paste eating bastards are the same droolers who think George Bush secretly snuck into the World Trade Center towers and planted demo charges without anybody noticing.  The idiot parents of these morons were the ones who believed FDR let the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and that NASA faked the moon landings on a sound stage in Burbank.  It’s the same mental defect, the same faulty reasoning, that leads these same fools to believe they are somehow experts on engineering and crash analysis and metallurgy and physics and terrorism as they are in special forces doctrine. 

This nonsense deserves no respect whatsoever. Period. 

If you believe that the President of the United States, the US Military, and the SEALs faked the mission that took down Osama Bin Laden, if you believe that the Commander in Chief then ordered the deaths of an elite special forces team to cover up some vast conspiracy and you believe that the men and women of the US Military or the CIA or any other US organization would actually carry out such orders, then you are a fucking idiot. You deserve no respect whatsoever. Shut up.

Conspiracy nuts are not seeking the so-called “truth.”  They are not engaged in critical thought.  What these pathetic losers are doing is attempting to use tragic events like this one to get attention for themselves. Nothing more, nothing less.  The only difference between these assholes and any other con artist is that they deceive themselves into to believing that they’re a serving some higher, selfless cause – in this case they are attempting to use the death of real warriors to make themselves into the heroes they have neither the courage or the will to be in the first place.  They are no better than those greasy sacks of shit who jerk off to Soldier of Fortune and dress up in raggedy-assed camouflage and talk about how they could have been a Marine - but  the job of Mall Security was so much more rewarding.

I am sadden to say, it is events like this that I stopped my sons from entering the military. Just didn't want my sons to fall victim to the idiots in Washington and their political war. Lets send the immediate families of these powerful politicians to the front lines of combat and lets watch how stragety changes.

If you actually think that sending politicians’ families into to war would actually change how we wage war – especially for the better – then you are an idiot.  John McCain’s father, Admiral John S. McCain was the commander of all forces in the Vietnam theater, it didn’t keep his son from flying combat missions or ending up as one of America’s most famous Prisoners of War.  Hell, even Sarah Palin brags how she sent her kid off to fight like she was some kind of Spartan brood mare. And seriously, do you really, I mean really, want US military strategy influenced by politicians to protect their own kids? Really? If so, you’re a fucking idiot and your kids are probably fucking idiots too.  By all means keep them home, you’re doing us a favor. Because they are likely just one more set of fucking idiots the Chiefs and Sergeants and First Shirts don’t have to waste time deprogramming.

Why are we releasing this classified information??

Our enemy doesn't need to know that SEALs died in that crash AND they don't need to know that they shot it down.

Announcing to the world that the Taliban had killed 20 SEALs from Team 6 gave the Taliban a feather in their cap and a morale boost.

Why don’t we let the commanders worry about this?  If the SEALs aren’t worried about the names being released, then I’m not worried about the names being released. The families of those men were proud of what they did for a living and who they were and how they died, and if their wives and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers want the names known and remembered and honored, then who the hell are you to question it?  Go ahead, threaten the families of SEALs, see where it gets you.   The insurgents who shot down the helicopter are now dead, hunted down and blown to into smoking hunks of burned meat – I hope they enjoyed their boosted morale while they had the chance.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.


And finally there’s this:

They should be back in Washington getting rid of those scums there.

Give thanks that we don’t live in such a nation where our military did exactly that.  The men who died on that helicopter last Saturday were US Navy SEALs, the very best of the very best.  They died doing what they believed in.  They died coming to the rescue of their fellow Soldiers. They died doing their duty, nothing more, nothing less.  They died not as heroes, though they are certainly that, but as American fighting men who were doing the job they were sworn to do.

To suggest that they would, or should, turn on the duly elected government of the United States, to suggest that they would forswear their oath and their duty, is the single most disgusting insult that could possibly be levied against their names. 


When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!





*For those who don't recognize it, the poem woven throughout this post is Alfred Lord Tennyson's immortal "Charge of the Light Brigade.”


  1. Jim, this is an incredible and sobering post. Thank you for your thoughtfulness and sanity. And for reminding us what our military do each and every day while engaged in conflict. And thank you for your service.

  2. Thank you for your sane, honest and rational essay regarding the loss of these wonderful soldiers. They, at the very least, deserve honesty regarding their sacrifice.

    I was once the unfortunate captive audience to coworkers who explained in great detail the most insane conspiracy scenarios. I couldn't complain to my boss as she believed aliens landed at some site in New Mexico and that is why we have the internet. It was hell working with those idiots —up was down and in was out. They had no problem making fantasy into reality. I finally quit the job.

  3. Jim, I was so saddened by this news I couldn't get past he headlines in the news. Thank you for honoring these fallen US Navy SEALS by putting together this account.

  4. I am astonished at all the questions and comments from people in the media and the web, it struck me as nothing more than a tragic heap of very bad luck.

    The only part of the whole terrible event that I have any questions about (and those are only because the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch fabrications have taught me to be skeptical of overly neat wrap-ups) is that we did "get" the guys who hit the chopper. I hope we did, but the story of "getting" them also successfully buried the other story in that release, that we did not end up getting the target of the original raid.

    I admire and respect all of those men and women who are doing their best to carry out their orders and trying to make the world a better place for all of us. I thank them, and their families for the sacrifices they have made and will make. And it makes me more comfortable to know that every person in the military is there because they chose to be, they knew the risks, and anybody far enough along to be a SEAL had plenty of opportunities to get out if they didn't feel it was the right choice for them.

    Thanks Guys, godspeed.

  5. Jim, I have fielded my share of conspiracy stories as well although certainly not to the degree that you have. Soon after the report started hitting the media I posted that US Army Aviation and Special Ops have a long history of working together and not just the Special Ops Aviation... and let it go at that although that was something that was really tearing at my ass...

    It wasn't until the media jumped on the side story of the 10 year old son of one of the aviators asking why HIS Dad's picture wasn't posted that the issue I had with the whole media frenzy came to light... I won't even try to make a comparison with a line pilot be they a Gun, Scout, Utility or Heavy Lift pilot to the guys in SOAR but I will say that Army Aviators are trained to a standard and due to the efforts of LTG Richard Cody (Ret) former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (and YES, he had ALL the nick names associated with his last name plus the attitude and balls to go with them), our aviation leaders are cycled through (upon qualification) and put back into the field in conventional aviation units to spread that wealth of knowledge, expertise AND STANDARDS! Not so much for the Warrant Officers but the RLO's and not so much now with the wars going on but still an edict of his... SO the question of competence, qualification and dedication of the crew should NEVER have been in question.

    And then the USO website posted a picture taken at Dover and a short story regarding the reception of the SEALS… Not to take ANYTHING away from the skills and qualifications of the SEALS but the USO in my recollections since the start of these wars has mentioned causalities twice… Pat Tillman and now SEALS and more specifically SEAL Team 6. I abruptly cut all ties with the USO… despite the good work they do for our Troops to me it was an abomination for them to capitalize on these horrific events for the sake of fund raising.

    Because as brave as these 30 were, they joined 6028 odd before them...

  6. What an excellent post! SO glad I found you and will gladly check daily for new posts.

  7. Another great post from the master.

    I have nothing to say, nothing to add. It's posts like these that teach me sometimes it's good to just shut up and listen.

    Thank you, Jim.

  8. I gladly sit next to AquaRose.I can add nothing. Nothing but my respect for the fallen and my heartache for the bereaved.

  9. Reading some of those comments from elsewhere, it sounds like they think that just because it's the team that got OBL, they should've been put in a glass trophy case and never used again, so we could worship them for all time. Perhaps in a nitrogen atmosphere, for better preservation.

  10. Thank you for this post. You remind us to honor the lives that were lost. You are right, these monday-morning quarterbacks do nothing but diminish the honor of those men. When I read their comments, here and elswhere, words fail me. You have written what some of us feel, but cannot express. Thank you.
    We have been a Gold Star family since December 20, 2006.

  11. In the comments nobody mentioning how another tactic has successfully been transfered from the Iraq War to Afghanistan (first IED builders and advancements, and now using RPGs to down helicopters)? So much for the armchair generals.

    Also, I guess nobody remembers when the Taliban killed another USSOCOM team as they exited their Chinook, also on a rescue mission, but this one was 9 years ago.

    That why this is war, not a walk in the park. And if anybody doesn't think the commander that sent them off isn't living in his/her own hell right at the moment, wondering what they could have done differently to lower the chances of this happening, they've never held command. And they don't understand that commander could be facing similar conditions right at this moment and will have to give that order again.

    The enemy got lucky. It happens. It fucking sucks when it happens.

  12. "...because a replacement costs billions that we don't have..." Really? I think the us government does have those billions. They are sent yearly to Israel to enlarge THEIR military for the purpose of killing those Palestinian people they call "terrorists" - You know the ones? The ones who were THERE and living there for eons BEFORE Israel stole that land?

    Another thing, not everyone who believes that 9/11 was a conspiracy is all the bully names you called them. Some of LISTENED to the experts in their field who questioned the absolute questionable. My very first thought upon waking up to watch that horror in real time was that it was planned NOT by middle east terrorists but by the real terrorists in high places in this country you love so much. I don't love it so much. AND I can still think. Don't be so quick to be so rude to those people who have their commentary and opinions who are NOT all the names you called a "collective" bunch of people.

    Whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, our government is not "of the people for the people or by the people". And here's an opinion you will really hate: I can't stand the military. I can't stand its total brainswashing effect. You aren't going to give a very objective opinion on it, because you are too proud of being exactly that. Why would you speak out anything that might be wrong with anything military? Your pride in it, and any other military person who supports what america is doing around the world with that MILITARY, is something dispicable to me. I don't give a flying F what ANYONE says!

    I'm STILL an american Indian. And you're still a white man. Oh yeah, don't bring up those "proud Indians" who fought in all the effing american wars either. Bunch of assimilated Indians. Might as well be white! (for lack of a better word, so don't get all wadded up about a WORD)

    Conspiracy: a word with a meaning. Look it up in the dictionary. Everyone everywhere conspires all day long at all times. And I don't believe in aliens either. Conspiracy theories don't scare me, don't always move me and are THEORIES. But there are some things that just smoke with truth. you know that old saying? "Where there's smoke there's fire"... I take that attitude. Maybe you should lighten up a bit. (I signed on as "anonymous" because its the easiest for this non-techie)

  13. "Honor, Courage, Commitment"

    Says it all.

    Requiem in pace


  14. Jim, this was a cold, blunt post, but it was honest and really hit home.

    Thank you for writing it, and for having this site.

  15. anonymous @ 3:25pm doesn't come here often does s/he?

  16. There are certain posts that are guaranteed to bring out the conspiracy nuts, they are as predictable as clockwork. I expect a moon landing denier along any minute.

  17. Jim, there'll always be idiots speaking as experts about things they don't understand. In America, we're supposed tolerate them and let them speak because it's right and proper, and because it lets the rest of us know by contrast that we haven't yet lost our senses. I guess the game platforms and the internet give 'em all more practice at honing ersatz expertise, but the rest of us get access to so much more information than we ever had, and occasionally to genuine expert voices.

    I appreciate your forbearance, and thank you for continuing to conduct yourself in the best tradition of the USN.

    Tom D. [EM2(SS) 1976-1982 Nuclear Navy]

  18. Tom, you are of course correct, but that doesn't mean I have to suffer the fools gladly.

    Now, don't be getting no radiation on my blog, you damned bubblehead.

  19. Heh!

    I only glow after a sixpack, now. (And those are getting a lot further between than they useta be.)

  20. Ain't that the truth. It's been a long, long time since I was a liberty risk, these days I'm usually in bed by 10.

  21. Thank you Jim.
    I wish all the people who have made such inane, ignorant comments could read your words and truly understand them.
    Thank you.

  22. Jim, I just happened to find your blog from a blogroll and I'll be sure to return. Your most eloquent and insightful post gave these soldiers the respect they deserve for giving their lives for their country (No greater love).
    I may be wrong, but I feel that the "sanitation" of war, not allowing our citizens to publicly grieve our fallen soldiers adds to the "conspiracy theory" mentality and does a great disservice to those who serve and their families. We've been a nation at war for ten years, and just recently began to feel the "sting" it's sheer insanity to hear people complaining.
    We live near Dover AFB, and have been honoring those who return, with their families permission, it's the least we can do to support their families in a quiet and dignified way, and yet it feels like it's not enough. I want my kids to understand their freedom comes with great cost and responibility.

    Thank You, for putting into words, what so many of us feel.

  23. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Jim. I added your blog to my list of regular visits shortly after the first of yours went viral in a big way. I always appreciate your perspective. I really haven't been paying attention to the pundits and talking heads on this incident. Then again, I never questioned the reasons why the situation and circumstances were they way they were.
    Perhaps this is because I have some good friends over there and I know that the decision making processes my friends and I learned in Army ROTC some years ago have evolved with experience and been tested in battle. I know too that you never get the resources you'd like to have, but you go with what you got. Most of the time, it works. I feel bad that these guys didn't get to see their mission to the end safely. And I feel worse that most people in our country have moved on to the next item the talking heads are on (Bachmann wins straw poll probably.) I think it works a little different for those of us who constantly scan those lists of names, sighing with some small relief that our friends and loved ones didn't show up on the list today, and mourn those who did.
    All right, I think I've rambled enough. Keep on writing, please. No matter how many emails you get from idiots, there are more than a few of us who truly enjoy the words you are putting out there. Thanks also for the Tennyson. The imagery of Charge of the Light Brigade reminded me of Iron Maiden's The Trooper. A quick search shows that the lyrics to the song were at least partially based on the poem by Tennyson.

  24. chortle.. Jim, take it easy on the bubbleheads, us P-3 guys would have nothing to practice on without them,,, AX2 VP-22 75-79

    I've always enjoyed that poem - and quote it when idiotcy is apparent - civilan or military..

  25. Jim_ I'm a peacenik, I've always been a peacenik and this is why I'm a peacenik. Because good men die for reasons that I can't emotionally accept. I refuse, however, to be an ignorant peacenik.

    The Afghans were downing Russian helicopters back in the 80's with RPG's. Even the giant armored ones. Looking it up I was surprised at how long the list was. An Afghan teen that survived that time is in his 50's now and many of the survivors are going to be tougher than dried goat meat.

    Only an idiot would assume that we were going to send U.S. soldiers into Afghanistan without losing an uncomfortable number of them. We sent them there and some of them were going to die and we, the civilians, bear the responsibility because we chose the leaders who gave the orders.

    It is our job, as civilians, to make sure that we send men and women into combat only for clear and achievable goals. It was our job to make sure they had the best tools possible to enable their survival. It is our job as civilians to retrieve them from harm's way the very second that those goals can be clearly defined as being met or deemed unreachable.

    We, the civilians, fucked up. As near as I can tell we're now in Afghanistan so that the current officeholders in D.C. don't have to be embarrassed by the ugliness that's going to inevitably happen when we pull out. That's not something you send men to die for. Not in my book.

  26. Thanks Jim. Feels good to get an extra boost of pride every once in awhile. Your posts help me.
    So many idiots making the news these days it has me questioning the sanity of us as a nation.

  27. Thanks for you post Jim. After tragic events I don't even bother reading comments at newspapers. Afghanis are very used to defending their country. Invaders would do well to remember that.

    sanses - what conspiracy theorists are using for evidence

  28. @ Pangolin - Just a bit of clarification... The level of support provided to the Mujahideen is not clear because of the surreptitious routes used. We (the US) did provide Stinger MANPAD SAMS and these were used to shoot down Russian helicopters combined with RPG's. The shortfall of an RPG is that it does NOT have a guidance system and has a folding fin stabilization system, however, it does have a self-destruct mechanism in the warhead set for approximately 920 meters which an experienced gunner can use to get a proximity kill. The folding fin stabilization system causes the RPG to be affected by crosswinds causing the projectile to turn into the wind. Having said that, the majority of our (US) losses since Somalia have been attributed to RPG’s which are not affected by all the sophisticated sensors and jammers we have installed.

    I won’t bore your readers (or feed the theorists… threat/OPSEC is a concern but the info is readily available) discussing the TTP’s employed but they are designed to reduce the threat and lethality of RPG’s… but as a non-guiding weapon it does not provide a signature until it’s been fired. The current TTP’s employed by the Taliban are for a head-on shot at 100 meters which gives aviators minimal time to react.

    Finally, Jim, a clarification on the “Vietnam era” CH-47… the update variant used today for conventional aviation forces is the CH-47F… It is NOT your Mother’s Chinook… The basic airframe may look the same but it is completely rebuilt, updated and modernized. As a National Guard unit I can’t say which model they were flying but I do know that we had already started fielding them to units deploying to OEF. Coming from a Gun Pilot flying sexy sleek attack helicopters, make NO mistake... The CH-47 with tandem rotor system and 2 huge powerplants hauls serious ass with heavy loads! Size may be an issue but speed is not...

  29. @Anonymoous:

    Why would you speak out anything that might be wrong with anything military? Your pride in it, and any other military person who supports what america is doing around the world with that MILITARY, is something dispicable to me. I don't give a flying F what ANYONE says!

    You're entitled to your opinion, of course, and your right to express it under the First Amendment. But you're just simply wrong if you think every member of the military supports each and every action and conflict they're ordered to. Every military member has their own private opinion on such matters, although those on active duty are not permitted to express those opinions publicly.

    It's a civilian controlled military, not a military junta. So if you're going to hate the military, please have the insight to do so for valid and defensible reasons, not some claptrap about "brainwashing."

    "Brainwashing." Hehe.

  30. @Janiece, yeah, that's the part that made me laugh too. Brainwashing. Man, if only. Life would have been so much easier for us Chiefs if the troops and junior officers had been programmed drones instead of the mouthy opinionated individuals they actually are ;)

  31. Jim, great post. I have a friend who has been a SEAL for many years. What a great person he is, his love for his country, and us is unequaled. I pray for his safety. He is no longer an active participant in raids, but an instructor. I will say he is proud of what he does, and we are proud of him. If "Jason" is a typical example, than this country is lucky to have such people. I also really love the poem, and I hope all who read your articles understand the sacrifice these people undertake for our benefit. If this is socialism, then give me more.

  32. Thank you for this. Comments like the ones you described are exactly why I avoid most comment threads. There are very few websites where the signal to noise ratio makes any kind of conversation possible.

    By the way, thanks also for taking the time to keep this site's comment threads clear of (most of) the idiocy that plagues the internet. I appreciate that.

  33. thank you Jim. my heart is full.

  34. Well, typed with a deep sigh, I read your blog with a sense, as I often do when reading your blogs, that I am not a "stranger in a strange land". I feel sometimes as if I am surrounded by idiots practicing to be assholes.
    I wonder what rocks these morons crawl out from under. And sometimes and some events like this one wear on me. So, it helps to read Stonekettle Station. It is my little island of sanity and balance in a generally out of kilter world where common sense prevails against all comers.

    Thank you for being a small bright beacon of light in a dark crazy world.

    PS Loved your weaving the Light Brigade throughout the post.

  35. I've never been in the military, never been in combat, and never commanded troops. Therefore, I will trust that the people in command in the war zones are a lot more qualified to make decisions than I am. I will not question what they do or how they do it.

    I WILL, however, grieve when a member of our military is lost. I will also continue to hope our men and women in uniform are brought home as soon as possible, that the number of casualties is kept as low as humanly possible and that the men who died in that helicopter and their families may someday find peace. They have my respect, my gratitude and my prayers.

  36. Bravo, Zulu Shipmate.

    L. Johnson
    EM1(SW) USN (Ret)

  37. Never before have so few military specialists had so many jostling their elbows and Monday morning quarterbacking.

    My solution for the media pollution of military operations = remove all the embedded journalists that have been in theater for more than 6 months straight and replace them with the talking heads. The embedded journalists become the talking heads ONLY if they have more than 2 years in military experience (either embedded as journalists or prior service).

  38. And what people don't want to remember about Lord Cardigan's Brigade is that they were competent soldiers doing their job and achieved their objective despite the poor communication.

    Personally, I think that scares people, especially those who have little true experience with military matters.

  39. It isn't just the military and their decisions, I work in theatre, and after the terrible disaster in Indiana the internet and news is now positively choked with people who are self appointed experts in rig design, crowd management, and weather forecasting.

    If you are not a qualified expert, maybe you ought to just shut up and listen. How do we teach this?

  40. @ Stuart:

    I don't think we can since the advent of the internet, everyone thinks that being able to look up data means that they can also interpret the data.

    From personal experience in the military and medical fields, this is NOT the case.

    But no one these days is willing to say "I dunno. Let me pay an expert and then actually follow the suggestions that they make."

    They just google it, find it on Wikipedia (oh so trustworthy wikipedia) and say "Hey! Now I know what to do."

    And that leads to, as the 15 year olds these days say, "Epic Fail."

  41. Wine guy, it also leads to a rather loose intepretation of the word "reseach." Looking a subject up on wikipedia or the nearest conspiracy site isn't research, but a hell of a lot of folks seem to think otherwise ~ and seem to think that actual reseach and investigation requires neither training or formal techique.

  42. Warrant, personally I blame lacadaisical educations since no one bothers with actually READING what they take off the internet, they just skim it...

    Heaven forbid we maintain high expectations these days.

  43. Excellent, Jim. Thank you.

    There is intentional misinformation out there, but it isn't the conspiracy the armchair war-quarterbacks think it is. Instead, it is rumor-mongering on the Internet and in the media as part of the ongoing effort to discredit our president. He had the audacity to get Osama bin Laden like he said he would and no one could outright criticize him for it because most Americans were happy about it. Thus, fostering seeds of doubt about the event is the next best thing.

    All rightwing and profit/power grubbing efforts are going into undermining our president in any way possible before the next election. Any opportunity to insinuate he is corrupt and evil is used.

    It isn't an accident that everything our military does is suddenly open to examination and criticism by countless no-nothings as though they are experts when such behavior would have shocked previous generations. Exploiting our contemporary belief that no bad things, including accidents, should ever happen and if they do, someone must be blamed and must pay a heavy price for it, Karl Rove, Dickwad Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfawitz (especially Rove and Cheney) cynically considered nothing too sacred for use as spin-fodder, and their tradition continues. In this case, fallen soldiers are callously exploited by some to besmirch a president, and by others to grab attention from viewers for profit-seeking media outlets.

    The nutjobs fall for it. They believe they are independent thinkers, yet they fall right into line as planned, buying and being distracted by every insinuation and misleading soundbite put in front of them.

    Lately, it feels like our country has descended into one huge, really bad reality show about dimwits all being trashy and stupid together. And the world is our audience.

  44. So since average Joe can't just call his buddy in Naval Intelligence to find out say "about how many Soviet helicopters did the Afghans drop" rather than his first impression of "a lot" what is he supposed to do?

    Are you saying the WIKI information is inaccurate? If so refer us to a better source. Jerking off online by claiming us dumb civilians know nothing is NOT the way to encourage responsible civilian oversight of the US military.

    It's petty elitism that leads to thinking such as "since we KNOW the military is corrupt in spending our money let's just cut the budget of ALL programs in half." Which is bullshit, but can be justified if the military makes every damn thing a secret.

    Some refinement on the vague impression that the afghans are really good at killing helicopters so maybe using them at all was a fuck-up. Well, that might be useful.

    It gets the conversation off of:
    "Trust us we'er the experts" and "For experts you guys fuck-up a lot." Which is useless.


  45. This was a tragedy, but a tragedy that has happen in previous wars and will happen again and again as men and women put their lives on the line for this country. In all probability similar missions have been successful in this war. We don't hear much about them. If we have learned anything from history, it is the fine line between a successful mission and a tragedy. How close was the Normandy invasion to being a huge disaster? The raid that took our bin Laden?

    Save your arm-chair monday morning quarterbacking for football and instead mourn the loss of of men and a dog who gave their lives for their country.

  46. I think what bothered me most about what happened is the added value placed on the men who died BECAUSE they were SEALs. Yes, they were highly trained and valuable for that, but they were still soldiers first -- like the hundreds of OTHER soldiers lost in this senseless war. It bothers me the way the media and self-proclaimed experts weigh the value of one life higher than another. I don't think the family and friends that KIA soldiers leave behind see that distinction. Nor should we.

  47. Mistakes happen. They happen in family life, at work, and of course at warr. I have been intimately familiar with the Tennyson poem since childhood, and always felt that many of those horse soldiers knew it was a very bad idea, but they each also refused to be the first one to turn his horse and flee.

    When mistakes are made by your superior officer, people die. That's the hell of command. Which brings me to a bit of my personal story:

    I was born at Bergstrom AFB outside of Austin while my daddy was learning to fly jets, just after his reserve unit was called up. It was 8 months later that he was finally deployed to Korea to fly an F-84, a machine with virtually no shielding and soon to be replaced by the F-86 which proved an effective MIG catcher.

    On my father's second mission, as the new guy he was wingman to the commander of the 5 jet unit. Their target was a railroad bridge in N. Korea. His bomb dropped as designed, but his boss's did not so that major decided to make a second pass. My father, as wingman, stayed with him.

    Now, here's the thing about running your target again: the anti-aircraft people know you're there and they're ready for you (notice the correct use of those words? I have a Master's in English. Feel free to point and laugh if I miss anything. After all, it's only from Texas A&M in an outlying area.) And they were certainly ready. My father's plane was hit. It went down not too far away.

    More than a half century later, after taking the anecdotal history to the Air Force in 2002 and 2003, I discover that my grandmother and I, who never believed that he died there, were correct. The AF had declared him "missing, presumed dead" several years later and my mother, widowed with three children (I have two older brothers) was free to remarry. I dreamed that someday my real daddy would come home.

    I got a notice from YouTube one day of a new comment; it was from a researcher informing me of the recently-declassified 944 list of over 700 missing men who were KNOWN to be POWs left behind in Korea. Most were airmen. My father's name was on that list. The researcher had found my song, "When You Comin' Home, Daddy?" and contacted me by posting commentary. I was blown away.

    Not long after the war, another member of that 5-man flight had come to the family business in Kansas City to meet my grandfather and tell that he had personally flown over the wreckage and saw that the seat belt on the ejected seat was undone, and he believed my father had survived. Of course there could be no rescue effort because it was so far behind the lines. This story has been passed down and I tried to take it to the AF to no avail; however, with the declassification of the 944 list, this changes everything.

    I have been reading posts here (in reverse order, now back to Oct. 2009) for several weeks now, and feel I can participate. I am an old hippie and am still against war as a general rule, except under extreme circumstances, but have always been sharply aware that my opinion wouldn't matter but for men like my father. And Jim. And my husband, despite him having been in the peacetime Navy. Besides, he joined in 1957 to get out of the Texas cotton fields and see the world, and spent the majority of his hitch in Corpus Cristi! That's about typical. But he hasn't had to farm cotton ever since.

    Thanks for presenting stories such as this, Jim. Yes, there are always giant screwups such as in the poem, but sooner or later we will understand why, and no longer have to do and die. If my father had been as famous as Pat Tillman, it might not have taken 50 years to learn the truth. There are so many stories.

    These stories deserve to be told.

  48. Jim

    Sorry to be a it late on this one but for all the conspiracy theorists who don't grasp the idea of miitry planning and how they may or may not handle the unexpected. here is a point by point chilling account of how such a mission can be successful despite glitchs along the way.

  49. Jim -

    I haven't posted in a long time but still read whenever you have a new post. A buddy of mine is a CT at DEVGRU. They were on their way back from a mission (that's all I can say in this forum, you can figure out the rest by the personnel they had onboard) and were the closest to answer the distress signal.

  50. Thank you for capturing people's sentiments so completely. You have honored not only these Navy SEALS, but also their family and friends. The general public can never thank you enough, Jim.

  51. Aren't people who mouth off with no sitrep just great? (do I need the sarcasm warning?)

  52. "If you actually think that sending politicians’ families into to war would actually change how we wage war – especially for the better – then you are an idiot. John McCain’s father, Admiral John S. McCain was the commander of all forces in the Vietnam theater, it didn’t keep his son from flying combat missions or ending up as one of America’s most famous Prisoners of War. Hell, even Sarah Palin brags how she sent her kid off to fight like she was some kind of Spartan brood mare. And seriously, do you really, I mean really, want US military strategy influenced by politicians to protect their own kids? Really? If so, you’re a fucking idiot and your kids are probably fucking idiots too. By all means keep them home, you’re doing us a favor. Because they are likely just one more set of fucking idiots the Chiefs and Sergeants and First Shirts don’t have to waste time deprogramming. "

    Jim, lemme say this about that. When most people say they want the politicos kids first on the battlefield, they aren't suggesting that having them there would change our method of warfighting, they (and I) are saying that, were the scions of the rich and powerful Chickenhawks in office were put at risk FIRST, those assholes would be a lot less likely to throw us into the meat grinder. Thats all. These elected pricks are all too willing to start wars with no thought of cost or consequence to salve their own egos and cowardice.

    As for Palin, her scumbag kid HAD to join the military or go to jail, for the crime of cutting the break lines of school buses. Personally, I don't a scumbag like him in my army.

    Love your blog and your writing. Keep up the great work.


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