To­day’s mil­i­tary cul­ture val­ues en­emy lives over those of U.S. troops.

The cur­rent mil­i­tary cul­ture val­ues en­emy lives above those of U.S. troops

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Roger T. Hill

Don­ald Trump and James Mat­tis came to of­fice vow­ing to “win” Amer­ica’s wars again. But un­less they change our po­lit­i­cally cor­rect mil­i­tary cul­ture, it is cer­tain Amer­ica won’t.

With Thurs­day night’s cruise mis­sile strikes in Syria, the United States is fac­ing down the bar­rel of an­other war in the Mid­dle East. But as Pres­i­dent Trump and con­gres­sional lead­er­ship weigh the risks on an ex­panded, messy con­flict, pos­si­bly in­clud­ing U.S. ground forces, they also ought to ex­am­ine whether a mil­i­tary plagued by over­lawyer­ing has what it takes to pre­vail.

As a fourth-gen­er­a­tion vet­eran, a proud grad­u­ate of West Point and a com­bat in­fantry­man, I saw up close the per­ils of a war in which our rules of en­gage­ment val­ues the lives of our en­e­mies above those of our own troops. It cost me my Army ca­reer. And it cost men in my unit their lives. In only a few months in War­dak prov­ince, Afghanistan, in 2008, one-third of my 89 man unit was killed or wounded in com­bat. When it be­came clear why, I had to act.

In­tel­li­gence had con­firmed that Tal­iban spies had in­fil­trated our main for­ward op­er­at­ing base pos­ing as trans­la­tors and other work­ers. These spies were hired and their back­grounds checked through a pro­cure­ment of­fice at a higher ech­e­lon within my com­mand. They were call­ing in mor­tar

strikes and tele­graph­ing when and where our units went out on pa­trol. It was no longer a mys­tery why so many of us were com­ing un­der at­tack so fre­quently.

Our rules of en­gage­ment re­quired that we could only hold the en­emy with­out charges for 96 hours be­fore we had to let them go. Even though my com­mand knew that the ev­i­dence against these spies was in­con­tro­vert­ible, they ig­nored my com­pany’s re­peated re­quests to trans­port and ren­der charges against these spies as re­quired. Also adding to my sense of ur­gency were cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence re­ports of an im­mi­nent large-scale at­tack against one of my four out­posts.

I knew that if my men and I let the en­emy walk out the front gate of our base, that they would go back to help­ing the Tal­iban kill us. We had been forced to let en­emy fight­ers go 12 other times dur­ing ear­lier op­er­a­tions in our de­ploy­ment.

As the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer, I en­listed the sup­port of 1st Sgt. Tommy Scott and we de­cided to take mat­ters into our own hands. We in­ter­ro­gated them one by one, in­sist­ing they tell us the truth about how and why they were col­lab­o­rat­ing with the en­emy. My first sergeant open-hand-slapped one spy while I took an­other spy out­side and fired a gun into the ground, to scare the oth­ers into co­op­er­a­tion.

Our ac­tions net­ted enough un­clas­si­fied in­tel­li­gence to con­vince our Afghan po­lice coun­ter­parts to de­tain the spies when our own com­mand would not, thus tem­po­rar­ily stop­ping the 96-hour clock. (Note: The clas­si­fied meth­ods used to dis­cover the spies could not be shared with our Afghan po­lice coun­ter­parts, hence the need for un­clas­si­fied con­fes­sions to val­i­date our ini­tially clas­si­fied find­ings.)

The rules of en­gage­ment were clear on the mat­ter. I wasn’t to in­tim­i­date the de­tainees by threat­en­ing them. I knew that. But I had been left with no other op­tions by my com­mand and the bro­ken poli­cies that gov­ern our rules of en­gage­ment. The lives of the men I had sworn to serve hung in the bal­ance.

When news reached my higher com­mand, two trans­port he­li­copters were flown in the next day to re­lieve my first sergeant and me of com­mand. As we sat in the two oth­er­wise-empty he­li­copters we both teared up at the irony. Both he­los pro­vided more than enough space to trans­port the en­emy spies for which we had just sac­ri­ficed our ca­reers. Those same spies would be re­leased a week later, just as charges for “war crimes,” and other lesser of­fenses were lev­eled at us.

No one was hurt. No one was abused. Our ac­tions that day were de­signed with the in­ten­tion of sav­ing Amer­i­can lives, noth­ing more and noth­ing less. And just like that, both of our ca­reers, and the ca­reers of three of my men, who served as guards dur­ing our in­ter­ro­ga­tions, were over.

My dis­charge, though it wasn’t “dis­hon­or­able,” would for­ever be a black mark on my record and meant a re­duc­tion in ben­e­fits af­ter hav­ing al­ready cut short an hon­or­able Army ca­reer of 13 years. It would be harder to get a civil­ian job, as I would dis­cover in in­ter­view af­ter in­ter­view. Still, I’d end up one of the lucky ones. I found a job. But to me it wasn’t about a pay­check. It was about restor­ing honor to the men I had served along­side. In our unit ca­reers had been ef­fec­tively ended. In the en­tire U.S. mil­i­tary, lit­er­ally hun­dreds of men and women, al­most all from the Marines and Army who bore the brunt of the ground com­bat in Afghanistan and Iraq, had had their ca­reers ended by ad­min­is­tra­tive and ju­di­cial ac­tions.

We are ask­ing our troops, es­pe­cially our ground troops, to do far more with far less. We cap­ture the en­emy and higher ech­e­lons let them go. If we shoot at them, we get in­ves­ti­gated. And the stigma of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion has be­come a ca­reer-en­der. If we scare them, our com­man­ders want to try us for psy­cho­log­i­cal “tor­ture.” Two of my fel­low sol­diers, Pfc. Paul Con­lon and 1st Lt. Don­nie Car­wile, are never com­ing home and sev­eral my men and friends have been maimed for life be­cause of them.

If we con­tinue to send our men and women to fight in what has be­come one of the most dif­fi­cult com­bat en­vi­ron­ments known in his­tory, they de­serve to know that the Amer­i­can peo­ple and gov­ern­ment will have their back.

At stake is not only restor­ing honor to men and women who have been sac­ri­ficed on the al­tar of po­lit­i­cal ap­pease­ment, but also whether Amer­ica can ever win a ma­jor ground war again. Af­ter what I wit­nessed, I’m not sure. Roger T. Hill is a for­mer in­fantry cap­tain in the 101st Air­borne and a dec­o­rated com­bat vet­eran.


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