Thursday, November 20, 2008

On Strykers

For every ten silly questions I get about the Army and being in Iraq ("Are there any hot chicks?" being the most practical), I get one good natured, serious question. One that keeps coming up is, "What is a Stryker?" I have a hard time answering that question if the person asking is not familar with military hardware. I usually describe it as a smaller tank (it isn't) or like an armored bus. More informed folks are satisfied with the answer of it being an APC (armored personnel carrier). But because it has only been in combat for five years, little is known about the Stryker outside of the military community. Hopefully I can shed just a little light on this.

Forward thinking propelled the Stryker into 21st century warfare. Its necessity rises from the philosophy that big, conventional tank-on-tank wars were a Cold War relic and unconventional, smaller wars were going to be all the rage. Egghead thinking prevailed if Iraq and Afghanistan are any indication.

The Stryker is an eight-wheeled armored infantry carrier specifically designed for urban conflict. Its thinner armor relative to the Bradley and Abrams Main Battle Tank gives it the mobility and speed needed to meet unconventional threats. Think blitzkrieg meets mujaheddin. Unlike the Brad and Abrams, the Stryker sits on top of eight huge tires, each capable of running completely flat. For defense, each Stryker is fitted with either a .50 cal machine gun or a Mk-19 grenade launcher, fed by linked grenades for automatic fire. The Mobile Gun System variant, in contrast, boasts a 105mm cannon. In combat, the armor can stand .50 cal fire but crumbles under the explosions of RPG fire. To combat this effect, a cage was built around the vehicle. Slat armor is just narrow enough to force the warhead to explode several feet from the Stryker, displacing deadly shrapnel.

Bottom center: Slat armor

The most common variant is the Infantry Carrying Vehicle, the kind I rode in for my entire enlistment. A vehicle commander guides the driver, the squad leader observes from the front, and two men in the back watch the flanks of the vehicle. With retrofitted armor, these positions leave the soldiers vulnerable from the neck up or the chest up, depending on the defilade. Inside, two benches seat three men on one side and four on the other. Situations on the ground dictated how many men could be crammed into a moving vehicle in combat. Seventeen fully armored men and one dog was the unofficial platoon record. Some have asked me what it's like to ride in a Stryker. Here's your answer:

Diehards of OPSEC, I hope you are pleased. I edited out our terp and super duper tech equipment. Credit goes to Dozer for the video. Shauu!

When the Stryker was first in combat in 2003, pundits, analysts and dudes stuck in the 80s were falling over themselves to declare the Stryker a failure. In actuality, it has risen from a strange new vehicle to a must have in combat.

The Stryker is the only vehicle in the American arsenal capable of dropping a fully equipped squad onto an insurgent's doorstep, and it will do it quietly. My brigade earned the nickname Ghostriders in its first deployment for their ability to sneak into neighborhoods in the silence of night, nab potential bad guys and leave unnoticed. As a weapons platform, Strykers have the ability to have three barrels and a crew served weapon pointed at any direction at any given time.

Modern COIN doctrine requires that two Stryker brigades operate in Iraq at any given time. It's a testament to the ferocious tenacity of Stryker soldiers to bring the fight to the enemy at every turn. It's no coincidence that Strykers have led in nearly every major campaign since the invasion. From Tal Alfar and Mosul in 2003-2004, to Baghdad in 2006 and Diyala Province from 2007 to present, Strykers have been in the thick of it. In Baqubah, IEDs became such a nuisance that we only used the vehicles for infiltration and exfil. Still, we were able to subdue most of the city before reinforcements arrived months later. It is clear that it isn't only the Strykers that make a difference, but the soldiers inside of them. No fight was tougher in 2007 than the battle for Baqubah, and it was conducted with a minimal amount of vehicle support. The capital of al-Qaeda in Iraq was toppled by Stryker soldiers, never deterred over the loss of the vehicle itself.

Strykers are the future of the Army, if it isn't already clear. The days of tank-on-tank warfare are over, and no other unit is better prepared to fight a sustained battle than a Stryker brigade. Yet Strykers are hardly recognized for helping to turn the tide in Iraq despite the 3rd Stryker Brigade leading in both Baghdad and Diyala Province, places that were hotly contested by both American and insurgent forces for the past several years. If anything, the early critics of the Stryker can be finally silenced as it becomes the centerpiece of American counterinsurgency operations.

The most important part of a Stryker unit


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That Time of the Year

It's fall again. The leaves are turning a golden brown, the Texas weather is still trying to decide what to do, and of course, the Blog Awards are full-on. Once again, faithful readers have tossed my name into the ring, so I thought I'd post this for anyone else wanting to contribute:

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Click on the image above to go directly to the military blog nomination page, scroll to the bottom and add your own comment or simply click the "+" icon next to a nomination you want to second.

All the usual suspects like Michael Yon and Blackfive are listed, but more importantly are the new guys that have made a name for themselves. Big Tobacco is a must-read while LT Nixon is the most informed libertarian ever to own less than fifty guns. If I'm fortunate to become a finalist once again this year, I hope it is with those fine fellows. Then it can be assured that civility and good sportsmanship will rule the day instead of, well, this.

Voting will begin some time in December, so I'll keep you all posted.


Edit 11/22: Nominations are closed. Thanks to all who nominated me!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day...

In my classroom, I sit toward the front, flanked by students on opposite sides of the room. Their thumbs move in a mindless text message symphony, waiting for class to start. Their hair and clothes are impeccable. As the instructor walks in and greets us, the two students don't look up to say hello. They instead respond with a deafening click-click-click-click. I almost feel like apologizing for them.

Are these the people I chose to surround myself with?

Every day that goes by is a day apart from the men of second platoon. I have replaced my battlefield peers with classrooms full of students that don't know the stories or even the names of each other. I haven't tried to make friends. Why bother? My friends are not in Austin. They're in Chicago, Brooklyn, Green Bay, San Diego. They're everywhere except here, carving out their own destinies. Our shared past becomes more of a distant memory as time goes on. In a month, we will have spent the same amount of time home as we did in combat. The last fifteen months have flown by like a fading dream. At least in war, time moved impossibly slow. You could really squeeze every minute out of a day.

Whether at work, school or home, I cannot go ten minutes without thinking of the men I came home with, or the men we brought back home. Like I've said before, every day is Memorial Day. Every day is Veterans Day. My entire being is seared by the tragedy and triumph of war, an invisible mark I wear at every waking moment. My life will be spent trying to sort out what happened out there in the desert, but today is a reflection on the men I served with, both living and dead. It's to pay respect to the uniform that millions of Americans have worn and will wear. When I'm in class and I inevitably begin to space out, I'll be thinking of Chevy and Jesse, their lives gone too soon. I'll be thinking of playing craps on the floor and poker on the table. I'll remember a time when stepping ankle deep into septic waste was barely the worst part of a day, and that first sip of cold water was always the best.

Ever seen college kids moon an attack helicopter? Didn't think so

These memories rushing back will not take place in a dimly lit bar outside Ft. Lewis or on a sweltering rooftop deep inside Diyala Province. They'll be within the confines of my own mind, tucked away in a classroom full of delicate, protected students that tend to forget we're still at war, that men are still not coming back home with their limbs and their lives intact. Veterans Day is not just for us, it's for everyone to remember, lest we forget the cost of war. Today I'll be thinking not just of the men I served with, but my family as well. My grandpa in the Korean War, my uncle in Vietnam and my father off the coast of Beirut and Grenada will all be on my mind.

If you're a veteran or a family member of one, please leave a comment telling a favorite story of yours.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Night Open Thread

I hope none of you have been looking to this blog as a source for news regarding the presidential election, as I tend to write about politics with a focus on military matters. I exhaustively covered the GI Bill issue, and I've touched on foreign policy a number of times when it pertains to the United States military. But tonight in an AoD first, I'd like to hear your thoughts on what it means for the future of active duty military and veterans when one man is elected president tonight - Barack Obama or John McCain, either through the lens of domestic policy or foreign policy. I'll be sitting here with plenty of Blue Moon on hand to witness history.