RANGER AGAINST WAR: Roberts Ridge Revisted <

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Roberts Ridge Revisted

 --USAF Technical Sgt. John Chapman 
(KIA, 2002)

 "It was just a moment of pure panic." 
--Pilot of Razor 4

Fourteen years after the first publicized meeting engagement in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) -- the Battle of Roberts Ridge -- USAF Technical Sergeant John Chapman (KIA) is being considered for a posthumous Medal of Honor (MOH) based on "newly accessed" graphic data.

The new data? A grainy and indistinct film recently released in the New York Times. But this fuzzy footage is superfluous because the Sergeant's 2003 Navy Cross award citation already told the story of an action which clearly met the bar for a MOH.

The Blair Witch Project-style footage seems an absurd criteria for reconsideration of Chapman's award. 21st century photo technology could render clearer footage (or what's a DARPA for?).

In a 2010 post on this blog [War and Remembrance], Ranger said that Sgt. Chapman should have received the MOH. Why is the Air Force only now considering the upgrade of his Air Cross?

What was being hidden, and why now?

In an incompetent mission, Airman Chapman was left for dead on the battlefield by SEALS. He continued fighting for an hour, before dying from his injuries. Were the authorities waiting to release this Bad News until all living players had received their retirements?

Certainly the war effort and the concept of a viable Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) would have been harmed if it had been acknowledged that the SEALS had abandoned a member of a sister service. Special Operations have not come far since Desert One, despite the Hoorah and exorbitant funding.

The Special Operations Command ratholed a clear MOH action because it would have shed light on the fact that the vaunted SEALS left a seriously-wounded man to die on the battlefield. While they returned to find injured fellow SEALS, they did  not do so for Air Force member, non-SEAL, Sgt. Chapman.

The SEALS have gained a cachet following the release of Marcus Luttrell's book, Lone Survivor (later a movie). Luttrell was the first of the literary SEALS in the PWOT.

But Ranger questions why the Navy even has an element like the SEALS. They are essentially Naval Infantry which lack the training, experience and institutional knowledge to be infantry. Why does a United States fleet Navy need its own infantry personnel thrown into a fight which is remote from any fleet activity?

Why were the SEALS on a frozen Afghan hillside with nary a whiff of salt in the air?

The Navy has the United States Marine Corps (USMC) for land combat purposes. The Marines have  depth of knowledge and Combat Support (CS) and Combat Support Services (CSS) to support their mission. The SEALS are a redundancy.

This battle lacked the hallmarks of advanced military thought or action. In addition, the players lacked for functional equipment. A quick review of the enemy situation reveals the irrelevance of this mission for which Sgt. Chapman died on a meaningless piece of real estate:

They were a squad or platoon minus, or a reinforced squad, occupying an isolated high-altitude observation post; one could stretch the point and call it a combat outpost. Whatever we call it, it was probably occupied by Chechens who got there by climbing the mountain.

This means that United States forces could have interdicted their support and utilized ambush and blocking positions to kill them as they went up or came down the mountain. This is Infantry 101, of the sort any Army or USMC grunt instinctively understands.

The Battle of Robert Ridge is reminiscent of the Battle of Ia Drang (LZ X-Ray, 1965) in the Republic of Vietnam, the first meeting engagement of the North Vietnamese Army against a heliborne U.S. Army. The Roberts Ridge debacle could also be equated to the Battle of Mogadishu ("Day of the Rangers", Blackhawk Down, 1993) in Somalia.

The truth is simple: if the enemy is assaulted, he will fight back and accept the losses. Our technology means naught when the equation is reduced to rifle against rifle. At that point, you have already lost..

Obviously, the SEALS have no patience for the basics of ground combat, and assaulted an objective without proper visual reconnaissance.

The Operations Orders for this action are still classified -- why?

[cross-posted @milpub.]

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Anonymous David said...

Given your background maybe you can answer a couple of questions for me -- or at least tell me my assumptions are wrong, which is my real problem, because I have no military experience let alone special forces experience.

1. Why the hell are there "literary SEALs" to begin with? I am uncertain why there seems to be such latitude for publishing SEAL memoirs and not, say, those from the Army or Marine special forces, or the CIA for that matter. I'm usually the last to defend government secrecy, but I have to wonder whether in some official minds this just an opportunity to have exciting stories for public consumption to maintain a mythology about the power and importance and just general exciting-ness of special forces.

2. Does the Navy have the SEALs simply because they feel like they should have a special operations force capable of (a) operating on land, (b) having a great public profile, see my question 1, and (c) worth a fair chunk of money at budget time? Would this money not be better spent recruiting, training, and deploying people from the Army or Marines? Even apart from your point about the lack of a broader infantry mission in the navy, it seems to me like there's a simple question of efficiency here.

I worry as a civilian that we are presented stories about the exciting, daring sacrifices of special operations personnel absent any context of what they were doing there and whether special forces really are the best means to achieving whatever supposed military and political ends are being pursued over there. Surely if the goal is to establish security in a chaotic space, you need large numbers of more regular line troops, not small numbers of agile assault units.

Apologies for butchering whatever the appropriate terminology is for all of these.

Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 1:37:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article, Jim. Really enjoyed it. At bottom, I think the Navy got tired of all the jokes and decided they needed to put out a counter image. Hence SEALs.


Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 6:06:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim hruska said...

this post is cross published at milpub.

Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 12:44:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim hruska said...

-question 1-i'd guess that they have little peckers, and need to brag as a compensitory measure.just my guess.
-2-the navy has the USMC, and that's enuf for any infantry mission. the Marines are great infantry.that's what they do-every marine is a basic grunt/rifleman.
-i reckon you've read my essays on the phony WARRIOR ethos.i'm sure the sof culture stems from this premise.

Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 1:17:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David & Jim, I don't understand the whole special warfare operator as superman Rambos to the tenth power mythos regardless of which branch of service. How are you going to tell me that these guys are somehow superior lean mean fighting machines when compared to guys that not only survived, but triumphed, on Peleliu or Iwo Jima or pulled off the Inchon landing or held on to Khe San. Or for that matter assaulted the Rapido River or the hedge rows of Normandy or held on to Bastogne or fought in the Ashau Valley?

I get that extra-motivated guys will seek out more intense training. So there's some selection bias, I guess. But, again, normal everyday grunts have done some amazing valorous things under the most adverse conditions.

Believe it or not, Marines can learn to use scuba equipment and jump out of airplanes. In fact USMC Force Recon does just that. I bet soldiers in the first ID could do it too.

I ask sincerely. Jim, I know you were a "snake eater". How would you compare and contrast your outfit to some seasoned grunts in the same war? Truly interested.


Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 2:00:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...

Avedis has asked the central question much more straightly and directly than I managed to: what are the consequences of the public mythology growing up around special forces?

I suppose my first mistake was asking an Army Ranger to comment on SEAL ethos! I don't want to cast aspersions on any soldiers, living or dead, but I do wonder if stories like this one are told because they're frankly simple to get your head around morally. Fighting over a hilltop is much more easily grasped. I am less clear how many SEALs must seize how many hilltops in order to create a stable state where one doesn't exist.

That's a bit facetious but I hope it gets the point behind my original question across. Whatever the capabilities and achievements of special operations forces may be, one can't really respect their cost in blood or treasure without the bigger context.

Sunday, September 18, 2016 at 1:07:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim hruska said...

i really believe if i had gone to rvn as a line infy 1lt i would not have made it back.
now some general cmts. i'll bet the farm that sof types use a lot of growth hormones and psycological drugs. we know that American Sniper had anti depressants in his bllod.
these guys are not supermen, and i'm not impressed b/c they go thru hell week or any other unrealistic selection process.
please note that we joke a lot about the sister services, but i acknowledge and respect the infantry prowess of the avg Marine. no bullshit there.
the fact is that our soldiers are better than our academy trained leaders.
in the pwot did any GO say-this is a war of aggression, and fail to suit up?
who would put armor in a fallujah street where a rpg at 100 meters could clean their clocks?
i've studied the Marine raiders and lets throw in Merrills Marauders just to keep things equitable. both we semi special units and they stand tall by todays standards.Heck, throw in the DEVILS BRIGADE just for kicks.
Now for a favorite personal point-i seriously doubt that i could have stood up to the Korean winters as did normal line iny througout the entire war.i could survive, but doing so in combat mode seems dangerously close to where most normal men would break.
Maybe we should have less wars.

Sunday, September 18, 2016 at 11:21:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...

I appreciate your comments to avedis. They address exactly what I was curious about and confirm some of my suspicions.

You two can speak to the tactical and operational aspects in a way I can only accept. What you present is not a comforting vision at all. I do not understand, but this may not be the place to fully explain, why this was so urgent that it had to go ahead without what presumably should have been adequate either artillery or air support. I can appreciate that resources might be stretched and improvised, but Anaconda as a whole was planned and chosen by Western forces, not forced upon them. Did some people higher up think it would look good to accomplish a victory on a shoestring budget?

Anyway, I mentioned it because the civilian mirror image of this thinking is what's really troubling to me and something I feel I have a better grasp on. For years, we've been told that special operations are the key to modern warfare now, that they are special in every sense of the term, just in general better and in fact amazing. There is no sense of in what way special operations forces might fulfill specific tasks as part of a larger whole. The flood of SEAL memoirs, movie and TV, etc., etc. just fuels this.

That leaves me with the sense that special forces in 2016 are like nuclear weapons in 1955: every branch has to have some, with ideally a few pointed at Moscow, so they can feel relevant bureaucratically, and they should all have overlapping capabilities, because otherwise the Navy will only get to show off its SEALs on those rare occasions when Somali pirates must be shot.

Sunday, September 18, 2016 at 3:24:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim hruska said...

actually a marine rifleman can shoot a pirate on the open seas at 35 meters.
not much expertise there.no sof needed except for the movie.
in ww1 we had no sof.in ww2 we had USMC Raiders and Devils Brigade,Rangers
merrills mauraders and oss.
the cut in my mind was the only thing speciall was that they were commando trained which meant direct action, hi diddle diddle right up the middle.these troops were division assets.
the oss however were theater assets and were used as such. from the oss the sf evolved and was copied by the other services.the Marine recon guys evolved from the raiders and remained tactical assets until they became sof in the pwot.in rvn ranger units were division assets with 1 at corps, so they were specialized infy associated with lrrp basic missions.
now for a bit of theory. lets back up to roberts ridge. who in any chain of command would put strategic sof assets in a direct action assault situation? Isn't that why we have riflemen in the infy bn? why risk losing a long term asset to kill a sad sack of bassic level skills?
the same goes for IRAQ and using secret sof killer units to kick down doors at night and kill or capture bad guys(whatever that is!) Maybe the wot went wrong when we forgot how to use words correctly.i challenge any sof man to tell me what bad guys means?
so to carry on-why not knock on their doors and or arrest them when they go out for food/water?does this sound a little like waco tx/davidian just a little?
i do rattle on.

Monday, September 19, 2016 at 8:35:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim hruska said...

i reckon what u may be trying to suss out is-what is sof and what do they do.
this dawned on me after sending the last reply.
the missions of sof are easily googled, but what isn't is the philosophy behind same.
History.In rvn we hadsog/direct action and that lives on in legend, but this was strictly strategic recon with a heavy direct action mode. The President was said to follow every mission , because all were across international borders and could blow up into a political hot cake.assuredly comus macv held the reins on this effort.
the fighting camps/cidg/mobile guerillas/mike forces were corps assets.
so the point is that this is confusing , but it cuts to the point-WHO IS TO CONTROL SOF ASSETS?
In ww2 it was corps/div assets.oss was strategic.
Before u can say who is controlling them you must clearly define what it is that they do.
Remember the son tay raid? this was sof as a strategic asset. joint service. all flash but no bang.
desert 1 was samo samo.
now we have made sf a career branch and the muscle over brains has seemed to take over the concept.its animal house revisited.now lets ask why we have selection in sof qualifications? will a person with liberal hearts and minds philosophy win 4 stars , or will a guy like McCrystal get the stars?the selection insures right wing conservatism will hold sway. the things they say and do are predictable. again i stray.
so who controls them? thats the point that raises its ugly head in my mind.
joint servive is now in the picture. JSOC.Google them.
in roberts ridge what was the controlling HQ? its embarrassing but i've not seen an OPORD so i can't say.
but i can say that the thing turned into a less than stellar opn.
now for a added ingredient, and i talk as a iny guy now. theres a thing called habitual relationships in combat opns.
in sog the same helo units provided habitual support, and this is as it should be.in RR its hard to see any habitual relnship, so i think this was a weakness. the operational asstes didn't communicate, and this is a command deficiency.
now i must say- all of what i say is just visceral reactions or comments on my part. without AARs and opords i'm just as dumb as the next guy., but heres a basic statement that is generally true.
SOF ASSETS ARE MISUNDERSTOOD by a lot of folks, to include sof commanders.
well David, i hope this hel

Monday, September 19, 2016 at 9:43:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous David said...

Thank you for educating me on this. You've given me a lot to digest. I do try to do online research but I'm sure you know the dangers of relying on that.

Maybe Roberts Ridge is not the best example to help me understand this. It feeds into my confusion since, as you point out, assaults and patrols that could be assigned to regular infantry are being given to special forces instead. I don't think I'm the only civilian with this problem. It leads us to think that special forces will do things that other units could do, just faster and better. I'm trying to wrap my head around a more integrated and combined concept of different branches of the service but actual practices in Iraq and Afghanistan maybe aren't helping. Thanks for your time and patience in helping me understand.

On your bigger point, in theory the civilians control the military, but since most of the civilians elected nowadays have no knowledge of military affairs, they are likely either to rely on uninformed gut hunches or on advice from senior officers who have risen through the ranks, which brings us back to your problem about who gets promoted in modern SOF culture. I think I can see what you're getting at there.

Monday, September 19, 2016 at 1:04:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous jim hruska said...

check out ltg gerald boykin.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 9:26:00 AM GMT-5  

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