Wednesday, October 11, 2006

An Axe to Grind

A recently released review of a May crash of a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan indicates the inaccessibility of the landing zone, and the fact that the troops on the ground needed to cut down the most problematic tree obscuring their access, but they "had no ax."

The Accident Investigations Division of the U.S. Combat Readiness Center found the CH-47 Chinook was too large for the LZ, which could only accommodate its two rear wheels, while the two front wheels hovered off the mountainside. The copter went down in remote Kunar province, killing ten soldiers. No mention is made in the article of survivors, or any injuries that might been sustained by them.

I'll accept that no ax was available to clear the LZ, but being a leader, or even a soldier, means that one must force his will upon any obstacle. Why didn't the soldiers use explosives to clear the trees? Infantry soldiers are trained in explosives and their expedient uses.

Another solution to chopping the tree is to put your machine gunner to the task. Chop the tree down with belt ammunition. After all, that's what a machine gun does best--it'll cut down people or trees.

Moreover, one must question the military logic of a nighttime landing on a restricted LZ in mountainous terrain. The altitude and winds aloft make this feat hazardous even in daylight. Again, unsound military tactical judgements are reported as an accident.

Accidents are preventable through forethought and judicious planning. For the want of an ax, 10 soldiers and a helo was lost.
This article leads me to question the state of training, readiness and equipment usage of U.S. soldiers in combat.

I found my answer a few pages later.

"Lower Standards Help Army Surpass 80,000" (AP, 10/10/06). To justify their lowered standards, the Army said, "Good test scores do not necessarily translate into quality soldiers." This statement contravenes the Army's testing policy for admission since 1918.

If the Army believes this, why don't they just do away with tests altogether? It's just more window dressing, to make us feel that things are under control, being policed and regulated--but the bar keeps lowering. Like in limbo, you can only go so low, and the repurcussions here are greater than simply falling back in the sand.

The Department of Defense now permits the Army to recruit a max of 4% recruits scoring below certain aptitude levels. One cannot help but wonder if this policy leads to deaths on lonely forsaken Afghan mountains in the dead of night.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brings to mind an LZ on an extremely steep slope of Mount Baldy in the Que Son mountains. A few trees were brought down with blocks of C-3. Rear ramp of a CH-46 just barely touched down while the nose was about 40 feet off the ground. Except of course when there were updrafts which were very severe in that area. There was no crash. But many of us poor grunts in the back were stepping off the ramp just when one of those updrafts lifted the tail of the bird also to 40 feet. We had to call for medevac for three of the inserts due to a broken rib, a broken leg, and a concussion.

As far as the reduced standards, I agree that the Bush-Cheney-Rummie cabal is ruining the military. But I also think the high standards we have had recently were a luxury. I and many of my peers had checkered pasts or dubious school records when we enlisted in the fifties and sixties. The majority of us were damn fine soldiers, sailors & marines. The key I believe was good leadership. Let's hope that does not get gutted.

Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 12:11:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Lurch said...

REALLY good commentary on a tragic misuse of airlift assets. While I agree with all our points, I think command ineptitude might have been a significant factor in the crash. What fool requested/authorized such a dangerous attempt at extraction with a poorly prepped LZ? That sounds like a 'sauve qui peut' situation, which would imply to me, 8,000 miles away, that the SAW was occupied with supporessive fire. Were gunships available to assist in close support?

If it wasn't a desperate evacuation, why was a night extraction necessary?

Did you pick up this report online or in hard copy? I'd like to read through it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 12:40:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...


The finest soldier that I ever met and had the pleasure to serve with, had an eigth grade equivalency, and his reading and writing skills are minimal. I believe he's the most decorated soldier I've ever met; he only lacks the MOH (which he was nominated for in 1950).

I understand what you said about waivers, and acknowledge that you're correct, and do not wish to denigrate anyone's service. But, the tests do serve a predictive function. You are obviously quite literate; what I am calling into question is uneducable behavior, ala Forest Gump, and not sketchy criminal or academic records. After all, we know that the dropout rate is bifurctaed along low/high intelligence lines.

I also commanded McNamara 100,000 draftees in the '60's. As dedicated and enthusiastic as they were, they presented severe handicaps to the platoon. It was always my belief that these 100,000's would be dangerous to a rifle platoon in combat. But, I will not denigrate their service or their dedication. The exception never unvalidates the rule.

As a personal belief, which I cannot document, I think the Israel's had a study in the 70's that intelligence correlates to heroism. What we call heroism could be the judicious weighing of courses of action, or, calculated risks. That could be another definition of leadership.

My concern is for the 10 lost soldiers. As you say, where were the leaders.


Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 6:29:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger rangeragainstwar said...

Morning Lurch,

I found this at cbs news online Tuesday. Sorry the link didn't work; I'll try and fix that. The article did not mention the parameters of the operation, so I do not know if they had support.

I took the story and tried to deconstruct it. All indications are, there was little thinking going on, either inside the copter or on the ground, or in the TOC.


Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 6:58:00 AM GMT-5  

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