Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My "War" Story

With the end of the war in Iraq, I figure I can tell the story of my "contribution" as the ultimate REMF to the war effort...

So there I was... I'd just been medically-disqualified from serving on submarines and lost my orders to be XO on USS Hartford (SSN 768); as a result, they transferred me to be AOIC of the Submarine Learning Center Detachment in San Diego while I waited for the inevitable 2x FOS to come through and I could put in my retirement papers. When I got to San Diego in July 2003, the OIC -- a real fitness fanatic -- decided that because I was right up against the Navy height-weight requirements I shouldn't teach any classes. So, not wanting to just sit around, I volunteered for the first Individual Augmentation job that came in; they needed an O-4 with SCI clearance to support Operation Iraqi Freedom at CENTCOM. Three weeks after I reported to San Diego, and 6 days after I first saw the message requesting volunteers, I was on my way to Tampa. (The rest of the background information is here, and here's a post about the "good deal" aspects of the assignment.)

CENTCOM headquarters normally had about 900 people assigned on PCS orders, but because they were running the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq they'd been augmented with about 3000 people on six month TAD orders. I got assigned to the Iraq Coalition Coordination Center and got put in charge of handling the financial aspects of supporting the Polish-led Multi-National Division (Central South) that was just arriving in country. The fact that I got assigned a job for which I had no training, and my turnover was spending a day with my predecessor who gave me his E-mail cache and a folder with a 2 page memo from Condi Rice saying we had $500 million in unbudgeted money to play with, a 4 page standard boilerplate agreement between the U.S. and Poland, and a 17 page agreement with no specifics between Poland and the other 22 countries involved -- none of which contained any mechanism for actually carrying out what they'd agreed to -- gave me my first inkling that the people running the war at the higher levels had no idea what they were doing. This was kind of a shock to me, because I'd always assumed that the Big Bosses knew what they were doing. It turns out that it was only the pockets of competence that existed at the O-4/O-5 level that enabled the war effort to function as well as it did from a staff perspective.

The next six months were a blast. Despite having no training in finance, I set up the mechanisms for providing funding for the logistics support for the division of 10,000, got additional force protection set up less than a week before an unsuccessful suicide attack on an MND-CS base that probably would have caused extensive casualties had I not cut through the red tape, and realized that the Spaniards are among the most unreliable "allies" in the world. I came to understand that while you have to be pretty smart to make flag, there are no real intelligence requirements to make O-6, particularly in the Marines. I saw lots of "war pr0n" of early insurgents who hadn't quite mastered the art of having their IEDs wait to blow up until after they had finished emplacing them, and saw one memorable IR camera video of a bunch of Taliban insurgents get out of a truck behind one that had just blown up, sprint about 100 yards off the road, and gather together in supposed safety, followed by a huge flash right in the middle of their group. I realized that the American military really was trying to do what was best for the Iraqi people, and the higher-ups really did have no plans for a permanent occupation -- they had no real plans at all. I saw the original plans for the invasion that showed that Turkey's refusal to let the 4th ID move in from the north negated what would have otherwise been a brilliant encirclement campaign that would have closed the big hole in the lines north of Baghdad, through which most of the future insurgent leaders escaped. Hanlon's Razor was confirmed: "Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by incompetence".

What did you do in the war? Alternately, were your eyes ever opened by serving on a major staff?


Blogger -J.Darling said...

Thanks for posting this! I had several friends go over there, and while they've yet to want to "go back there" in their minds and recount their front line experiences, they echo what you said - that there really was good being done. The American public is often just out of the loop.

12/15/2011 12:07 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

*We* happened to see a MiG 28 do a 4g negative dive.

12/15/2011 12:26 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ anon 12:56 PM
At what range?

12/15/2011 12:58 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

"With the end of the war in Iraq, I figure I can tell the story of my "contribution" as the ultimate REMF to the war effort..."

Interesting post, BH.

Can you share what influenced you to wait until the end of the war in Iraq to tell us your story? Was it something compulsory you had signed, deference to our troops and leaders still in harms way that compelled your delay, or a combination of both?

There is no question that volunteering for IA while awaiting medical discharge demonstrated an attitude and determination not unlike one of my naval heroes, Lt. William Pope McArthur

12/15/2011 1:15 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

@Vigilis - From a couple of the links to my old posts, you'll see I've pretty much already told the story. This was more of a "I should probably post something, but there's no important submarine news going on, and I've told all my unclassified submarine sea stories, but there is something in the news about Iraq, so I'll post about that" sort of thing.

12/15/2011 1:57 PM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

and the higher-ups really did have no plans for a permanent occupation -- they had no real plans at all.

I had gotten out in 1999, so no "war stories" for me. But the above is in fact the money quote--the Iraqi military seemed to have proffered little more than token resistance, giving the bad characters time enough to blend into the woodwork, only to come out later, with the assistance of some of their "friends" the Syrians (or those shipped through Syria), Saudis fresh from the madrassas, and Chechens.

You'd think the guys in the five-sided funny farm would have seen that one coming.

But in semi-related submarine news/speculation, what are the chances one of our friends from SUBRON 15 is keeping tabs on the "new" Chinese carrier? With China attempting to extend their influence in the western Pacific, how is this going to affect tasking, if it hasn't already?

12/15/2011 3:42 PM

Blogger DDM said...

I was on the SSN 23 being built in Groton when we the E-div Chief on the USS PITTSBURGH got broken. Long story short I volunteered to go TAD to the 720. I met the boat in Bahrain and stayed on board through the end of deployment, including launching of all our Tomahawks at the start of the war. I remember watching TV in Souda Bay (where we couldn't leave the pier) and finding it hard to believe that the Iraqi's would welcome us with open arms like the Bush Administration expected.

Two things I remember: The first was the thrill of feeling part of something big when we launched the missiles that was eventually replaced by the sobering thoughts of being part of something that took many lives from hundreds of miles away. The second thing was having 2 Heinekins underway in the CPO quarters.

12/15/2011 4:37 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ddm, the E-div chief got shit-caned because we fail…got a marginal BA, yea that’s the ticket, on our last two ORSE. The best part was that we had to stay on the pier until the CSS-2 commode, CO, XO, and ENG had to do a re-med board as SQD. The wives were outside the pier gate grazing, as grotopotamus do, and couldn’t come on the pier. Anyhoo we didn’t launch all of them we flooded one because a TM couldn’t hook up an air hose to save his ass, two got a fuel leak, and we duded one (but we still flew a broom on RTP). I do remember the CO (AKA Altered beast) got a bronze star for telling the officers that they were idiots (to the XO’s face in control) and that the crew was a group of retards. And don’t feel too bad for ddm having “pier Liberty” one new JO got so drunk he played a game of chicken on the pier, sans H2O, and cracked his head open Welcome aboard DB. I also reflected on all the death and destruction that we unleashed on those poor people, as I was performing a field day in the engine room 24 hours after launching! Way to go cones, hey can you get that verdigris…. that would be great. So thanks for riding the Shitsburgh ddm hope we didn’t get any on you. Now get in the back heat up the rock and PUSH!

12/15/2011 6:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What did you do in the war? Alternately, were your eyes ever opened by serving on a major staff?"


12/15/2011 7:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of nuk-u-lar things: anyone know Ostendorff? He's thankfully taking on some of the boneheadedness at the top of the NRC.

12/15/2011 8:30 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting you mention Turkey and the aborted northern thrust. I was on shore duty at the time, attached to Defense Logistics Agency, and was told that in the event of an invasion I would be going to Turkey to man a support depot. Obviously that didn't happen.

Later I went back to sea and did one more cruise to the Gulf before I retired. Actually very little time was spent in the Gulf-we were attached to CTF 150 off of Somalia most of the time.

12/16/2011 12:00 AM

Blogger DDM said...

@ Anonymous 0652: I remember you. You were that guy that had high hopes to do great things only to get treated like crap and spend most of your time as a highly trained janitor. I was that guy too a long time ago.

12/16/2011 3:12 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bronx NY police officer 1980-2000 after a stint on a fast attack.. You wanna see a F--n war zone.. There is no need to leave the USA..
Taking the fight a world away while the America here vanishes.. Yeah that makes sense..

12/16/2011 8:35 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bronx is part of the U.S.A.? Can you prove that?

12/16/2011 3:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

THe Bronx can not be proven as part of the USA...ONLY during Yankee Home Games can english speaking people be found and they live in CT. or Manhattan...Rumor has it, it used to be part of the USA.. But like I said nobody there knw nothin....

12/16/2011 4:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There I was in the JAX airport coming back to Bangor Wa from K.B.
My cell rings and I answer it, it's the boss. He says "I have some bad news." I ask " What did someone die?" His reply "No not yet, we have been tasked to send someone to Iraq and Kevin said he wasn't going." Ok says I I'll go. It seemed fucked up to make someone else decide who would go. I always figured out that when talking to the detailer I would whine like the FTB I used to be, but if it came down to something like this, I wouldn't. It wouldn't be right to say no. 4 weeks later found me at the EOD Tech center in Indian head Maryland learning all about the Warlock Duke. A couple weeks later found me in Bagdaddy at JCCS-1. Google them. Two weeks later wearing an Army uniform which kind of cool as they called my Captain :) Not like that would ever happen for real!!
Anyways I was embedded with the 3-7 Infantry. Best tour of my life. I actually felt like I accomplished something. It made me feel better about the youth of today. Pretty much everyone I ran into while there may not have been happy to be there, but they were doing their jobs to the best of their ability. It was nice not having to worry about NTPI's ORSE or TRE. The inspection such as it was, was pretty simple, come home at the end of the mission. Though I will offer that the skills I learned during inspection work ups did contribute to my ability to work through problems over there. It also reinforced my faith in American's. On the way over you stop for fuel in Bangor Maine. When you deplane at 0100 there is a group of about 40 folks who line up to greet you. They had met every military plane to land there since the start of this adventure. When you come back, you come through Atlanta Hartsfield. There you have a bunch of Older Church Ladies and others giving you hug when you came through customs. If you haven't gone through it you can't understand what it feels like. Kind of validates what you have done. Only thing that kind of bugged me was my command made me clean out my desk in case I didn't come back and they only called my family twice, and one of those times was ask when I would be back so I could sign my Fitrep. So that would be my story. I just started working on my shadow box, I think My Bronze Star looks very nice in it.


12/17/2011 12:13 AM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

On the way over you stop for fuel in Bangor Maine.

Actually, most of them go through Pease ANGB in Portsmouth, NH, although some do go through Bangor. The group you're thinking of is called the Maine Greeters, while the ones down in Portsmouth are the Pease Greeters.

And yeah, both groups do incredible work on what is at best a minimal budget.

12/17/2011 4:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have discovered that my "war stories" about launching 22 tlams in OIF are boring.

When you hang out with a bunch of marine aviators who flew helos in Iraqi and Afghanistan, or Seebees who did reconstruction, you find out how lame submarine war stories actually are.

Except for those 1120s who did IAs.

12/17/2011 5:42 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huh, as a QM on the Bremerton sitting in DD at PHNSY, I felt pretty secure when Desert Storm broke out. However, the CO "volunteered" a few of us who had nothing to do during overhaul so after a brutal non-stop trip on a C-5 from Hickam, I eventually found my bleary eyed self on the Missouri. My only regret from that mission is that Bush, SR didn't let Schwartzkoff finish the job. Then BH would have had a decidedly different story to tell.

12/17/2011 12:54 PM

Blogger Vigilis said...

While not a war story, this U.S. submarine intrigue has certainly peaked
"public" curiousity.

Just a bland submarine notice for USS Asheville. The nucs' probably knew all about Asheville's mission, too, some say.

12/17/2011 3:10 PM

Blogger Erica R. said...

I stood a lot of watch. We were in the Med doing bombing runs, and and for a vast majority of the cruise, we were working nights and sleeping during the day. When the CO came on for the Big Stick show we would get to see some of the bombing runs and we would see men running away from the convoys. I was bored most of the time, and read a lot of books when I was not fixing something or doing maintenance.

12/17/2011 8:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sersiouly not to demean what you did over there but after working at the Pentagon, bronze stars are a dime a dozen. On the other hand if it had a "V" on it I'd be impressed. We have this shipyard o5 out here at PNS with a bronze star who walks around like a war hero but I'm not even going to get into that.

However last weekend, tragically a NR LDO died in a DUI accident and they have been keeping it hush-hush. His passenger another NR LDO survived but I was told that "the one who died is the lucky one"

What has the Navy come to?

12/17/2011 11:18 PM

Blogger DDM said...

Off track, but I just read the CSS-2 is standing down Jan 13, 2012.

12/19/2011 3:04 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

CSS-2....what a waste of manpower..long overdue.......Hoping its true.

12/19/2011 4:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 0652:

"I do remember the CO (AKA Altered beast) got a bronze star for telling the officers that they were idiots (to the XO’s face in control) and that the crew was a group of retards."

Interesting times we live in, instead of getting the BS, he would've been fired for something like, loss of confidence, command climate or something like that..."

12/19/2011 6:25 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

OT: Can you imagine what the submarine force and being a nuke would've been like if Rickover had run his nuclear show this way...?

12/19/2011 11:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In 2007 I found myself on the border of Pakistan helping build dams, roads, and schools in attempt to connect the Afghan Gov to its people. Lived my life.

So many stories, but here is one.

At one point I was Bari Khel having tea with the Mullah whom I was trying to convince to let us build an irrigation system for his village. Of course, he wanted it moved closer to his land which I explained would destroy our credibility.

After several hours of discussion, I asked him "is there anything -- absolutely anything we can do let us build the system as planned."

"Well," he said, "can you help me with with my magical energy." Come again I thought. After trying to understand, I asked my TERP in English, "What the f#$%% is he talking about."

"Sir," he TERP replied, "he wants Viagra." Turns out that back in 01 and 02 there were some folks in theater who were handing it out to build friendships.

After a little work, we got Mullah Sadar his Viagra and became great friends.

Built two irrigation dams, a new Mosque, and water system too. He issued Fatah's against our enemies and we were never attacked in his area.

People are people.

12/19/2011 7:59 PM

Anonymous research paper writing said...

Great one!really intersting Thnask!

12/20/2011 4:48 AM

Blogger Landlocked Bubblehead said...


Small World....hahaha. Still have my JCCS-1 badge hanging on the wall above my cube. Retirement comes in three months, but the nine that I spent in Camp Victory in the old Police Building as Engineer for JCCS-! was the best of my life.

much like the original post, I had just set in for the 2xFOS wait (slightly different circumstances) and found myself with six days notice on a plane to Ft. Jackson because I had an EE degree and was getting ready to rotate.

Long story short, one day, some wordy bastard will sit down and write a book about what in my humble opinion REALLY changed the war - the Counter IED fight. And not from a gadget standpoint - but from the lowly EWO on the ground, whispering things like "Gee Colonel, I know I am only a submariner by training, but it seems to me that if you varied the times that your patrols leave base, you will make it harder on the enemy to setup an ambush...." into the collective ears of the battalion commanders....

One quick one...."so there i was..." We were working with the 4ID, trying to help integrate a broad band jammer into a vehicle that had GPS and communication requirements in the field...(can you say cluster?) At one point, one of our guys pointed out that GPS may work better if they used the Crypto version / Military band. One of the Army types said that they do...we asked them to prove it.

One hour into the "demonstration", the G6 guy admits he can't find the cable to load crypto. Another hour goes by before he admits that they never do it....

A month later I sat in an office with the deputy CG who said that the utter idea that we move the two main CLEAR VOICE frequencies over there, so as to improve performance for both our equipment and theirs was preposterous...because it hadn't been changed in three years and he couldn't guarantee that every vehicle would be updated...leaving some poor kid in a fire fight without backup....

Truly a different world. But, I look at it this way - 19 years, 3 months in the navy pushing water, no lives saved. 9 months in the sand, IED casualties down 50%. Score one for the home team...

12/20/2011 1:59 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I as well had individual augmentation done. I was painful for the first couple of days but well worth it.

12/20/2011 8:10 PM

Blogger Gforce said...

Great point Land Locked Bubblehead, I was on staff in Bahrain during transition and the difference was empirical. To dovetail with another point, initially the guys with the ECM effort were getting recommended for Bronze Star (BS) by the Army after a tour with them doing ECM, same medal the Army types were getting for equivalent work. We would change them to MSM as the specific requirements for a Navy BS were greater, the award had to be fwd to OPNAV for determination and we had been told not to bother. Traveled with the Deputy to visit the Army 3 star in Kuwait and with everything going on, the Navy "downgrading" his awards to Sailors really pissed him off. Think there has been some language change since I left, seem to be seeing a lot more BS on Navy folks.

12/21/2011 1:41 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

none of these war stories are as good as this news story

12/21/2011 5:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an ex-sub nuke LDO, I was standing OOD on CVN71 for all of the airstrikes. We operated between Cyprus and Turkey launching airstrikes over Turkey into Northern Iraq. The 75 had the day shift and we were the night carrier. Breakfast 1630-1800, lunch at midnight, etc.. Having the "midwatch" at noon made it easier to stay awake and alert on the bridge, especially with all the merchant traffic leaving Cyprus.

12/23/2011 5:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A non event unless it were two guys.....or the girls weren’t hot.

1/12/2012 4:51 PM

Blogger Uno said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/29/2012 12:06 AM

Blogger Uno said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/29/2012 12:08 AM


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