[June 25, 2021] Flipping through an old notebook that I carried with me in the war with Iraq, I came across several lessons I learned from combat, mostly learned the hard way. Readers of my blog know that I am a big fan of being prepared. That is not the main lesson to take away from combat.
Those in any war see it from a different perspective. The common foot soldier in an Infantry Squad sees the enemy up close and personal. He may be kicking in doors or dropping mortars down an 81mm tube. I saw it from the Division level as part of an Engineer staff. Kicking in doors was not on my plate but getting Infantrymen a place to sleep safely, a place to eat, and maintain their equipment was my concern.
Here are 5 lessons from my first combat.
- International cooperation is necessary but difficult. Established allies are best; the relationships are already present, and those in the British, Australian, New Zealand, or Canadian militaries are familiar with us and how we operate. Coalition forces are good; we have similar goals and can work with a common mission. General officer commands must employ these forces with care and carefully use their unique capabilities.
- Bureaucracy is a disrupting influence. Home-country laws, rules, and regulations, as well as military red tape, can get in the way of conducting the primary mission of destroying the enemy or his will to fight. These rules can affect the way we fight and support the fight. Leaders must be familiar with these and be ready for legal, authorized workarounds to barriers that prevent carrying the fight to the enemy.
- Get the support of one’s citizens support and work overtime to keep it. This effort has an impact down to the lowest private cooking chicken in the mess hall. When the population loses hope, rogue politicians will take advantage and whip up reasons not to win the war. If you get into a war, finish it by winning. A ceasefire or stalemate is just as unacceptable as a loss.
- Conventional forces cannot be overlooked. We learned quickly in this war that we had a well-trained, formidable combat force. But much of our ability to support that force was weak. Our engineers were overtasked, lacking the labor, expertise, resources, and clear priority of work they require to support the mission entirely.
- Good diplomacy helps the average soldier. When diplomats deliver a clear national message that the U.S. will not back down and are in the war to win it, it takes us closer to the goal of finishing the job and getting out. Fewer people die, less destruction to local infrastructure happens, and there is less chance of our citizens tiring of the conflict.
I learned a great deal about Arabic cultures, such as the differences in various Muslim sects. At one point, my state representative voted to withdraw funding from the war. I was able to call him on a satellite phone and give him hell. Later I worked to have him defeated in his next election after returning home. This showed me how quickly things could go wrong. War is unpredictable. Set the stage for success early.