As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down the angst over the quality and abilities of the Iraqi and Afghan armed services will increase. Witness two recent articles in The Washington Times “Iraqi Forces Lacking” on Thursday and “An Afghan army struggling” on Friday. Over the past eight years we have had high expectations for building foreign militaries without completely understanding what is involved.
Our Armed Forces are the envy of the modern world and have been for nearly a century. Our young men and women enter into that tradition when they don the uniform. The majority of nations have no such tradition and as a result their Armed Forces are little more than uniformed mobs. Even so called "modern" nations cannot compete with the military that America can field. Man-for-man (or woman-for-woman) we can whip any outfit in the world.
American fighting men and women are blessed with a tradition that stemmed from the superpower of the age, the English. Our traditions are Americanized English traditions with a smattering of other largely European traditions thrown in. Indeed some peg the red piping on Marine enlisted uniforms as a left over from when uniform poor Continental Marines stole the red uniforms of vanquished (often dead) British Marines. When turned inside out, the blue lining became the outer part of the uniform while the red showed at all the seams.
Our Nation is based on the rule of law and the subordination of the Armed Forces to the civilian government for good or ill. As long as the current administration remains within the bounds of the Constitution, they have nothing to fear from the American Armed Forces who are sworn to uphold our Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic. In many nations, the ruler is always looking over his shoulder at his military – not so America. Our Armed Forces are a cross section of the nation. These magnificent men and women come from all races, religions, and regions of the country. They are not bound to any person, region, tribe, or religion, but rather to the Nation as defined by the Constitution.
It takes time to create a viable military unit. The privates who populate an infantry battalion might only have been in the service for 6 months, but the rest of the unit has a lifetime of experience. The backbone of any military organization is its non-commissioned officers. You can’t make a sergeant in a year or two. It takes years that include formal and informal schooling, practice, and supervised experience. His or her actions are monitored and evaluated by their seniors so that their performance is constantly critiqued and improved.
The First Sergeant who is the enlisted leader in every Marine infantry company is the product of nearly two decades of such training, feedback, improvement, and experience. Those that can’t meet the lofty expectations of a Marine First Sergeant have gravitated to other lives or vocations. When mobile training teams start training the fledgling armed forces of emerging nations like Iraq or Afghanistan, there may be old guys around, but they aren’t steeped in the traditions of their service. You can’t just “make” or even “train” a First Sergeant, you need to start with a superior person and put them through the entire infrastructure of traditions, schools, experience, practice, and leadership to “make” a First Sergeant.
The Lieutenant that stands in front of an infantry platoon may have only entered the service eight months before, but he is a product of either the military (rose through the ranks) or society where he or she came through a college or military institution. Those people self selected themselves for a life of service, difficulty, and danger primarily for their love of country. They don’t receive a position due to class, clan, or religion, they earn it. That young lieutenant who stands in front of a forty man infantry platoon at the age of twenty-two may in 16-18 years stand in front of a one thousand man infantry battalion. He will succeed not because of his daddy’s name, his church, or political affiliation, but because he has proven himself over and over again. He will command an infantry battalion because he also commands the trust and confidence of his seniors and his peers. You can’t make such a man overnight.
To be sure Afghanis are war-like. Alexander the Great was shocked by their ferocity as were troops of the defunct Soviet Union. Iraq has been the center of many militaristic empires; Assyrians and Babylonians. However, it is yet to be seen whether they can be molded into an effective armed force that can support and defend their nations against all enemies both foreign and domestic. By my calendar, they are eight to ten years from having a First Sergeant or adequately prepared Lieutenant Colonel. Being trained by the finest military on the face of the planet is a pretty fine start though.