Thou Shalt Not

By Robert Bateman

Back in late 1991, my battalion deployed to the Sinai Desert as a part of the Multinational Force and Observers. This force, consisting of military forces from eleven different nations, stands on the border between Egypt and Israel and ensures that both sides are adhering to the terms of the Camp David Accords. The mission is to "Observe, Report, and Verify" any violations or potential violations. It is an appropriate application of military resources, but it is also boring. Extremely boring.

During that six-month tour in the desert, I had a lot of time on my hands. We all did. But I did learn a few things over the course of the deployment. I learned, for example, about chief warrant officers, two of which deployed with us.

Warrant officers are a special breed in the United States military. Technically they are officers, but instead of a having commissions granted by Congress, they have a "warrant" issued by the secretary of their respective military service or by the president. They are specialists in particular skills and generally older than many other ranks, which contributes to a certain self-confidence. Also, as soldiers who stand somewhat apart from both the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps and the Regular Officer Corps, they tend to be a little more outspoken than your average bear.

I was reminded of this when Phil Carter's favorite Air Force lawyer, Major Gen. Charles Dunlap, got a faceful of buckshot from Chief Warrant Officer John Robinson of the United States Army in yesterday's Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Robinson apparently took some exception to MG Dunlap's op-ed last week in the same paper. Dunlap essentially contended that in Afghanistan/Pakistan: Airpower is the solution. Robinson comes back at him, on full auto, suggesting that a "better way is probably something other than the way that just resulted in the deaths of between five and 90 Afghan civilians." Take a look at both essays. Don't be drinking coffee when you do. Computer screens are expensive.

Oh, and another lesson I learned on that long-ago deployment? Thou shalt not, ever, under any circumstances, play poker for money with a warrant officer.

(P.S. Mom and Dad, I promise I'll get you your house back. Someday.)

By Marisa Katz |  September 26, 2008; 11:02 AM ET
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Man, oh MAN! You gotta love ol' MG Dunlap. Every time he writes something, I have to read it because it gets me fired up. He is still clinging to the old Air Force line that airpower can cure all ills. Kudos to CWO Robinson for slapping him down.

It seems that MG Dunlap has never been able to grasp what is really at stake in a COIN campaign, that is the support of the population. It is hard to get the support of the people when you are dropping bombs on their houses, no matter how well intentioned. For him to argue that when the bad guys hide among civilians we should not allow them that sanctuary, he is in essence saying that it is OK for us to drop bombs on civilian when we think there are some bad guys among them. He clearly does not understand the nature of the threat. The Taliban wants us to do that, they want us to bring all of that firepower to bear. That erodes the support that we need from the population to root them out.

Gen Dunlap has often argued that airpower can reduce the number of ground troops that need to go into harms way. He has argued in his many articles about this issue that airpower can provide intelligence and precision firepower that can reduce the requirement for numbers of boots on the ground. As for the intelligence piece, UAVs can certainly provide important tactical intelligence if you know what you are looking for. But finding out what that is requires interaction with the people on the street; it requires some knowledge of the neighborhood that you can't get just by looking down from above. It requires being on the streets day after day, knowing what is normal, so you can notice what is abnormal--and that is not just what is physically normal, but what is the normal attitude of people on the street. That type of knowledge requires those boots on the ground.

As for the firepower part of Gen. Dunlap's equation, it is sometimes important to have access to the type of firepower that can be delivered by air. But such firepower has to be used judiciously. In a COIN campaign, it is much better to have enough soldiers on the ground to be able to deal with an attack, especially in an urban environment. CWO Robinson very eloquently explained why.

As has been stated in much of the writing about COIN operations, "the people are the prize" in any COIN campaign. The main goal of the military part of such a campaign is the protection of the populace, it is not killing the insurgents. An insurgency needs political support to function and if that support dries up, the insurgency dies. If the insurgency can point to examples where the government or its agents (that is, in this case, us) are using indiscriminant firepower and killing civilians, they are more likely to build popular support for their cause. But if we show that we are there to protect the population and uphold the government (and, by the way, the Rule of Law...something that also seems to be easily forgotten), we are more likely to build support and undermine support for the insurgents.

I doon't know whether Gen. Dunlap is echoing the attitudes of his service as a whole or just his own ignorance, but his views represent a fundamental misunderstanding of how a COIN campaign can be successful. These campaigns are very, very, difficult and can take years. They also can, depending on the situation, take lots and lots of troops on the ground. The insurgents have all of the advantages. But the one way to lose a COIN campaign very quickly is the application of large quantities of firepower in an effort to kill insurgents, without regard to the first priority of protecting the population.

Posted by: DM_Inf | September 26, 2008 12:32 PM

LTC Bateman,

Good post - I must have completely missed this piece on The Early Bird.

You are correct - it is essential that we keep sacrosanct the role that Warrant officers play within our Army as technical experts and truth tellers.

I have been concerned over the last few years by what I perceive as a dilution of the unique warrant officer selection and training programs.

On the flip side, I am very concerned about by some recent changes that may ultimately have warrants replace many of the functions performed by commissioned officers in our Combat Support and Combat Service Support formations. By this I refer to the ill-conceived Logistics Corps.

As of January 2008, commissioned officers cease to be assigned to the unique Ordnance, Quartermaster and Transporation Corps upon graduation from their Captains Career Course/Officer Advanced Course. Basically, these officers CPT and higher are now part of an interchangeable and immaterial "Logistics Corps." Warrants will now be the only officers other than LTs and very junior CPTs who will wear the Quartermaster, Ordnance and Transportation Corps distinctive insignia. I believe that this will further reduce the already low perception that these officers have as subject matter experts within their branches (given the sweeping breadth of assignments they can be sent to). This will gradully thrust the warrant officers into more of a general mangement role and reduce the time/focus on their unique technical roles within support units. We already see this happening with the elimination of the warrant officer distinctive branch insignia and the nascent efforts to "quasi-commission" CW2s.

Not to be paranoid, but could this be a way to further reduce commisioned officer presence in support units? I don't know. It seems strange to me that the Commanders of functional Quartermaster or Ordnance Companies and Battalions will no longer wear the branch insignia that appears on their unit guidons and the collars of their enlisted soldiers and warrant officers.

The whole rationale of the "Logistics Branch" is very curious to me and seems to be half-baked. Take Quartermaster for example. This branch is responsible for providing all classes of supply (except Class VIII), water purification, fuel, mortuary affairs, airborne rigging and support services (laundry, bath and fabic repair). Whew. That's a pretty big task list for an officer to develop a baseline level of understanding in. Now, these officers will be expected to function in transportation and ordnance environments (complex as well). Something doesn't jive here.

The Army's justification was that given that nearly 1/2 of these officer positions are immaterial, it was just too daggone hard to manage the unique branches. Nonsense! Our foreign area officers and aquistition corps personnel come from damn near every branch and still wear the insignia of their branch of origin. If we aren't taking the crossed rifles (Infantry) from our FAOs and Aquisition weenies, why are we taking the Ordnance shell and flame from the commanders of TO&E ordnance companies and EOD teams?

Warrants play a unique role as experts and truth-tellers. By grafting many functiosn of commisioned officers onto their already full plate, something is bound to give.

Posted by: IRRSoldier | September 26, 2008 12:40 PM

DM Inf,

While I concur with you re: MG Dunlap's opinions on this issue, I view MG Dunlap as something of a hero willing to take an unpopular position.

Is he off the reservation w/ respect to airpower and COIN? Yes and Yes.

Is he a courageous truth-teller willing to stand up for the good of his service no matter the cost? Yes.

MG Dunlap is a brave officer willing to question the prevailing wisdom that the USAF needs to continue cannibalizing itself and letting core missions atrophy while saving a too-small and too-tired Army 5.5 years AFTER OIF kicked off. On this account, he is a hero.

Too many in the USAF have taken a martyr/BOHICA approach to these painful and problematic "in lieu" of assignments that are having grave impacts on some USAF medical, civil engibneering, maintenance and security forces units. Simply put: It is not the USAF's mision to run prisons in Iraq. Yes, they've actually been tasked with doing this.

More to the point, Army leadership (GENS Schoomaker and Cody) was silent and malleable to OSD's whims when they could have been courageous and demanded the force structure to get the job done. It was not until December of 2006 that the Army admitted it needed an RA force structure biggger than the one it had at the start of OIF.

This is not the USAF's problem. We must remain ready for a full spectrum of conflicts. Are some of MG Dunlap's arguments tortured? Yes. But at least he is advancing the belief that the cutting of USAF modernization and the cannibalization of units to prop of the Army is mid to long range folly.

Posted by: IRRSoldier | September 26, 2008 12:50 PM

I propose that the USAF set a date for abandoning the US Army in our current endeavor....perhaps they could drop leaflets...."sorry've used up your allotment of time and resources...we've got to plan for our next finish up here". Perhaps they could wave as they fly off.

Just an old....very old Army Sgt.

Posted by: OllieD | September 26, 2008 4:12 PM

You have to love Warrants.  I think that it is great that the Army takes grizzled NCOs, for the most part, and turns them into technical specialists with a touch of ornery thrown in.  They have definitely been around the block more than a few times, thank God.

Posted by: PFM1 | September 27, 2008 4:28 AM

I am not attacking MG Dunlap's commitment to his service or his country. And I agree that his willingness to question the prevailing wisdom is admirable. My complaint is that his views are nothing new. Aside from being, in my humble opinion, misguided, his adherence to the traditional Air Force view that airpower can cure all ills and can replace much of the need for boots on the ground can be a dangerous one. Furthermore, it flies in the face of all of the historical evidence, including all that is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I would not argue that airpower is not incredibly important in fighting a conventional, force-on-force campaign, and it can be an important part of a COIN campaign, if used judiciously. But that is not what MG Dunlap has been advocating. What bothers me is that his argument has been from a particularly parochial perspective, advocating the position of his service alone.

I agree that no service should be forced to canablize itself in order to fill in where the other services fall short of meeting their commitments. The reason we have separate services is so that each can focus on certain core competenancies. We find ourselves embroiled in conflicts where the ground services cannot meet their commitments. That certainly is not the fault of the Air Force (or the Navy, for that matter) and it should not be punished for it. However, that is an argument for another day.

MG Dunlap's argument is one not about whether his service should be taked with convoy security or guarding prisons, but what is the correct role for airpower in a COIN campaign. While I respect him for voicing an unpopular view in current military thinking, I would respectfully disagree. It is my belief that his view represents an old way of thinking about this type of fight,--a way of thinking that is entirely consistent with the new "warrior ethos" against which you often rail, I might add--a way of thinking which puts killing the enemy as the first priority, ahead of all other considerations that a successful COIN strategy relies on to succeed.

I have no beef with MG Dunlap voicing his views, and his views should be considered and debated. Maybe airpower has gotten short shrift in the new COIN doctrine and its place needs to be reexamined. I just think his view is a very extreme position and that views like that are a big reason why the military as a whole was so woefully unprepared for the fights we find ourselves in now.

Posted by: DM_Inf | September 27, 2008 1:50 PM

Dunlap's answer is always more airpower. And despite clear evidence that the locals keep getting really pissed off by all the collateral damage, he hasn't changed his mindset. He has a one-track strategy, and that doesn't include the Army.

He's not a hero nor is he "brave." He's just promoting the company line that every AF pilot believes but won't say in public. He promotes the F-35 as a counterinsurgency tool when it is anything but. Time to stop using sledgehammers when scapels are required. Time to pull the Air Force back into the Army where it will rightfully execute a support mission and not a lead mission, as Dunlap wants.

Posted by: mauronia | September 29, 2008 10:55 AM

"Time to pull the Air Force back into the Army where it will rightfully execute a support mission and not a lead mission, as Dunlap wants."


Really? The LAST thing the Army needs is more critical missions and service communities it can underresource and allow to atrophy to the point of irrelevance.

A quick review of the last 6 years shows an Army that has allowed critical, full spectrum capabilities to wither. The Field Artillery Community, its aquisition community and many CSS functions immediately come to mind. An MI branch that is 73% fill on MAJs, a Transportation community at 48% fill on MAJs and a USAR sitting at 52% and 58% fill on CPTs and SFCs (respectively) is not a "healthy" organization.

Look, I'm all for our sister branches "pitching in" after unexpected events in 2003 and 2004. After about 2 years of this resource sapping and skill-atrophying "in lieu of" support, that should be the end of it. Is it? No. 5.5 years after Iraq, the USAF is still cannibalizing itself to support an Army whose own leadership - I'm talking about you GEN Schoomaker and Secretary Harvey - failed to publicly support even a modest endstrength increase until December, 2006!

Give the USAF to the Army? Great. Then everyone can be focused on the "50 meter" target of Iraq without an eye to the future.

Say what you want about the F-35, but the Army's FCS is just as shameless. A boon to General officers awed by "techno-solutions" and defense contractors who can't see the forest for the trees.

Posted by: IRRSoldier | September 29, 2008 11:18 AM

"...but the FCS is just as shameless. A boon to General officers awed by 'techno-solutions' and defense contractors who can't see the forest for the trees."

AMEN!! Why is the Army spending $100 billion plus on a system that was born of the cold war and not at all suited for any type of fight other than a big force-on-force battle? I am reminded of a story I heard (it could be apocryphal) of a banner hung from a window in the Pentagon after our victory in Gulf War I that read "We Only do Deserts."

But Dunlap represents this same mode of thinking: When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. No, the Army is not immune to it, but Dunlap does the Air Force a disservice by arguing so forcefully that the service should not reexamine where it fits, and should just keep doing what it is doing. It's important that the Air Force maintain a separate identity and be able to focus on how airpower should be used. I think the service is now really going through some deep soul-searching, as is the Army. But Dunlap does not seem to be part of that conversation.

Somebody needs to clue him in on the need for change.

Posted by: DM_Inf | September 29, 2008 11:44 AM

It needs to be pointed out that there are two kinds of WO's. One kind got there by holding three related, (or non related) MOS's, and apparently knowing a lot about each of them. He exists to give orders based on his knowledge of his field.

The Intelligence fields are loaded with this kind of Warrant 9Or certainly were in Viet Nam) Since, in that era, WO's who failed to bail early were locked in forever and six months, they COULD afford to be crusty, since getting fired would have gotten tyhem out of their lock ins.

The other kind are creatures of great faith, because they were perfectly willing to go up in an air craft where they only vaguely knew where their means of support was at any particular time. THEY could afford to be crusty because their particular specialty was close enough to attempted suicide on enough occasions that getting fired just meant they got to rest and get their flying hours back down within monthly maxima.

Of the whole class, the Warrants to be wariest of were certain vastly superannuated Intelligence Flight Warrants who had just a BIT too much curiosity, like the one at the 156th AVN co (RR) who liked to get in close in his de Haviland Beaver to watch the Sky Cranes deliver daisey cutters. I still remember having to add the phrase, "This means you, Mr ..." to they warning, "X is going to insert a landing zone at coordinates xxxyyy, so stay at least ... miles away from that point.) when briefing him on pending flights down there in the Delta.

Making Terry the Toad a Warrant Flight in More American Grafitti was George Lucas greatest flight of comic fantasy.

Posted by: ceflynline | September 29, 2008 9:29 PM

For those of you who missed the SecDef's comings and goings, let me add this to poor Maj Gen Dunlap's woes: on the day his piece was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution - a piece that rationalized civilian deaths by telling Americans how many international law would "allow" - on the very same day, Secretary Gates was IN AFGHANISTAN - apologizing for those deaths. Nice timing, Charlie. Way to contradict your Defense Secretary.

No matter. Gates noticed. If the rest of you missed it, Gates asked his man in OSD, Web Bridges, to give the "OSD response." You can view it at

Or, I can save you the trouble. (Psst! OSD slams Dunlap, too.)

Given all that, I'd say Robinson actually pulled his punches. I'd have been even tougher.

Posted by: MilitaryCommonSense | October 2, 2008 1:29 AM

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