January 13, 2009


I can't really say most of the things my husband learned on his last deployment. Actually, I don't even know the half of it, as I don't have the clearance. I do know that my husband sat at a computer for 12 hours a day for 7 months and read every report that came down the wire. His knowledge will fade with time, but a month ago, I'd venture to say that he knew more about Iraq than anyone but a handful of other people in this world. He knew everything, secret and otherwise. He can name mayors and provinces and minutiae that will make you laugh because it sounds like blabbity-blah. He is a genius and I adore the man.

Whenever a civilian asks what my husband does, our standard joke is that it's "the Peace Corps with guns." But that's too simplistic, and I might stop describing his job that way. His job is not the Peace Corps; his job is to be a force multiplier for the military. I think that's an interesting distinction.

We had a neat talk the other day about someone not grokking his career field. There are people even within Civil Affairs who think that their tasks are the end-goal. There are people who think that how many goats they vaccinated and how many school supplies they dropped off are their accomplishments. My husband, however, always takes a long-term, big-picture view of the world. The goal is not vaccinated goats but whether helping that goatherd made Special Forces' job easier and thus helped advance the cause of defeating our enemies. The healthy goats are the means, not the end.

It's a fascinating way to look at his job, and sadly it takes a confident person to accept that role. Civil Affairs as a branch doesn't want to see itself as just a tool for Special Forces. Some in the branch look askance at my husband when his briefings show the Civil Affairs work as Phase 2 and what SF built out of their work as Phase 3. They want to feel like their role is important. It certainly is, but only if it helps get us closer to the bad guy.

Happy, healthy goats in Afghanistan shouldn't be our goal; winning should.

Posted by Sarah at January 13, 2009 08:03 PM | TrackBack

Happy, healthy goats in Afghanistan shouldn't be our goal; winning should.

Thank you for clarifying your husband's role, and for making that crucial distinction.

I do not want the US presence in the Middle East to degenerate into international social work, or as William Saletan put it,

... the most expensive welfare program in the history of the world ... the one welfare program conservatives can't criticize or even recognize, because they're the ones running it.

(mu.nu won't let me link to this article, but it can be easily Googled.)

You favor war, not welfare. You want victory. How would you define it? You mentioned "defeating our enemies." Who are "our enemies," and what would "defeating" them entail? You don't have to write a Den Beste-length answer, but now that you've explained that Civil Affairs is but a means to an end, I'd like to understand your vision of America's goals.

Posted by: Amritas at January 13, 2009 08:59 PM

I adore your husband too..but as a citizen who
loves her country. Thanks S's DH!

Posted by: MaryIndiana at January 13, 2009 11:54 PM

Gosh....your husband is getting a regular fan club going here. Add me as one of those adoring fans. Because he does what he does my family can sleep safely and soundly at night.

Posted by: Pamela at January 14, 2009 12:05 AM

Hmmm...I think I remember reading a little ditty once where it said that in the US Army for every soldier on "the front lines" there were 9 soldiers standing behind him, supporting him. This could be cooks (which there are less and less of in the Army), military police, JAG, supply, artillery, pilots. Not to say those soldiers never end up on the front lines, but that their roles were envisioned to be supporting the infantry.

It's interesting to see this view of civil affairs, because quite often civil affairs is brought in after the infantry have acheived a certain level of security and now measures must be put in place to keep that "peace", as in post-war Germany and Japan. But then there are cases where there are on-going conflicts, and civil affairs must work within an area where security hasn't quite been attained yet, and they are quite active in reaching that goal. Hmmm...makes me want to do some research of the history of the civil affairs branch in the US military...

Posted by: CaliValleyGirl at January 14, 2009 12:06 AM

CVG, thank you for mentioning the nine-for-one ratio. Watching fictional depictions of the military, it's too easy for civilians to forget the personnel behind the scenes - people like my father who served in Vietnam.

Sarah has given us a valuable glimpse behind the curtain. I'll never look at Special Forces the same way again. I'll think of her husband and the others I don't see - those who make the visible possible.

BTW, why are there fewer cooks in the Army now?


You wrote:

... his briefings show the Civil Affairs work as Phase 2 and what SF built out of their work as Phase 3.

May I ask what Phase 1 is?

Posted by: Amritas at January 14, 2009 02:16 AM

Amritas, I believe that a lot of those essentially non-combat roles in the army are being outsourced to companies like KBR: the mess halls are run by them, they offer sanitation services, they also do a lot of the trucking of non-sensitive materials within the country.

Posted by: CaliValleyGirl at January 14, 2009 09:26 AM

On day two of the 46R course I try to explain how we support the trigger pullers. How every story, press release, photo, and interview works to support the tactical mission and the strategic plan. Often times the students nod knowingly but most are only 17 & 18 yrs old and I'm not always sure they get it. So, today was day 2 of the class and when I got done with my normal speech...I told the class about your post. I said we're using our stories to vaccinate the goats and set the stage for our trigger pullers and Info warriors to effectively do their job. The rest of the day they said they were excited to "Vaccinate the Goats!" I'm teaching a room full of Smartasses....

Posted by: David at January 15, 2009 10:30 PM

I was fortunate enough to spend some time within shouting range of trigger pullers and see exactly how my job enabled them to do theirs. That's a rare thing in our field, and a valuable lesson.


Posted by: Sig at January 16, 2009 07:24 PM