[Vision2020] Marine Speaks Out in Favor of Timelines

nickgier at adelphia.net nickgier at adelphia.net
Tue Sep 25 08:39:02 PDT 2007

September 20, 2007,  6:10 pm, The New York Times
Of Timelines, Allah, and Oktoberfest

By Jeffrey D. Barnett

This is the third time I’ve had the privilege of writing for The New York Times. The first time I was an active duty Marine deployed to Camp Falluja, Iraq. The second, writing in June for this blog, I was transitioning out of the Marine Corps and starting a new life as a civilian in my hometown. Now I finally feel that I’m fully integrated into the civilian world and I’m getting increasingly comfortable with my new surroundings. That being the case, I think it’s finally time to get off the fence and discuss something I was unable to publicly discuss as an active duty Marine: some of my opinions on the war in Iraq.

I’ll preface the discussion by saying that my opinion is just that: my opinion. Obviously, it does not represent the views of the Marine Corps. I also acknowledge that during my time in Iraq I was but a company grade officer: I know little of the wider operational and strategic levels of war.

Most of what I have to say deals with what I think is wrong with how we’re conducting the Iraqi campaign. It’s easy to criticize. I know that. I strongly believe in Theodore Roosevelt’s words:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming…”

Nonetheless, I shall opine.

I think it is an absolute necessity that the United States military establish a timeline for the completion of operations in Iraq. I’ve come to that view based on some of my experience in the Marine Corps.

I arrived at Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va., on October 5, 2003. The first few days are a blur, but when I settled into a routine I quickly noticed that every hour of the day was planned. I could always walk onto the “quarter deck” and look at my company’s training schedule for the week. This became a theme throughout my time in the Corps. Any unit that is conducting a training exercise has a rigorously defined training schedule. It’s almost depressing, but you can often look many months into the future on the training schedule and know exactly what time you’ll be home for dinner on any given day.

Of course, training schedules are often subject to change. One event is substituted for another, or an event is canceled, or two events may be swapped because of logistics. But no matter the variables, there is always a schedule.

On the other hand, objectives do matter. If there’s two constants in the Marine Corps, one is “plans change,” and the other is “Marines accomplish the mission.” If a unit must keep training until 2300 to accomplish the mission, then that’s what happens. But ultimately, the commander must always look at the mission, look at his capabilities, and then determine a reasonable timeline for completion of the training.

If our primary mission in Iraq is to train the Iraqi Army, Iraqi police and Iraqi National Guard to provide a secure nation for themselves, then why is there no overall training schedule (i.e., timeline for withdrawal)?

Timelines are also crucial for backwards planning, a cornerstone of the Marine Corps planning process. Given an objective and a time it must be completed by, an effective planner looks at each action in reverse from completion to start, examining the time required for each step and eventually determining when he must start. If the start time is in the past then he must make tough decisions about where to shave time from individual steps. How is an officer supposed to create an effective plan with no scope of how long the operation should take? It seems that is exactly what is being asked of our general grade officers in Iraq.

To bring it back to my level, I put myself in this scenario and tried to imagine how it would go over with a senior officer.

“Sir, I’d like to take my unit to the field to train another unit.”

“Sounds like an excellent endeavor, Lieutenant Barnett. How long will you be in the field?”

“Until it’s done, sir.”

“Well of course you’ll accomplish the mission, but how long do you estimate it will take?”

“I don’t know, sir. I don’t think I even need to try to figure it out. We’re just gonna stay until it’s done.”

“How do you expect us to supply you with water, ammo, chow, trucks, fuels, personnel, and everything else if you have no idea how long the support will be needed?”

“Just keep it coming, sir.”

“Keep it coming?!? Are you crazy? We’ve got other things going on besides your training operation. Additionally, we very well might have to take care of some things in some other training areas, and how can I do that if you’ve got all my personnel and assets tied up indefinitely?”

“Sir, this is important. I really want to stay the course with this. We’ll get it done.”

“This is ridiculous. O.K., you can have one week to conduct the training. Have all your personnel and equipment back by the end of the week.”

“So you want to let the terrorists win, sir?”

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