Saturday, February 12, 2011

Travel Light

(The above picture is messy…I don’t apologize.  Life is messy.  I was too lazy to straighten things up and get a picture with all my “essential” Marine travel stuff.)

The picture is most of the stuff I packed—minus the netbooks, cell phones, camera, and clothes I was wearing at the time.  That is what I thought I would need to survive in Thailand for an unknown amount of time.  My seabag was almost full and my assault pack was completely full.  I have bought an additional civilian bag, two suits, several shirts and some small things to bring home.

This is light for a short deployment.  I packed a few references (the red book in the photo is one), some paper and pens, clothes, and my netbook (which I had to replace).  I was lucky.  Several of my fellow officers had additional items to carry on their person to ensure they could fulfill their more tactical/operational billets. 

I bring this up because Marines pride themselves (ourselves?) on “First to Fight” and “doing more with less.”  The first requires the Marines to act with speed and be the nation’s Quick Reaction Force—always on call and always abel to react at the drop of a hat.  We have SOP (standard operating procedure) to ensure we can mobilize a body of Marines in a set amount of time—dependent on the size of unit and sustainability of the force.  The second is out of necessity.  The Marine Corps has the smallest budget of the four primary military services.  Of course, we’re also the smallest of the four.  To prove our continued worth—and not as a second land army—we need to show we are frugal and the baddest motherfuckers in the fight.

These two points of Marine Corps pride led me to pack my gear in less than three days and forgoing some things I needed—like a government laptop to do my work on.  Yeah, my own damn fault for not critically thinking.  I forgot a few items like soap.  Almost everyone that needed a government laptop had one.  I had to borrow to get the next best thing for access to my work account.

(Tent I was in.  A/C was behind me when I took the picture.  My table is the middle on the right.)

After two weeks here, I noticed that a MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade)  has a LOT of gear, especially an Air Combat unit.  Plenty of tents and air conditioners and wire—both barbed and internet.  The Marines need the internet to work properly!

(Air conditioning for the tent)

WTF!  Why?!?  We tracked movements without the large projector and tv and 15 computers before 2011.  We did all sorts of complicated sorties, operations, and conquests without technology, but when the Communications Officer cannot get internet up for everyone, he’s asked why he’s not Mission Capable. 

I’m blowing this out of proportion, but only somewhat.  We (the staff) spent plenty of time leading up to the beginning of the operation looking closely at what Comm problems we had bc we didn’t have enough internet access.  It wasn’t the largest or most important issue, but we spent time on it.  We function, but complain like bitchy teenagers that we can’t do everything we can in the Rear (at our home base) without sending an email to the person sitting 30 feet away.

The…lassitude(?)…laxness…prissiness of the Wing makes me wonder if the Ground-side is as paralyzed by such communication discomfort. 

I also look to the reality of the society and the times we live in.  Technology is required!  It isn’t a luxury that we admit we can live without.  Technology’s necessity is self-perpetuating.

(My table with the borrowed gov’t laptop, my netbook, gov’t landline and cell phone, my iPhone, and the rest of my reference which are under my cover and acting as a mouse pad.)

So, I’ve just contradicted myself.  On one side I’m complaining that “we don’t really need” technology to do our warfighting job.  And on the other I state that “we must have” technology.  

How I get here is by this baggage train of logic:
In Officer Candidate School, The Basic School, and Boot Camp we are taught how to fight without 21st century tech.  Usually we learn using left over equipment dating back 30+ years.  In OCS and TBS (and I assume Boot Camp) we are told that what we experience in training was not the Real Marine Corps.  The implication is that things are different in the Fleet, if not completely the opposite.  We train with and without the tech to make sure we can do the job regardless of our tech capabilities.

But the experience I am having on a training exercise, which is suppose to train to reality—“Train the way we fight, Fight the way we train”—shows me that we rely heavily on our tech; so heavily that we are almost handicapping ourselves.  The exercise is not hindered or slowed much by our tech issues, but the comfort of connecting via email and other online medias is a sore point that should make our jobs more efficient.

(Nokia Thai cell phone, iPhone 4G, Lenovo netbook replacing the one I broke.)

I stated that technology’s necessity is self-perpetuating.  Once we have the piece of tech we don’t want to live without it.  That is how necessity becomes comfort—and yes, necessity can become comfort.

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

The wheel is the best example.  Once we—as in humans—had the wheel to make moving larger and larger quantities of items from Point A to Point B, we never looked back.  We created a tool that served a simple function, whatever that original purpose was, and we’ve since found countless ways to use that same tool for other things.  Wheel barrows, tires, carts, gears, water wheels, Wheel of Fortune. 

Like the wheel, the phone has changed how we act, react, and plan.  Before the phone we actually wrote letters to people, we sent telegrams if absolutely necessary, or we sent messages by word of mouth.  In war, the messenger fell under the Communication Officer (if there was one).  The phone made long distance communication easier.  Instead of traveling hundreds of miles to get a love note delivered, we could pick up the phone and say “I love you.”  Instead of sending a teenage boy on horseback from HQ across a battlefield, hostile territory, and whatever other dangers, the Commander picks up a battle phone and speaks directly to his subordinate commanders.  We won’t be going back to sending a runner.

The small Nokia is basic.  At least that is how I would describe it now.  20 years ago it was a sophisticated piece of equipment that 12 years ago I said I’d never really need.  Yeah, I’m eating crow. 

The iPhone is complex.  Not in comparison to just the Nokia, but in comparison to the netbook.  The iPhone is a true pocket computer, and possibly the best tech toy I’ve owned.  I won’t use it as a cell phone because it is set up for Japan, not Thailand and I’m not ready to throw out the warranty Jailbreaking the phone.

The things my iPhone can do—the level of comfort it gives me—makes it frustrating for me to use the Thai cell phone.  Take that analogy and apply it to automobiles.  Go from a 2010 car with a/c, heat, power windows, keyless entry, cd/mp3/ipod player and GPS, to a horse drawn carriage.  That 30 mile commute, while comfortable and enjoyable in the 2010 vehicle, in 90 degree heat and humidity will be almost unbearable in a carriage.  You won’t do it everyday.  You’ve just lost the freedom to live outside the city you work in.  No more scenic or picturesque home.  Everyone wants the best they can get—well paying job and great living condition.  (For me that is good pay, enjoyable work, and having a backyard for the dog and trees for a hammock.)  I won’t step back to horse drawn carriages if it means choosing between good job and good home. 

Now, apply those same concepts to War and an effective military.  National security pushes for a powerful, efficient and effective military.  A powerful military is a tool used to ensure National policy and goals.  This is the good job in the city and great house in the suburbs.  Now, let’s add in the extra factor that if we don’t stay at our current level and keep improving, we will become ineffective to work in the city and live in the suburbs. 
I’d like to cite China for historical purposes.  One of the greatest empires way back whenever it was inventing paper and gunpowder, but it went stagnate for centuries allowing Europe to catch up and then surpass it leading to the subordination of China to the West.

The fact that we have tech means we will need tech and to keep getting better tech.  See the Army:

So, to bring this back to the start and travel light.  If I didn’t have the tech, my seabag and assault pack would not have been enough for what my job entails—a mountain of references and knowledge.  But without access to that same tech, I am limited.