Sunday, August 21, 2016

Stunning movement of the Lord in Iraq

Despite threat from ISIS, 100 children receive First Communion in Iraq

The first communion Mass in Alqosh was an historic moment for a “frontier town” that has been under threat from the militants of the Islamic State (IS) for a long time. Now it can “hope for peace and normalcy” around these hundred children, said Mgr Basil Yaldo, auxiliary bishop of Baghdad and close associate of the Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako.
The Chaldean primate presided over the ceremony that was attended by “all the priests of the city, the nuns and more than 700 people. The faithful were excited because for the first time, the patriarch celebrated communions in the community.” 
Like many other towns in Iraqi Kurdistan, Alqosh too welcomed scores of refugees.
“Life in the area is almost back to normal,” said the vicar of Baghdad. “We hope that soon the whole plain [of Nineveh] can be liberated from the jihadists, and that refugees can return to their villages.” 
The work to secure the area, he added, has “already started and for the past two days Iraqi troops have launched the battle to liberate the villages surrounding Mosul.” 
…Addressing the boys and girls who received the first communion, Patriarch Sako urged them not to abandon their land, the city of Alqosh, but to stay and help in the reconstruction “because there is a (Christian) heritage to be preserved. ” 
The Chaldean primate, Mgr Yaldo noted, also called on young people to “be stronger, come to church and participate in the life of the Christian community as one participates in the life of a family.” 
After the service, the children asked Patriarch Sako some questions. One of them, Mgr Yaldo noted, said that when he “grows up he wants to become a priest to serve the poor and the needy.” 
The patriarch could not hold back his emotion after listening to such words, adding that “it is important to support and share the suffering.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

The uncurious minds of news reporters

As an illustration of the typical cluelessness of the American media, I offer this piece on the future of the United States artillery from The National Interest, "The US Army's New Battlefield 'Big Gun' Has a Dangerous Defect."

The issue of the article is the lack of a fully-functional fire-suppression system aboard the "Paladin M109A7 PIM — the latest in America’s line of tracked artillery pieces ," photo above. But the fire-suppression system is not my point here. In the article we read:
In 2002’s Operation Anaconda, the U.S. clashed with hundreds of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters without any large-caliber artillery. Yet with a more entrenched U.S. troop presence in the following years came an increasing reliance on big guns which — in places — fired relentlessly.

Case in point, one artillery battalion in Afghanistan’s mountainous and remote Kunar province lobbed around 25,000 rounds — including mortar rounds — in a year, according to the New York Times.
A 155mm howitzer battalion has 18 howitzers, which we colloquially refer to as "guns" even though they are not guns, they are howitzers.

Now do the math on that artillery unit in Afghanistan and you will immediately see why the story should read, "one artillery battalion in Afghanistan’s mountainous and remote Kunar province lobbed a mere 25,000 rounds  in a year."

Although neither The National Interest nor The New York Times identifies what battalion fired those 25,000 rounds, the odds are near certain that it was a battalion equipped with the M777, 155mm howitzer. Wikipedia has a decent write-up.

As you can see, it is significantly different from the Paladin pictured above, although both guns shoot exactly the same ammunition. The Triple-7 is towed by a truck rather than self-propelled like the M109-series howitzers. The truck also carries crew, ammo and supplies. Towed guns were used in Afghanistan because they were easier to deploy and because in many cases were simpler to move from one place to another over the rugged terrain (mainly because they are so much lighter).

So a battalion of artillery has 18 of these guns. Here is the arithmetic that is so simple anyone but an NYT reporter can do it, including my daughter who was only 2 years old when I retired from the Army and so did not grow up in this culture:

Question: "Is 'fired relentlessly' and apt term for a battalion of 18 guns that fired 25,000 rounds in a year?"

(playing Jeopardy music . . .)
  1. 25,000 / 365 days per year = 68.5 rounds per day fired, average.
  2. 68.5 rounds per day / 18 guns = (TA DA!) fewer than four rounds per day per gun. 
Does that sound "relentless" to you? The maximum rate of fire of the M777 is 5 rounds per minute. But timing begins at the zero-second mark when the first round is fired. That means that 36 seconds later, that crew is done for the day. The crew spent 0.043 percent of the day "relentlessly" firing their howitzer.

This is by no means any criticism of the artillery crews. Artillery is an "on-demand" combat weapon. It does not make up on its own where or when to shoot. Artillery fire is requested by other arms, mainly infantry and armor, but can also be called for by aviators or assigned by higher commanders. At any rate, what this extremely low use of artillery means is one or more of the following,
  • Actual battles with enemy forces were relatively rare,
  • When they did occur they were small unit actions and/or at such close ranges that using artillery was impractical
  • Rule of Engagement were very restrictive on using a weapon of such destructive power,
  • Target location was imprecise,
A little historical scale now. In the Korean War
In one 24-hour period during the battle for Bloody Ridge, the 15th FA Bn fired 14,425 rounds. Additionally, from 26 August through 2 September 1951, in support of the 2nd ID during the battle of Heartbreak Ridge, the 15th FA Bn fired 69,956 rounds.
That battalion's guns fired an average of 601 rounds each in that one day, or 150 times as many as that unit cited in the NYT. But consider that 601 battalion rounds per day works out to 33 rounds per gun per hour, or about one every two minutes - and since this battalion used 105mm howitzers, that was much less physically challenging than shooting a 155mm gun since the heavier gun is well, heavier, with its munitions weighing about three times as much as the 105mm.

The trick for the 15th FA gunners in Korea was not shooting every 120 seconds, which is quite easy on that gun (my first unit in my service was in a 105mm unit). The trick is to keep that going for 24 straight hours. I guarantee those gunners were exhausted at the end!

The second example, 69,956 rounds in a six-day period, is a lower rate of fire, 486 battalion rounds per hour, or 27 per gun per hour, a little under one round every two minutes. Again, not physically challenging unless you keep it going for six straight days!

But either case would certainly qualify as "firing relentlessly."

My point in this is that you may now understand why I am very skeptical of what the civilian press reports about military matters, and the more technical the subject is the the more skeptical I get. When I was not blowing things up in the artillery, I served in my alternate specialty of public affairs, including as chief of media relations for XVIII Airborne Corps and Ft Bragg. With not many exceptions, reporters tend to be uncurious people. They generally just write down what someone tells them and that's that.

As my boss used to say, "Reporters don't say what happened. They say what somebody said happened." That's a good thing, actually; you don't want reporters just making stuff up (which a fair number do anyway) but jeepers, who said that this firing in Afghanistan was "relentless?" NYT reporter Wesley Morgan did, that's who, and he thought so because he didn't have the curiosity to run the numbers.

That said, the Interest's brief commentary on the lack of long range on our howitzers is well taken. The concluding line is, "in an artillery war, range is everything." Yet that is only half right. There are two things that are everything in an artillery war: range, accuracy, and responsiveness.

Oh, wait, make that three three things that are everything: range, accuracy, responsiveness and lethality.

Four! In an artillery war, there are four things that are everything: range, accuracy, responsiveness, lethality, and mobility.

In an artillery war there are five things that are everything: range, accuracy, responsiveness, lethality, mobility, and logistics... .

See my point? One thing is not everything in any operation or war. Why does this reporter think so? Well, it makes a good tag line. But also because frankly, he don't know nuthin' about what he's writing about.

BTW, my daughter who knew PDQ that 25K rounds in a year was not "firing relentlessly" is a chemical engineer, so she went to the math right away. But really, this isn't math, it's simple arithmetic and logic, grade school level.

Additional reading: "U.S. Army Field Artillery Relevance on the Modern Battlefield"

Oh, and just for the humor break, my closing grafs about the things that are everything in artillery war uses this famous template.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Saying no to $5 Million

Dear Mrs. Coleman,

I am emailing in response to your kind offer, received this morning, of donating $5,0000,000 to our church. I am sure that you are sincere in wanting your late husband's estate, now held in escrow in Abidjan, to be used in Christian missions to benefit orphanages, widows, and evangelism. And I appreciate you offering me the chance to use the millions for those purposes.

I am so sorry that you are about to die of an undiagnosed illness, so I fully understand why you want me to take possession of the money quickly by contacting the security company in Abidjan and providing it with all my personal back-account numbers so they can transfer the money directly. That's very thoughtful of you!

However, I regret that I must decline your offer for the following reasons:

1. Due to the number of offers I receive similar to yours, mostly from Nigerian oil-minister widows, I no longer accept donations of less than $15 million. It's just not worth the hassle. If you can come up with another $10 million, please let me know. However, that is a constantly-moving target that rises practically weekly. So you should shoot for probably $17 million. At least.

2. My personal service fee, accruing solely to me, is 15 percent of the total donation amount. In your case my fee would come to $750,000. However, I no longer accept donations for which my fee is less than seven figures. And be assured that I would spend it on things other than your stated wishes, mainly on riotous living, expensive baubles, extensive vacations, expensive wines, man toys such as motorboats or Purdy shotguns, Bugattis, and what is left over on simple dam-foolishness.

3. "Coleman" is a funny name for a native-born, Muslim, Kuwaiti government official, even if his widow does want his fortune to be spent on Christian charities.

4. And finally, I decline because frankly, I am not an idiot.

Have a blessed day, whoever you really are, and maybe you could actually try working for a living.

D. Sensing

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Honey, sorry I am going to have you blown to smithereens."

Saw this on one of my FB feeds and it brought back some memories.

Under the nets are 155mm self-propelled howitzers taking part in the REturn of FORces to GERmany (hence, REFORGER) exercises that took place by US Army Europe from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. This is from the 1986 exercise; I do not know which unit.

The one in 1984 took place in the severest winter Germany had experienced since WW2. I froze my kundingi off. I was a battery commander  in 2d Battalion, 3d Field Artillery, 3d Armored Division. My battalion was stationed in the town of Butzbach, West Germany, about 55 km north of Frankfurt.

At the time, my wife and I lived in a very nice, govt.-contracted duplex in Dorf-Guell, near Giessen, pinned here in this screen grab from Google Earth:

This was a northern Reforger (they alternated north and south in the country), so the town was in the thick of the action. During the exercise one day I pulled into a phone booth to call Cathy. She told me that an aviation unit had set up field operations in the very large fields behind our house. I already knew that was "enemy" territory.

So, artilleryman that I was, I apologized to her that I was going to have her blown to bits. Then I grabbed the grids off my map sets and sent it with target description to 3AD Division Artillery's operations center. From there it got handed off to V Corps Artillery, which moonscaped the field (in an exercise-y sort of way) with 8-inch artillery. Darn shame about my wife, though.

Later I learned that Divarty had actually credited her by name as the target-intel source, though, so she had that going for her at least.

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