Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Silent Killer Among Our Troops

This post originally appeared on the Intrepid Life Brewing blog on 24 September 2012.

There is a silent epidemic killing U.S. servicemembers and veterans in America. It takes out a platoon of soldiers each month. Around a battalion of veterans falls victim to it monthly. When you speak to people about the statistics their first reaction is disbelief. Unfortunately, the numbers are correct. This killer is suicide. Eighteen veterans attempt suicide each day. In most months, fifteen to thirty active duty soldiers, sailors, Marines, or airmen commit suicide. In some months, such as July 2012, more troops are lost to suicide than to combat.

Multiple combat deployments, PTSD/TBI, depression, and family or financial troubles cause great hardship. It is indisputable that the military can be a hard life. Men and women who come home and hang up their uniform to enter the civilian world find themselves on new and unfamiliar terrain. America’s current economic troubles don’t help any and young veterans have struggled in particular to find work, more so than their non-veteran counterparts. All of these contribute to the suicide problem.

Recognizing the problem, President Obama has issued an executive order increasing the number of mental health professionals at the VA, increasing cooperation with local community mental health care providers, and increasing funding for research into the problem. Some in Congress have also taken up the issue in hearings and legislation. However, the VA already has thousands of vacant positions for mental health professionals and creating more may not be enough help. Additionally, fights over cuts in federal spending may mean cuts to VA funding in coming years. Whatever the barrier is that is keeping these mental health jobs open must be removed and these positions filled. Cutting funding for vets programs just when a new generation of veterans needs it most is irresponsible.

Funding for veterans programs must not fall victim to cuts. This is a problem that is not going away and ignoring it will likely make it worse. There are things worth paying for. Using taxpayer dollars to ensure someone is there for those who were there when the country needed them is one of these things. This silent epidemic must be stopped. If we continue to treat those who fight for the country so poorly there may be no one there to answer the call of duty.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Joint Operations in Afghanistan: There Has to Be a Will to Be a Way

This article originally appeared on The Truman Doctrine on 19 September 2012.

NATO has announced it will limit joint military operations alongside Afghan forces following a recent string of turncoat attacks against ISAF forces. Over 50 NATO soldiers have been killed in ‘green on blue’ attacks in 2012 alone. Anger caused by the accidental trashing and burning of a Koran and recently over an anti-Muslim web video has been blamed for the upsurge in these attacks.

America has been in Afghanistan for over a decade, longer than the USSR. The parties to the two wars are the same. Fortunately America has only suffered one sixth the casualties the Soviets did, despite likely spending more money on the war. It is arguable that the goodwill Afghans felt toward America for forcing out the Taliban is running out. The diversion of money, forces, and attention away from Afghanistan and into Iraq from 2003 may have cost America a better result, though that will never be empirically proven or disproven.

In 2003 I worked closely with Iraqi security forces. In 2004 I assisted in screening new Iraqi police recruits. In 2006 I served as a member of a team of U.S. military advisors to an Iraqi infantry battalion. While, as anywhere, there were certainly varying degrees of quality and commitment among members of these fledgling security forces, there were enough who believed their country was worth fighting for and felt the same commitment to it that U.S. troops feel for theirs.

Regrettably there were some who were agents for the other side. That was a constant worry for our ten-man team, constantly surrounded by Iraqi soldiers. An Iraqi officer at a police station we often visited stabbed one of their U.S. advisors. We had no doubt some police were involved in sectarian violence. But I would have trusted some Iraqi soldiers with my life. Many of them hated insurgents and Baathists as much as we did. They took great personal risk to join, as many were kidnapped from their homes and turned up floating in the Tigris River if the wrong people found out they were soldiers. We had guarded posts to return to, but most of them and their families lived on the streets they were fighting on.

The difference between the moderately successful security transition in Iraq and its less successful counterpart in Afghanistan comes in the understanding and commitment to transitioning to a nominally modern republican state with at least some vestiges of a central government. Iraq is still a violent place today, but it has been ruled by different strong central governments throughout its history—Babylon, Great Britain, and Saddam Hussein among them. Though today’s Iraqi government cannot claim to rule over the entirety of a peaceful nation, most Iraqis understand the necessity of a government that provides certain necessities, including internal and external security through competent police and military forces. There may be sectarian divisions, but this basic need is at least recognized.

Afghanistan has never been ruled by a central government, strong or otherwise. Today, Hamid Karzai’s power extends little past Kabul. Afghanis don’t see the need for a government they feel is remote and corrupt and has thus far been unable to provide them security, nor have they ever had such a government in their history. The understanding of and commitment to building such a government and an accompanying security mechanism is not there.

Afghanis are not ready to make such a change. Perhaps such will could have been developed with a stronger commitment from America early on. But we’ll never know. Such a transition can only be made when the people of Afghanistan are ready for it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Navy SEAL's Bin Laden Raid Bestseller and US National Security

This article originally appeared in The Guardian on 14 September 2012.

Everyone holds an opinion, even those who are obligated by law or profession to remain neutral. It is human nature. It can foreseeably become difficult to sit by and listen as everyone around you who is free to gives their opinion, some misguided and others even profiting from it, while professional obligations require you to stay silent. Such is the burden, however, of being a professional in a position of importance to national security.

This conflict is not new, but the pressures and incentives for breaking the rules are growing. With TV pundit spots, big publishing advances, and organizations such as WikiLeaks providing opportunity and motivation, are western democracies even capable of keeping secrets anymore?

Matt Bissonnette, calling himself "Mark Owen", was a member of Navy Seal Team 6 and took part in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. He has written a book that extensively details the raid and has unleashed a controversy in doing so. Paired with this debate are the attacks of Opsec, a rightwing political action committee started by other former Navy Seals who are attacking President Obama and his administration for releasing generally similar information on the Bin Laden raid to the press.

Both Bissonnette and Opsec have been rebuked by senior military officials at the Pentagon such as special operations commander Admiral William McRaven and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The US government has not ruled out taking legal action.

When one swears an oath to serve the country as a member of the military or any national security-related agency, a different set of rules applies immediately. A measure of your personal freedom, freedom of speech, and political participation rights are curtailed. Inductees know this beforehand, are well-briefed upon induction, and periodically afterward. They sign non-disclosure statements to the effect, and laws prevent the disclosure of identified security information. You also know that some, much, or all of what you do will remain anonymous and unaccredited. Matt Bissonnette knew this when he wrote his autobiography.

All this is necessary for many reasons, foremost among them being to preserve the dedication to the nation such jobs require. You may be putting your life, or the lives of many others, at risk for the country, and be privy to sensitive information; you should be doing so because you feel a sense of duty, commitment, and patriotism. To allow public servants working in national security roles or members of the military to profit financially or to have an outsize influence on partisan political debate because of what they've done or what they know is detrimental to national security. Allowing this behavior would mean having soldiers and civil servants motivated by the opportunities of fame and fortune, leaving aside the selfless commitment and dedication to duty and country such roles do and ought to require.

This larger point is one many seem to miss. It is arguable that both the information in Bissonette's book and the information disclosed by the White House following the Bin Laden raid were not classified or going to get anyone killed. The difference is that the president has the obligation and duty to inform the public about such an important event, regardless of one's opinion of him personally: he is the commander-in-chief. But soldiers or civil servants profiting personally, or even for charity as Bissonnette claims he is doing, by giving their own personal accounts of the facts calls into question his selfless dedication to country and duty first. Allowing this to continue would attract the wrong sort of people with false motivations into military or government service.

This has become a problem of late for the United States. Television news channels and bookstore shelves are filled with pundits and commentators who are former CIA agents or soldiers. The gap in time between events and the release of bestsellers about them is getting ever smaller. Many of America's intelligence agencies have lax policies toward private-sector recruiters pulling their employees and some are even allowed to "moonlight" and offer their services privately while still employees of the agency. These policies have become a problem with intelligence agencies losing many of their top people to private firms after years of training and service. Disgruntled civil servants and soldiers have released secured government information in the media.

These events call into question the motivations, independence, and commitment to duty of the individuals who take part in them. Serving in the military or government should be about a life dedicated to protecting and serving the country, not serving one's self by securing a nice paycheck and nice retirement.

Many would push back against this by saying that those who occupy positions in the White House or Congress profit greatly from their service, or even the service of others, so why shouldn't people like Matt Bissonnette, who actually put their own lives on the line, be allowed to profit from it? Yet, presidents and congressmen and women should not profit personally from their jobs either – and their perceived abuse and misuse of their offices to do so is a reason why the majority of Americans have lost respect for these institutions and officials. Overwhelming majorities of Americans still hold a great deal of respect and esteem for the military and intelligence services because they are seen as representing selfless commitment to the country above self. They're not seen as corrupt, as other militaries and intelligence agencies around the world are. Allowing such behavior to continue may put this view in jeopardy.

Such events as the Abbottabad raid don't need to remain a secret forever, especially since the fact that the event occurred is public knowledge. It is important to our democracy, history, and society that the public learns what, how, and why events such as this happen. But there should be a space of several years in between.

Matt Bissonnette should be allowed to tell his story, but not while it is still such a present event. There are many possible consequences. Detailing such a raid may amount to providing "open-source" intelligence for our international opponents. Disclosing details of equipment, tactics, techniques, or procedures that may seem harmless and mundane on their own can be pieced together with other information. For Bissonnette to wait a couple years to tell his story would not have reduced its national historical significance – though it may have reduced his big-name television interviews or book sales.

There is a difference between Bissonnette's book and the disclosure of a crime or "whistleblowing". The reporting or disclosure of a felony or fraud, waste or abuse is quite different from writing a bestselling autobiographical book. Whistleblowers rarely profit from making what they know public: frequently, they lose their jobs, and often endure lawsuits or years of abuse afterwards. Their motivation is usually to correct a wrong. Rewards are offered to encourage them to come forward. Bissonnette was not reporting or disclosing some great crime and he stands to enjoy a great deal of positive attention and profit from his book, even if he donates most of the proceeds to a Navy Seal charity (as he has already attempted to do twice unsuccessfully).

It's hard to be too angry with Matt Bissonnette: he is a genuine hero who put his life on the line more than once and is deserving of the profit and attention he's received. It's pretty hard to keep a secret, especially when that secret is that you had a part in killing Osama bin Laden, one of those rare events which most Americans will recall where they were when it happened. Members of Seal Team 6, already famous before the raid, will probably never have to buy their own beers again.

But what Bissonnette and his defenders miss, and what the majority of his Seal colleagues understand, along with most other members of the military and intelligence community, is that the wider consequences to the national security of the country he risked his life many times to defend outweigh the right to fortune and fame for his bravery, even if it is well-deserved.

In order for the sterling reputation of the United States military and intelligence services to be preserved, and the trust placed in them by average Americans maintained, national security professionals cannot be allowed to profit from their acts, even if they go above and beyond duty or what is normally expected. Seeking fortune and fame, even if merited, cannot be allowed to cloud judgment when it comes to defending America. When it concerns our national security, we need those defending it to continue to put duty and country first. This extraordinary selflessness and dedication is what has kept us safe and strong throughout our history.

Matt Bissonnette has an extraordinary story to tell; he should be allowed to tell it. But he should have waited for it to pass from current affairs and into history first. That a small group of brave and dedicated men finally delivered justice for their country is a story not likely to be forgotten by Americans anytime soon.

Friday, September 14, 2012

September 11 2001: The Day Everything Changed for the US Military

This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on September 11 2012.

For many who spent time in uniform on 9/11/01, life is very much a story of before and after. I listened to the broadcast of the attacks on BBC radio while on an Army field exercise in Graefenwoehr, Germany. Much was different for soldiers before that day and much has changed since then.

Before, we trained with deployments to places like Bosnia or Kosovo in mind, not Afghanistan or Iraq. We wore Cold War-era equipment and woodland camouflage uniforms and slept in tents in the woods or in soft-sided military vehicles. Being stationed in Germany, we were all more practiced at fighting a Warsaw Pact enemy in the snow, mud, and rain of Europe than the urban or desert terrain of the Middle East. The Army life was generally as routine as military life can be. You get a new assignment and pack your bags for someplace new about every two years.

As we listened to the towers fall, still hoping it was some kind of an accident, we didn’t know how much things were about to change. Our exercise was cut short and we loaded into our vehicles and headed back to our post the next morning. An image I will always remember from that convoy is of Germans driving past waving small American flags out of the windows of their cars and shouting slogans of support. If any country knows what good the U.S. military has done in the world, it is Germany. Fifty six years before, America and its allies had rolled over the Nazis and then spent the next several decades rebuilding our former enemy under the Marshall Plan. U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany have been supporting the economy and our NATO ally since 1945. It may have been a rocky relationship since 2003, but I’ll always remember the faces of those German men and women waving the flag in support of America, in support of a country not their own and to people they would never meet.

Less than two years later our convoy was greeted again with waves from smiling citizens, but this time we were rolling into Baghdad. The results of ‘shock and awe’ were still very apparent. The people there were glad to see us at first. They all said thanks and then asked when we were leaving. Over the coming months we would all come to learn much about Iraq, Islam, Baathists, IEDs, snipers, and ambushes on city streets. The learning curve was steep. As we rolled back down to Kuwait on the way home 15 months of combat later, we did so with 10 of our brothers dead and four times as many, including myself, wounded in action.

One image that is forever burned into my memory is of two kids in an alley way near the bank of the Tigris. As I pulled security at the end of the alley, they snuck up on a mangy stray dog asleep in the sunshine, one of them holding a cup of gasoline and the other a lit piece of newspaper. They threw it on the dog and laughed as it cried and burned and died. Kids play with dogs; they don’t kill them. The things you want to remember, you forget; the things you’d like to forget, you always remember. Some people would call American soldiers savages, but there are worse things in this world.

We went home for a year and came back again. This time we flew in and slept in air-conditioned trailers and had showers and Burger King. But the streets outside were still the same, if not worse. I was assigned to a small team embedded with an Iraqi army unit we were to train and support. As the sectarian war raged, I remember getting a call from the U.S. battalion paired with our unit. They had found six bodies and five heads and needed us to come out. That wasn’t the first time I took a call like that or the last.

Three days before we all flew home, on the last mission he was to go on, we lost a platoon mate. The mixture of sorrow and joy left you feeling almost drunk. We sat around in the gravel, numb under our ponchos in the rain, and smoked and talked about what we were going to do when we got home. At that point, I was supposed to have been out the Army for three months already, but they had ‘stop-lossed’ me. They let me go three months later and I decided to make a clean break of it. I went to college on the GI Bill. I finished my degree in 2010. I’m starting grad school next week.

9/11 changed a lot in my life and in a lot of other lives. Everyone that went to war knows someone that didn’t make it back. A lot of veterans left a piece of themselves there. A lot of young men and women saw more than most others will see in a lifetime. Many soldiers came home to empty houses or drank themselves to sleep at night or worse. Families split up. Kids have grown up without a parent. People politely thank me for my service and I politely thank them back, but talking about the wars makes people back home uncomfortable. Usually I don’t offer up that I’m a veteran, but most know by looking at me.

Everything is different after 9/11. If you told me I could throw a magic switch and take back 9/11 and stop the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I would do it in a heartbeat. No question. But if you said that I could only take back my own part in the fighting, I wouldn’t do it. It was the most terrible time in my life, but it was also the best time of my life. It made me who I am. I know that is hard to understand for most people. I have trouble understanding it myself. But there it is. 9/11 changed everything for our soldiers.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Ever-Changing Style of the U.S. Army

This article originally appeared in The Atlantic on 6 September 2012.

Those who have never served in the military would find it hard to believe the attention placed on a soldier's appearance. Army Regulation 670-1 governs the wear and appearance of the Army uniform and is constantly revised. But it goes far beyond just uniforms. It covers shaving, haircuts, and hairstyles; fingernail polish, length, and cleanliness; tattoos, piercings, and dental work; and even extends to off-duty appearance. AR 670-1 is the reason you won't find soldiers with their hands in their pockets.

This degree of micromanagement is one of many reasons many, including myself, decide not to make the Army a career. During my nine years in the service, I followed regulations like a professional soldier, but after I came back from combat each time I found it increasingly difficult to care about what color gym bag I could or couldn't carry.

And yet, when I joined the U.S. Army in 1999, I starched and pressed my uniform every day with creases so sharp you could cut bread with them. I polished my boots to a shine so high you could see your soul in it. Some soldiers used to soak their uniforms in buckets of starch and iron them until they could stand up on their own. Others used hair dryers to melt and re-melt their boot polish. A few used floor wax. Many would turn their uniforms in to the cleaners every week to be pressed. Some even bought their own industry-grade machines. Every Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. there was a showdown to see which platoon had the sharpest looking troopers.

After I came home from Iraq the first time in 2004, a pressed uniform and shined boots just weren't that important to me anymore. Some leaders I'd known seemed more impressed by a "squared away" uniform than a soldier's actual ability to do their job at war. Many of my former colleagues privately felt leaders should be focused on fighting wars, not looking good in garrison. These arguments will never die.

Yet U.S. Army uniforms remind us of our history, an ever-present sight during our national holidays. There are the blue and grey coats of early America; the browns of WWI; the olive drabs of WWII and Korea; the "tigerstripe" of Vietnam; the Woodland of the Cold War and Balkans; the "Chocolate Chip" of the Gulf War; the desert pattern of the Iraq War; and the grey pixels and "MultiCam" of Afghanistan. The U.S. Army's uniforms have evolved over centuries along with the conflicts they have fought in as the need for camouflage has remained an important constant for the military in the modern era.

Before the 20th century, there was no such need to blend in with the surroundings. Armies fought pitched battles in colorful and often heavy wool uniforms arrayed on opposing sides of a large field. The rationale behind the uniforms of the 18th and 19th centuries was largely identification. Any school kid in America knows the British wore red. The French and Russians often wore blue or white. There was also an element of pride and flash in the uniforms, as Dukes and Counts often paid to maintain their own regiments and wanted them to look sharp. Some of them paraded them about like their own real toy soldiers. They tried to use colors that stood out well in the fog of battle and were easily distinguished from the enemy.

These bright uniforms may seem silly today, but they were worn in a time where there were no electronic communications to relay to commanders what was happening on the battlefield. The brightly colored uniforms allowed generals to look across the field and see where their troops were holding, failing, or advancing. It was not the kind of warfare where anyone took cover when battle was joined, even amid artillery shelling. Armies rarely dug or constructed bunkers or breastworks unless under siege. Imagine Napoleon and Lord Wellington looking across the smoke-filled battlefield with their field glasses. They knew only what they could see or messengers could relay to them. Their staff officers had to track changes in the battle with pieces on a map. Their uniforms were hot, heavy, and uncomfortable, but they served an important function. Military uniforms of the 18th and 19th centuries were made to be seen.

The American colonials largely lacked the funds and time to develop and implement such outfits, or to mimic the European system of designating military units with different colored trims. America's first army under George Washington had no official uniform. The Continental Congress ordered Minutemen to dye their clothing brown, but most didn't have the time or means to do so. As the American experience at Valley Forge showed, they were at times lucky to have coats or shoes at all. The original thirteen colonies fielded their own small organized militias and their uniform styles were as varied as the states they served. Though some were brown, green, or red, those who had uniforms most often wore different types of heavy blue coats with shiny brass buttons, similar to the one famously adopted by General Washington himself.

The U.S. Army of the 19th century largely did away with the big hats, wigs, and ornamental elements of the military uniforms of the past century as time wore on, though they retained mostly blue uniforms of thick wool with shiny metal buttons. The army of the independent Republic of Texas adopted grey uniforms. The Confederacy also chose grey to distinguish its soldiers from the federal blues in the Civil War. It was still generally the kind of warfare where units lined up and marched forward into musket or cannon fire with deadly result, as seen in skirmishes such as Pickett's Charge.

None of the Civil War uniforms were very functional, especially in the climate of the American south and west. During the battle for Atlanta in the summer of 1864, hundreds of soldiers on both sides suffered from exhaustion and heat stroke in their wool uniforms under the Georgia sun. Soldiers suffered similar problems in the wars against Mexico and the Native Americans on the Great Plains and in southwestern deserts.

The turn of the 20th century brought with it the idea that uniforms should be made for utility and concealment. Previous U.S. Army uniforms hadn't taken the climate or terrain much into account, other than perhaps to mercifully adjust the wear or weight of their material for summer. In 1902 the U.S. Army, learning from Britain's experience in colonial Africa and India, adopted the khaki uniform, known as "drab."

In the following years, almost every western military ditched the traditional bright colors and adopted uniform colors that aided concealment in shades of khaki, brown, or grey. At the outbreak of WWI, only the French Army maintained colorful uniforms of blue coats and red trousers.

World War I -- with its grinding trench warfare and development of machine guns, tanks, and warplanes -- had a powerful role to play in this change. For the first time, military uniforms were not meant to be seen, and this shift became even more pronounced a generation later. When most Americans think of G.I. Joe serving in World War II, they picture the M-1943 olive drab uniform, which was designed with the cold, wet, and verdant climates of Europe in mind.

Uniforms made of tightly-woven cotton "Byrd cloth" were designed for service in the tropics to stop mosquito, flea, and leach bites and allowed for better cooling than wool. However, these uniforms took longer to make and field and there was an acute shortage of them. Some old soldiers found it hard to shed military formality completely in favor of utility. General George S. Patton famously insisted that officers under his command still wear their ties into combat.

The U.S. Army field uniform remained largely unchanged with only a few minor alterations until the 1980s. When we think of the Korean War, we often picture men freezing in olive drab fatigues and coats huddled around fires wearing their pile caps. Grunts wore generally the same green uniform made of cotton in the jungles of Vietnam. The famous "tigerstripe" camouflage uniform worn in the 1960s by American advisors and special operations units in Vietnam was never officially authorized, though it was effective in the dense jungle. It also mimicked the uniforms worn by South Vietnamese soldiers and allowed U.S. troops to blend in with their counterparts as well as the terrain.

Since that time, American camouflage has gone through a number of revisions - from the interlocking pattern called "ERDL," introduced in 1968, to the new pixelated pattern introduced in 2005.

But is camouflage still relevant? A large share of the fighting in Iraq took place in urban terrain. All U.S. movements issued from large fortified camps and bases that were often watched from the outset by enemy observers. A force that rides around in armored Humvees and Abrams tanks accompanied by attack helicopters isn't exactly hiding. In Afghanistan where the fighting is in much more rural, rocky, and remote terrain, the battle consists of trying to draw the enemy out of hiding among the local populace to be engaged. Pulling the enemy out of hiding is the only way to know they're there. They usually know where our troops are well before we know where they are. The U.S. Army isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore. Essentially, U.S. troops want to be attacked by their clandestine enemies so they can engage and destroy them.

The U.S. Army of today is not a nimble beast that moves stealthily; it is more like a rhinoceros that is a force to be reckoned with. During my first tour in Iraq in 2003, we wore less personal armor and I was able to, on a few occasions, sprint after bad guys down the streets of Baghdad. By my second trip to Baghdad in 2005, wearing virtually my own body weight in gear made this unlikely. The Army had to change and "turtle up" to protect troops and convoys from ambushes and IEDs on supply routes. When fighting like this, camouflage isn't as important.

It can be argued that the U.S. Army today is fighting in a position more similar to those of the armies of the 18th and 19th centuries. Almost everything we're doing happens in plain sight. We are in some ways like the British Redcoats of old; we fight in plain sight while our enemies hide amongst the locals and choose softer targets to attack. Ironically, military commanders of earlier centuries used to think camouflage itself was cowardly. Even the New York Times as late as 1917 called new idea of military camouflage "hocus pocus." It is no wonder some make comparisons between America today and the empire of Great Britain then.

If anything, a new form of camouflage is emerging. Special operations forces, especially Green Berets, often operate by learning the local language and training indigenous populations to fight for U.S. interests. They operated like this effectively among the Montagnard people in Vietnam, the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, and the Kurds of northern Iraq, among others. To do this, they often shed their Army uniforms in favor of native dress and mannerisms, grew beards, carried local weaponry, and even took to horseback to gain the support and trust of local populations. Some regular Army units partially followed their lead by encouraging soldiers to grow moustaches and let their hair grow a little longer than usual among Middle Eastern cultures that view facial hair as a sign of masculinity.

These special operations units are among the most effective and successful in counterinsurgency operations. What we discovered in Iraq and Afghanistan is that wielding an AK-47, growing a beard, and learning to grin and bear "man kisses" and male hand holding may be better camouflage than any uniform. In doing so, they attract the respect and trust of peoples who have a natural mistrust of western outsiders, especially Americans.

Camouflage does remain important in many military scenarios. It is essential to downed pilots and special operators making ground infiltrations. It will always remain important to scouts and snipers in the field, or to soldiers who are separated from support when an operation begins to go bad and have to pull back into the shadows. These are scenarios in which concealment remains and will likely always be very important.

What's indisputable is that U.S. Army soldiers today are the best equipped and outfitted in the entire world's history. Picture General Washington's Minutemen, shuffling around on watch in the snow of the frigid winter at Valley Forge, shouldering their own hunting muskets, blowing into frozen hands, clad in thin linen shirts, old leather breeches, and worn out shoes. The aristocratic English generals and Lords of the Admiralty didn't take these upstart colonial farmers and merchants seriously.

The American fighting man has certainly come a long way from those hard days at Valley Forge. Pixels or no pixels, General Washington would have approved.