By lex, on June 8th, 2011
Courtesy of occasional reader Trapper, the thoughts of Major General Buster Howes, Royal Marines, OBE, as expressed to the Royal United Services Institute:
‘If you’re constantly trying to make war more precise and predictable, you’ll promote people who thrive in squeezing out the marginal drop of uncertainty. If you recognize war’s essential messiness and the enemy’s adaptability, you’ll reward mavericks, risk-takers, and people who thrive in uncertainty.’
Finally, I’d like to leave you with an image of Corporal Mike Stevenson. He is a 24 year old Royal Marines Commando serving in 40 Commando. It is the 20th of March 2003, a pitch black night and he is a few miles off the coast of Iraq’s Al Faw Peninsular. On the horizon, he can see fires erupting and above, the after burners of salvos of Patriot and Tomahawk missiles. He leads his 7 man section across the deck of HMS ARK ROYAL, towards the clattering helicopter, They are all encumbered with massive rucksacks – the equivalent of their body weight in kit, ammunition, and weapon systems. Their sweat has already begun to smudge their black maquillage.
This is the moment he has rehearsed repeatedly for the past 2 months – since he was first briefed, in outline, on his mission. He knows every building on his target intimately – has drawn them, modeled them, metaphorically inhabited them. He knows the ranges between buildings and the emergency escape plan if it all goes wrong. Just as the Sea King door is about to slid shut, his Company Commander appears. “There’s been a change of plan ‘Stevie’”“ he bellows – “you have to attack a totally different target, about 10 ‘klicks’ from the original location.” Stevenson looks at his Boss, a big toothy smile lighting up his face “No worries, Sir – I knew it was too good to be true!” and pulls out a pen to write down the new Grid Reference.
As Napoleon said of the Royal Marines – ‘What could be done with 100,000 men such as these.’
A good anecdote, and a nice ending. Read the whole thing to learn how punishing are the certainties with which we prepare for the next conflict. And, perhaps not so surprisingly, the benefits to a maritime nation of an adaptable, scalable amphibious force.