By lex, on March 9th, 2009
Back in 1996, the aircraft carrier upon which I had the honor to serve was sortied from its forward deployed operating base to hover off the lee of Taiwan, on account of the expressed intent of the Peoples’ Republic of China to lob missiles over that island. The missile launches were ostensibly a test of a new capability, but were widely understood to be an attempt to intimidate Taiwan in the run-up to a national election and had the potential at least to be a part of an escalation of force continuum leading to an invasion.
Whatever it was our presence was supposed to do about any of this never filtered down to the pilots who formed the carrier’s main battery. No target packages were prepared, no mirror image strikes flown, no CONOPS briefed. We flew 1v1 intercepts and bombed smoke flares. We might have as well have been operating off SoCal. Another carrier was sortied out of the Arabian Gulf, and by the time they turned the corner off Oman, the press was breathlessly reporting that a two-carrier “striking force” was assembling off Taiwan – while that second ship and her escorts were still thousands of sea miles and weeks away.
If push had come to shove, there would have been enough of us to fight, but not too many to die. And it was an old ship. I came to understand in a philosophical way that we were merely pawns in a game of geopolitical chess. At least nobody was shooting at us.
The same cannot be said about Iraq. In Camp Lejeune, the president proclaimed – to broad acclamation – that he was winding down the combat effort in Iraq by diverting a Stryker brigade that had trained for that area of operations to support a surge to Afghanistan. What has not been reported so widely is that another Stryker brigade has received orders to deploy to Iraq four months early in their training cycle to backfill the first.
In summary, a trained brigade has been diverted to an area of operations they did not train for, while an untrained brigade has been ordered to fill the hole left behind by the first. It’s another game of political chess, only this time the target audience is not the PRC nor even Taiwan, but the US public. And nobody seems to notice.