Sunday, March 13, 2005

Reply to Tim Bossert, brother of Sgt Andrew Bossert

I was reviewing my "comments" this evening, and I was faced with the difficult question that Tim Bossert posed to me. Tim is Andrew Bossert's older brother...Andrew is the Sgt I referred to in my last serious piece.

Sometimes there is no clear explanation on the battlefield. Sometimes the pieces cannot be fully put back into place. And sometimes the best effort does not yeild the expected results. BUT, this is not an out for Sgrena and the US brass...we need to ensure there will be no second guessing our troops in the field who operate under established SOPs. Tim's comment is reply follows. Any perspective from others, particularly in Iraq, I think would be helpful. If I am off base, please correct me. Sincerely, MM.

Hello Mike. I have read your comment a few times on various other sites that quote your message and I must say, it has got me thinking and questioning a lot.My name is Tim Bossert and I am Andrew's older brother.
My main question is "What is being done at these checkpoints so that something like this never happens again?" I thought our miltary had put in extra safties to help guard against a checkpoint bomb.
Nothing I say can bring back my brother, but it makes things easier when a fellow soldier called the family and stated that Andrew did everything he was suppose to do and no mistakes on his part caused his death.
On one hand, I hope that what you are saying is untrue. I hope that her placing blame on our soldiers does not lead to more direct deaths of this nature.
6:12 PM

Major Mike said...
Tim,My deepest condolences to you and your family. Although I did not know Andrew personally, In my 20 years, I knew hundreds of Andrews. Young Marines (soldiers) professionally trained. Skilled and dedicated to the difficult tasks they were assigned. Whether it was working the deck of the USS Midway during difficult night ops, or gutting it out in training. Few real complaints, and a desire to do more. From what I have been exposed to, know that your brother was likey tight with his unit, tighter with his squad/platoon, proud of his service, and not likely to opt out of combat duty until his unit would be going with him. To me, and among soldiers, this is honor, and it is valued higher than any bit of ribbon that the government awards. I am saddened by your brother's death, and I know that a few words from me will do little to ease the sting of your loss, but know that your brother is now in the company of men that I hope will find a spot in formation for me when the time comes. I aspire to serve as nobley.

To answer your question. It has been my experience, and I may need some support from out there, that generally...that a story such as the Sgrena story, well founded in its basis or not, brings additional internal scrutiny. I am sure that the forces on the ground have done everything they can think of to make the tedious task of checkpoint monitoring as safe and effective as possible. But looking good in the press is an unspoken concern. In my first briefing in Italy in 1994, the Rules of Engagement for Bosnia, were essentially suicidal. Before my wingman could retaliate for my A/C being shot down, he would literally have to leave the area and get persmission to remove the target...permission that wasn't likely to be granted. In my opinion, and what leads me to draw this conclusion, it was risk avoidance by the Clinton administration...being able to claim we were doing something meaningful, while indeed we were at great risk for no return. The risk avoidance piece is paying lip service to an issue (genocide in Bosnia) while and no one is paying attention, UNTIL you end up in the press...which is why we had the restrictive ROE. No bad one knows we are there. In the same brief, with a serious face, an Air Force colonel read the overnight traffic and said..."last night we recorded the 956th violation of the No Fly Zone." I found this more than ironic, and I personally began referring to it as the Some Fly Zone. The ROE did not support the mission objectives, because staying out of the press was a higher concern.

Don't jump to conclusions yet though.

In the end, and I think the bloggers "in country" can help here a bit, I think there are a ton of variables every time a vehicle approaches a checkpoint. Mostly, SOPs will ensure the safety of those manning the checkpoints, but occassionally the variables will fall outside the SOPs. This is where training and instinct will always be on our side. I believe all of our services do a great job in training, and I have the utmost confidence that your brother and his mates had the skills they needed to man the checkpoint.

Which brings me to my last attempt to sort out what happened from this distance. Sometimes luck is the difference. I know, I was hanging out over the North Atlantic with two engines (out of two) on fire, middle of the night, new pilot, 420 miles from land...on the way to the first Gulf War. No good reason for me to be here...I have to credit some of it to simple luck. I know this is not much to hold on to, and given the words of the trooper who called the house, I have no other real explanation, BUT I wrote what I did because even the smallest seed of doubt by the troops in the line could cost them their lives. Sgrena needs to be aware of this and the heavy brass needs to be aware of this, so that our troops in the field WILL do exactly what needs to be done when the moment comes. I don't want them to hesitate because there is some hint of an investigation, or CNN is portraying all checkpoint soldiers as wonton murderers.

The soldiers on these checkpoints ARE protecting our freedoms, one car at a time, they need our support and empowerment from the Chain of Command...I am hoping that they have both. They simply need to be able to do their jobs without the HINT of outside pressure...the Sgrena incident raises the specter of this pressure...I had to comment on it. Again, my sincerest condolences, and my humble attempt at an explanation in a situation where there may be no clear one. Please email me anytime.Sincerely,Major Mike


Special Forces Alpha Geek said...

First, I'd like to add my condolences to those of Major Mike. Tim, you should know that the death of a good soldier diminishes us all. You should know, though, that his death was not meaningless, and that all of us honor his sacrifice whether we knew him or not.

Working a checkpoint is a hard, hard balancing act, and there are a lot of variables that the soldier on the ground has to deal with in a matter of seconds. Give an approaching car the benefit of the doubt, and maybe you and your buddies die. Don't give the car the benefit of the doubt, and maybe you've killed a local family. No matter what procedures are put in place, that ambiguity will always exist. I'm sure that your brother did everything that he should have done, but, with the awful nature of checkpoint duty, sometimes things go terribly wrong.

It's the nature of our enemy to fight in such a morally repugnant way - it's morally repugnant because by disguising themselves as civilians, they increase the danger to all innocent civilians - precisely because a soldier can no longer distinguish between an enemy and an innocent.

I'm not privy to the ROE in Iraq, and, if it's like the ROE in Afghanistan, it's classified - we don't want the bad guys to know the rules so they can try to game them.

But, let's look at events cumulatively: the death of your brother, the manufactured outcry over the Italian checkpoint shooting, the recent charging of a Marine Lt. with murder, and the blow-up over the on-camera mosque shooting. I think that all these together make it reasonable to ask the military - maybe through our elected representatives - "Are our soldiers being given the flexibility they need to err on the side of keeping themselves and their buddies alive; and are they being given the command support they need so they won't hesitate when they need to act because they're afraid of being thrown to the wolves if something goes wrong with a good-faith decision they make in the heat of battle?"

Papa Ray said...

Ditto, SFAG

Well said.

Papa Ray

Air Force Voices said...

I (Air Force Voices) would like to offer my condolences to the Bossert Family as well as the other families with loved ones killed in the line of duty.

I agree with Major Mike and Special Forces Alpha Geek...our troops must not be distracted by doubts. Split-second decisions are the difference between life and death. Our troops train and train and train so when they go into a combat zone, they are fully prepared both mentally and physically and emotionally to comply with established Rules of Engagement.

We need to support our troops ... provide them with relevant training and not second-guess them.

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