HMMWVs & the Morphine Drip of Aid
From our time training in California to the Republic of Georgia to the first couple months in Afghanistan, I’d been able to dual-hat as both an infantry advisor team leader, responsible for a small team of infantry and fire support advisors partnering with the Georgians out on patrol, and as our broader advisor team’s operations officer, responsible for planning and coordinating all outside-the-wire operations. Within about two weeks of assuming our Afghan mission, it became clear that I couldn’t sustain both the regular pace of patrols and all the behind-the-scenes activities, pulling the strings and planning the battalion’s operations.
The above reality, combined with the Boss walking into the office to find me asleep at my desk in filthy cammies after an overnight patrol, led to me transitioning to full-time operations officer, handing my infantry advisor team over to one of our staff NCOs. With more time now to look at the bigger picture, coordinating our actions with Col Sultan’s Afghan soldiers and keeping them out patrolling with us became a huge part of my weekly “battle rhythm,” with HMMWV ("humvee") maintenance always at the forefront of our interactions.
I’ve yet to mention, but the HMMWVs Col Sultan’s soldiers used to patrol with us were the result of some prior drug deal in which old US HMMWVs were passed over to the ANA as we acquired updated armored vehicles. In theory, the Afghan Ministry of Defense had the logistical ability to provide its various units the repair parts necessary to keep its vehicles out patrolling. In reality, it took some serious creativity and cannibalizing of other vehicles to keep enough HMMWVs on the road to patrol. During our time in country, President Ghani had centralized all Ministry of Defense logistics support to a few key hubs in an attempt to cut down on theft and corruption. Though a noble pursuit, the effect was an extremely lengthy (and at times, seemingly nonexistent) process for getting repair parts for everything from vehicles to machineguns out to the guys on the ground.
The above put us into a tough spot, and it represents the paradox of being a military officer with both A) a vested interest in an improving security situation in Afghanistan, and B) Marines outside-the-wire on a daily basis. With respect to the former, the long-term, sustainable solution to the HMMWV problem would be forcing Col Sultan to wait on the tortuous and unreliable Afghan National Army supply system, thus ensuring an “Afghan solution.” However, the cost of this approach, and the nature of this paradox, would be my Marines out on patrol without ANA partners, as they would not join us without a minimum of two armored HMMWVs per patrol.
So, I had two options. Option 1: stop conducting partnered patrols with Col Sultan’s forces due to a shortage of functioning HMMWVs and wait for the Afghan supply system to work itself out. Option 2: say screw it and fix the HMMWVs, because I care more about the short-term well-being of my Marines than a long-term Afghan solution. Naturally, I chose Option 2, and you can bet your ass that every week our maintenance chief joined me on the Afghan side of base and worked absolute miracles to keep Col Sultan’s HMMWVs running. Enter the morphine drip of aid: as small-unit leaders, our primary concern is bringing our troops home alive, not a grand solution to the “Afghan problem.” Consequently, as we work short-term solutions to systemic problems, these band-aid approaches disincentivize any major overhaul of the logistics nightmare facing the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
Ultimately, I valued the safety and lives of our Marines and Georgian soldiers more than some abstract notion of fixing a broken system. You cannot ask the guys on the ground, the ones who put their lives on the line day-in and day-out, to make sacrifices for the “greater good” when the system has failed. What’s the resolution? Hell if I know, but we kept fixing HMMWVs, and we kept the ANA patrolling with us.
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