Boba Fett isn’t Special Forces he is Still Just a POG

One of them is a hard charging, life taking operator and it isn’t the guy on the left.

By: Peter Sessum

No, Boba Fett isn’t the “quintessential Special Forces soldier of the ‘Star Wars’ universe” or even “much more than just a badass galactic warrior” as Task & Purpose (T&P) states in their clickbait article Why Star Wars’ Boba Fett is the ultimate Special Forces soldier. He isn’t SF, in fact, he isn’t even a bad ass warrior. Boba Fett, as I have often said, is a POG. If anything, he is the quintessential POG.

I thought I was done beating this dead horse, but, like Michael Corleone; they keep pulling me back in. Hopefully, this will be the end of a Boba Fett was a POG Trilogy. I started the unintentional series with Boba Fett was a POG before watching the first season of The Mandalorian. I wanted to get my thoughts down about the portrayal of the infamous bounty hunter before the new show.

When The Book of Boba Fett was coming out, I followed up with Boba Fett is Still a POG based on observations from his screen time in the Mandalorian series. While I was wrong about exactly where his ship was parked in his absence post Return of the Jedi, I still stand by my points. This will be as much supporting my argument with new information as countering the T&P article.

I will admit that the article was an opinion piece written by an associate professor at Arkansas State University who “enjoys researching and writing about military history, as well as comic books and Star Wars.” I don’t bring up his bio as a slight, but it means he is coming from a different position than a former grunt turned PSYOP that trained tactics to actual soldiers and was boots on the ground as PSYOP support for Special Forces teams in Afghanistan and later a civilian liaison officer briefing the commander of Special Operations in country on counter narcotic efforts. Opinion pieces can’t technically be right nor wrong, but I disagree with every point he makes. Based on the new series, I will acknowledge that Fett is now an officer, but that makes him no less a POG.

At best, I will concede that Fett is less of a POG only when taking everyone else in the series into account. Yes, the cook that won the company smoker is more bad ass than the other POGs in the unit, but that doesn’t make him a grunt, much less an operator. So, who is his competition for top dog?

Jawas? The ones who kicked his ass after his escape from the Sarlacc Pit? Sure, he was weak from the ordeal, but not only was it a one hit knockout, but he didn’t even recall who took his armor. I’m all for him wanting to blow up the thing that fucked you up, but he still thought his armor was in there. And again, it was something that almost killed him when he returned with his ship. He would have died if not for his right-hand woman Fennec Shand taking care of business. A common theme in the series. A real Special Forces Operator would have the critical thinking to know that a Sarlacc wouldn’t strip him and spit him out and would have been looking elsewhere for his pound of flesh delivered by missile from a distance.

Allegedly infamous assassins using riot shields and tasers, because that is the best way to assassinate someone in the Star Wars universe.

The infamous Order of the Night Wind Assassins? They are a greater argument for how much everyone in the Star Wars universe sucks than proof of Fett’s SOF credentials. So called deadly assassins, who have Fett in the open without his helmet off and what do they do? They break cover to engage him with riot shields and tasers. I’m not Special Forces, I’m not sniper qualified or trained, and I could have taken a headshot on a stationary target from less than 50 meters away. So how does “badass” Fett take them out? After being surrounded, does he use his jet pack to take the fight airborne and use his single biggest advantage over a majority of the galaxy? No, he panic fires a wrist rocket into a shield at close range and gets his ass kicked until his too far security and his bad ass XO, (Shand) save him. The same XO who chases down enemies while he leaves her to go get to the aid station.

How about feared Krrsantan, the Wookie gladiator turned bounty hunter (mercenary) who infiltrates Fett’s stronghold, finds him sleeping and unprotected in a pod and the assassin makes the genius move to pull Fett out of the pod to beat him with spiked taser brass knuckles. You know, just how a skilled assassin would. Why shoot or blow up a half-naked and defenseless target when you can engage in fisticuffs until help arrives? Again, Fett isn’t credited with the W because of his skill or abilities. Because that is what SF is known for, getting their asses handed to them and being saved by a bunch of street rat teenagers. The Hutt’s try one half ass assassination attempt and give up on taking back their territory? Sure, it is great for a plot point, but lazy writing at best or it shows that all occupants for the Star Wars galaxy are inept.

So, why does an academic who loves military history think a character who constantly gets his ass handed to him is the ultimate Special Forces soldier? In my opinion, it is because Star Wars fans are infamous for sledge hammering a square peg into a round hole to fit their head canon narrative. In this case, Fett is awesome, no matter the information to the contrary. As an academic, he should be embarrassed to submit something with such poorly reached conclusions.

Fett’s time with the Tusken Raiders is used as an example of Unconventional Warfare (UW), but I would counter that is an example of how un-SF he really is. He is enslaved by one of the only primitive species on Tatooine. Even Jawas appear to engage in space travel. While a prisoner, he engages in zero SERE techniques. At first, it is understandable, he is weak and doesn’t know how to find water, but one he does, he still makes no effort to escape. He kills a dollar store knock off of the Kracken from Clash of the Titans and returns to the Tusken camp. I would argue that he less “saved a child’s life” and more fought to save his own.

He is welcomed into their tribe and makes no effort to reclaim his armor or his ship. Instead, he goes native, which might be considered an SF thing, but was also the plan of Bowe Bergdahl, so draw your own conclusions. He does, however teach them how to rob a train, but unlike true SF operators, he uses the attack to try and force a galactic drug ring of paying protection money. Any real UW soldier would know that the Tuskens were unable to enforce that deal and would instead negotiate that the syndicate stop firing on indigenous tribes as the train passed by.

The Tuskins were newly trained on stolen bikes armed the equivalent of WWI era bolt action Enfield rifles. They lost vehicles and personnel on the initial train assault and Fett had the audacity to approach a galactic drug cartel and demand protection money.

A real SF soldier would have done an accurate assessment of forces and known that after taking so many losses in the initial assault would have known that his treat was unsustainable and would not be in keeping with the way of life of the indigenous tribe he had joined. The fact the Pykes allowed him to leave the building was a miracle. Those same ingenious forces that were supposed to protect the trains are wiped out while Fett is trying to shake the syndicate down. Literally anyone could have seen that, except, of course, for a POG high on his first success.

No half way competent soldier would have allowed the people who embraced him to be wiped out. It doesn’t take a genius to see that there was a number of better ways to handle the situation. I would argue that the main reason he FUBARed the situation was because he didn’t have a competent person like Fennec Shand at his side. If they were up to the task of offering protection to an intergalactic crime syndicate, they could have easily got his ship and/or armor back. In fact, there is nothing that suggests he couldn’t have asked Bib Fortuna for his old ship back. No SF soldier I have ever met would do things the absolute hardest way, waste resources, or make things worse for local allies.

Based on what can be gleaned on screen, I have stated that Boba Fett is a POG, after watching the first season of The Book of Boba Fett, I would concede that after taking over Jabba’s old palace, he has been promoted to officer. At best, he is a butter bar with the senior enlisted Shand at his side. Before the keyboard warriors and peanut gallery post comments, I challenge you first answer the question. Who would you rather follow into battle, the lieutenant who says, “this is what I learned in ROTC” or the one who says, “I’ve amended the plan to include Gunny’s suggestions”?

True to form, Boba Fett chooses the most worthless guards. They are late to the fight when he is attacked and, like their lives, their deaths are a waste of screen time.

Literally every time he refuses to listen to Shand, things go to shit. And yet, this supposed SF operator is given credit for every success. In the T&P article, he is given credit for Shand conducting “a commando-style raid to infiltrate the headquarters and kill the Pyke’s boss and other officials” which was literally her idea from the start. The platoon leader, after losing multiple forces, finally says to his senior NCO, “do it your way.” And she does. She even saves allies on her way to merc the bosses.

She is in the company of three well known, and well connected, bad ass mercenaries (four if you count Fett, which I don’t) and they don’t recruit anymore? Fett claims to have money is one of the biggest arguments about how he is not SF. If there is one thing an SF team loves to do, it’s spend money. They could have had a whole company of mercenaries pulling up at light speed to reinforce their numbers. Fett could have told Din Djarin to offer a building as a conclave for Mandalorians in exchange for their assistance in the war. But, of course he doesn’t, apparently a bunch of teens riding vespas are all he thinks he needs to fight a drug cartel.

Another favorite thing of SF is intel. Fett has literally none. Everything the enemy does is a surprise to him. He doesn’t know anything until it happens. The bombing of the club, the cartel framing a biker gang for murdering the Tuskin tribe, his “allies” turning on him, the Pykes sending a man to kill the sheriff, their forces, the fact they have mechanized armor. He doesn’t know any of it. His “spies” are street punks that everyone knows work for him. No eyes and ears in the other criminal organizations. He is supposed to be a crime lord, but he is just a POG LT with nice lodging.

Fett’s best armor isn’t the Beskar he wears, but plot armor. His biggest threat isn’t the Pykes or whatever antagonist they come up for season two; it is his own incompetence. The moment Shand decides her life debt is paid, or that he has needlessly risked her life more than he saved it, Fett’s days are over. He wins zero fights on his own or due to his tactical genius. At some point, Shand is going to realize that he isn’t fit for the job and he is going to be fragged. As with the rest of his life, he won’t see it coming.

The last thing Boba Fett sees before he is “relieved of command.”

As someone who’s job was psychological warfare for a decade and earned combat patches doing it, I am a little insulted that this POG ass officer is credited with conducting the same. Psychological Operations (PSYOP) is a well thought out and executed plan. Sending out the mayor’s aide as a distraction is no more PSYOP than pointing and yelling, “what’s that over there?” Calling it psychological warfare leads me to believe the author knows little about either of those words.

Another term I am not sure he understands is Counter Insurgency (COIN). In this case, Fett and his band of misfits is the insurgency. They aren’t the legitimate government. Despite being called a daimyo, Fett hold no real political power. In fact, the legitimate government sides with the Pykes. If Fett is using COIN tactics, he is a complete moron. He should be acting like an insurgent force and using unconventional tactics to fight a superior force aligned with the legitimate government.

The conclusion that after the battle Fett crated a stable government is unsubstantiated. He isn’t the mayor or part of the legitimate government; he remains a crime boss. Just because your XO took out the mayor and your competitors doesn’t get you elected to office. While it would fit the COIN idea, that narrative is flawed one to start from.

While Fett is an inept POG, I can see why, for the uninitiated, he might seem a like an expert in unconventional warfare. According to Murphy’s Law of Combat, “if it’s stupid but works, it isn’t stupid.” So, while his ideas are stupid, because he lucks out, he is considered unconventional. Unfortunately, this speaks more to the rest of the Star Wars universe and not a compliment to his skills as a warrior. Where the Pykes and Hutts fail, a fireteam of grunts with decent weapons quals would have succeeded.

I sincerely don’t want to seem critical of Dr. Edward Salo, the author of the opinion piece praising Fett or Task &Purpose for printing it. Salo and I are coming from vastly different places. Out of respect for his profession, before publishing, I peer reviewed my conclusions with fellow veterans, warriors that specialize in unconventional warfare, and COIN subject matters experts. All have real world, first-hand experience in their given fields. However, I am open to the possibility that there are factors I haven’t considered and would welcome the opportunity to speak with Salo and exchange ideas to see if there is common ground to be found. Until given new evidence, I remain firm that Boba Fett is a POG, is not worthy of the accolades he receives, and that it is insulting to any military personnel or veteran to claim otherwise. As clickbait, however, the article serves its purpose.

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The US Military is Set Up for Failure in Ukraine

As we sit on the verge of WWIII, all I do is hope that the fates smile kindly upon any U.S. forces involved because, as it is, we are set up for failure. We could stand to lose on the tactical, information and political fronts.


American leads the world at always being ready to fight the last war, but not the next one. We didn’t learn our lessons in WWI, WWII and Korea to maintain a sniper program. Meanwhile, the rest of the world was working on perfecting their long-range capabilities. We had to build our sniper force, from scratch, in Vietnam.

Under most circumstances, we would be delighted to finally fight a conventional war. Our uniformed troops against their uniformed troops. Which is what we are hoping for in a fight with Russia. However, we have been so focused on fighting insurgencies that we lost the conventional edge.

If the Strykers couldn’t protect against RPG, how will they fare against Russian T-90s?

Thanks to former Army Chief of Staff, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, the Army almost totally got rid of tanks to switch to an all-medium fighting force. Was the Stryker fighting vehicle good for quickly moving troops around the desert? Absolutely. Will it work great against Russian tanks? Absolutely not. You know what is great against tanks? Other tanks. The Abrams is the greatest tank in military history and they were almost sidelined because some idiot general wanted to put “transformed the force” on his OER. He made the gamble that we would never be in a ground war against a conventional force like North Korea, China or Russia.

Over the course of fighting insurgents for 20 years, someone made the great idea of getting rid of our air defense capabilities. After all, ISIS and the Taliban didn’t have planes. Again, betting on the fact that we would never again go to war against a large force with an effective Air Force. Even North Korea, with less than 1,000 planes could wreak havoc on ground troops without the ability to defend itself. The entire MOS of Air Defense Artillery (ADA) was effectively disbanded and the most experienced soldiers were reassigned. Now, like the sniper program, we will be scrambling to get ADA assets trained up and in place. Hopefully, someone has noticed any shortfalls we have in air defense, but I am not optimistic. I suspect that it is going to take some losses so a general can get credit for “inventing” a solution rather than admit that they weren’t prepared for this.

Because the Taliban didn’t have planes, we can’t defend against this.

Let’s face it, for the last 60 years our enemies have been wielding AK-47s and fighting in their pjs. Honestly, they have been doing pretty well. We have had great advances in war-fighting technology like communications and night vision capabilities, and they have still been holding their own. The only actual conventional force we have faced was the Iraqi Army in Desert Storm, and they were not the exactly the bravest soldiers in history. Now, we are going to go against an enemy that has been training to fight us since the end of WWII. Their command and control, communications, technology and equipment are on par with ours. They are ready to fight us, we are not ready to fight them.

A little more equipped than the people we are used to fighting, and well trained with their equipment.

I think the Russian warfighter is more hardcore and less reliant on toys as the average American soldier. Unless a soldier was actually combat arms, it was difficult to get them to take basic soldier skills seriously. I tried to teach soldiers land navigation, a basic skill, and was told, “that’s Infantry shit.” Those same soldiers thought that because their orders cam from Fort Bragg and Special Operations Command that they were Special Forces one removed and were hardcore AF. They were not.

In a tactical sense, this is not a good war to fight. The treaty says that only countries with coastline on the Black Sea can be there for more than a couple weeks. Russia is one of those countries. So, they can operate directly in the Black Sea. How long can the U.S. Navy be there before Russia can take direct action on their ships? There is a narrow passage from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, and bottle necks like that are great for defenders.

Information Warfare

I like how we have conveniently forgotten that we have spent the last few years blaming Russia on interfering with our elections and using social media to influence our citizens. If there is even a shred of proof that they have that capability, they would be stupid not to level those resources against American forces. As of this writing, we are two days into the invasion, and they are already posting propaganda of Ukrainian troops shelling reporters. The video I saw looked completely staged, but I’m sure that is just the first of many. All they have to do is flood the internet with videos and wait to see what gets traction.

Of course, not all media will be targeted at Americans. That “shelling” video might have been targeted towards Russian leaders to give them the excuse to commit more forces. That isn’t to say that they have to believe it to be true, just that they can claim that there is video evidence of Ukrainian forces trying to kill Russian forces as justification to sending in more troops. They don’t have to say which video it was.

If they are half as digitally savvy as we give them credit for, expect a Tik Tok video of American soldiers murdering unarmed Russian soldiers. It will be American soldiers at a shooting range from one angle, spliced with a different angle of Russians pretending to surrender and then falling down. I am crap at video editing and I could make that video someone convincing. It will go viral before it can be revealed to be a hoax.

Russia won’t have to do anything other than post the video. FOX News will happily play that video 24/7 to show what “Biden’s military” is doing in Ukraine. It isn’t like they don’t have a former president who loves camera time ready to say how he would do it differently. Russia, as an adversary, is a lot of things, stupid is not one of them.


This is already a political nightmare. Sanctions only hurt the common folk in an oligarchy, Putin is fine. I don’t know what conversations are being had behind closed doors, but I don’t think it matters. It will be difficult to pull off a win in this. One reason is that American politicians will spend more time fighting each other than fighting Russia, but mostly because our political approach to war is the Queensberry Rules of Fisticuffs, and Russia is an illegal underground fight club.

I’m sure Russian won’t use their proximity to their advantage right?

So, say a Russian submarine sinks a U.S. ship in the Black Sea that is supporting operations in Ukraine. Can the U.S. attack a Russian Black Sea port? Will Putin consider that an attack on Russian soil and officially kick off WWII? Will rules of engagement allow for attacks against Russian warfighting assets on Russian soil? How far does that extend? How far can a Russian airbase be from the border to be safe from counter attack? However it plays out, it will be an international political nightmare. If every NATO country supports attacking Russian assets that are used in combat operations in Ukraine, it might be okay, but otherwise, Putin will take full advantage and make us out to be the aggressors.

If you want to be a good guy on the national stage, you have to follow the Geneva Conventions. Any violation is a war crime, you think Putin cares about that? Any, and every instance of collateral damage or out of line action by American or NATO forces will be amplified by Russian assets across all media platforms, while anything Russian soldiers do could get them a medal. Do you think Putin is going to let his soldiers go in front of The Hague or face a military tribunal back home? As long as they don’t murder fellow Russian soldiers or destroy some valuable Ukrainian resource, I think nothing will happen. If for no other reason that to say that Americans were prosecuted for my war crimes than Russians. While that may fall under the information warfare category, it will play out in American politics. The scariest part, is we don’t know who will first side the Russian action. Will it be democrats siding against sending forces, or republicans using the action as a way to hurt President Biden? In our upside-down political world, only time will tell.

 Any way you look at it, tactically or strategically, the American military is set up for failure as soon as we put boots on the ground. I sincerely hope that it we can pull a W out on this, but I fear we won’t. maybe the best thing we can hope for is that it doesn’t become WWIII. As bad as it seems for us, the Ukrainian people will be facing the worst hell of any people in history when placed between two opposing forces. The best news is that Ukrainians are tough as nails, and provided with the right support, their military could have a decent chance.

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Boba Fett is Still a POG

BY: Peter Sessum

Maybe Boba Fett would be better if he relied on skill and not his armor to protect him.

With the new Disney Plus series Book of Boba Fett coming out, it is time to revisit my earlier post, Boba Fett was a POG. Using Star Wars canon, on screen activities and off-screen conclusions, not only will I support earlier arguments, but have new points to prove his POG status.

For the uninitiated, POG is an acronym for Person Other than Grunt. Simply put, anyone who isn’t Infantry, and therefore a Grunt, is a POG. Exceptions are Special Operations “Operators” and Medics. For Grunts and Operators, Medics are a special breed that are above ridicule. POG, while an accurate label, is seen as a derogatory term by Grunts and POGs alike. It is important to note, that POG is a mentality, not just an MOS.

I’m not going to rehash all the arguments of the last post; you can read it for yourself. Canon does support Fett’s POG status. If you think Mandalorians are super cool, bad ass fighters, this should not change your mind. After all, Fett isn’t a Mandalorian or raised in their ways. He inherited his armor from the person he was cloned from, who may have been Mandalorian by birth but, depending on the source, may not have followed their ways himself.

Jango Fett, the original, kept his equipment clean and in good repair. Something Grunts do. Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you. The cloned Fett looks like he has either never cleaned his armor, or is regularly getting his ass kicked. He inherited immaculate beskar armor, the hardest metal in the galaxy, and in short order has all kind of dings and dents in it.

Boba Fett isn’t a high speed, low drag operator, he is a tanker with a jet pack.

Storm Trooper armor is meant to intimidate, since it clearly doesn’t stop any form of attack. Beskar was meant to protect. Not only does Fett have a huge dent in his helmet, but someone shot him in the junk. The helmet dent proves that he was hit in the head with something hard enough to dent the best armor in the galaxy. He isn’t alive because of superior skill, but better protection. All this means is that he is a tank, and there is a reason we call tankers Dumb Ass Tankers (DATs). When you are surrounded by 70 tons of rolling steel, you don’t have to be smart. As soon as someone in the Star Wars universe figures out grenades, Fett is done for.

While some will attest that the marks on his armor are a testament to Fett’s skill as a bounty hunter, I would counter that there is a reason that when giving a fighter’s win/loss record, they add how many wins are by knockout, not how many times they have been knocked out. A direct military correlation is how Grunts will accept a Bronze Star for valor, but that same Grunt will refuse a Purple Heart calling it the “expert enemy badge.” (A direct quote by a Bronze Star recipient and Purple Heart denier.)

In the second season of the Mandalorian, Fett is seen beating down Storm Troopers, which is not a huge accomplishment since a bunch of stone age teddy bears handed them their ass in Return of the Jedi. But even if Fett is now an accomplished fighter, it is like a POG joining an MMA gym after ETS. Even if you learn the perfect arm bar or takedown, you are still a POG. A black belt doesn’t make you a Grunt, a blue cord does.

He is quick to fight troopers, but when he faces The Mandalorian title Character Din Djarin, he doesn’t face him in single combat per the Mandalorian Code, he has his partner lock sights on a literal child to force Djarin to put down his jet pack. Not drop his weapons, but take off his jet pack. If that isn’t a POG move, I don’t know what is. And then he, of course, leaves the fight to get his armor.

In the trailer, Boba Fett promises to rule through respect, not fear. Because he knows he isn’t strong enough to rule through fear. He waited five years to unseat Bib Fortuna. It was done is such short order, I think we can surmise that Fennec did most of the heavy lifting. How long before she realizes she is better suited for the job?

Once he has his armor back, he immediately paints it like new, but it doesn’t take long to look like he has been through the ringer. And, of course, he doesn’t fix the dent in his helmet. Making the comparison to modern day fighters, promotional posters always show them at their strongest, not after a fight where they took a beating.  

Canon and what we have seen on screen proves that Fett is a POG, but what about what we can conclude happened off screen? What we know is that the show takes place nine years after the Battle of Yavin (ABY) or when the Death Star blew up at the end of the Episode 4: A New Hope. Fett unceremoniously fell into the Sarlac pit early in Return of the Jedi or about 4 ABY. Which means he was kicking it around Tatooine for roughly five years. What was he doing? Hiding like a POG.

I’m sure that Disney will try and find a kick ass reason he was out of commission, but in the end Jawas jacked him for his armor. Not something that would happen to an operator. We can surmise that he was on Jabba’s skiff from the palace, which means his ship was parked somewhere nearby. He had his ship in The Mandalorian, why couldn’t he get his armor back himself? He didn’t try to get it back from the Andy Griffith of a podunk town in the middle of the desert. He had access to tech to replace Fennec’s intestines and bring her from the brink of death, but he couldn’t get his armor back and take over Jabba’s palace in those five years? What was stopping him? Clearly, he wasn’t strong enough without his armor. Having good armor doesn’t make you bad ass, it makes you a geardo.

This is who Boba Fett was afraid to take out on his own? The Fredo Corleone of the Star Wars galaxy?

Years ago, I had a conversation with a DAT where I asked what he would do if there was mobility kill on his tank. Meaning, the tank couldn’t move, but everyone inside was alive. He simply said, “I’m dead.” You take away the tank, and a tanker is dead. He couldn’t conceive of a situation where he would leave the tank and stay in the fight. If you take out a mechanized Infantry vehicle, the Grunt becomes light Infantry.

Boba Fett is useless without his armor. He picked up his ship from near Jabba’s palace and just skulked away. He waited until Djarin recovered his armor, and then tried to blackmail him into giving it up, ultimately stealing it when attention was elsewhere. Where was he when a handful of actual Mandalorians, with his side kick, and a New Republic Marshall raided an Imperial ship? He was light-years away waiting for the smoke to clear.  Fett isn’t a hard charging life taker and heart breaker; he is a blue falcon POG and he knows it.

Lucasfilm, and now Disney, has to keep him off screen as much as possible, to keep an air of mystery and have the viewer fill in the blanks with cool details. Now that he has his own series, they will most likely try to shoehorn a bad ass back story and contradict all other evidence, but that is just a smoke screen. The truth remains, Boba Fett is a POG and always will be.

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Why the Endless War Failed

By: Peter Sessum

The war in Afghanistan was a colossal failure that historians will speak about for generations to come. From the perspective of this veteran, who spent multiple years in Afghanistan in a number of different roles, the coalition efforts in Afghanistan had been failing for years. According to a study at Brown University, the 20-year war in Afghanistan cost the United States $300 million a day, or $2.3 trillion. It is literally the epitome of throwing good money after bad, but with that much of a financial investment, why did we get such a low return?

It boils down to two simple reasons. One; the western ways of doing things doesn’t work in Afghanistan, and, more importantly, two; the western way of doing things doesn’t work in Afghanistan.

The western way of doing things doesn’t work in Afghanistan

Everyone knows that Afghanistan is its own country with a unique history and culture. It isn’t that they interact with the world different because they aren’t western, but because they are Afghans. I know that sounds like the same thing, but the differences in worldview aren’t just the major ones, but the subtle differences as well.

Lines on a map mean something to us. You can’t get someone from the Lone Star State to shut up about being Texan. Two people can live 50 feet apart on a line drawn on a map and they will think they are from completely different places and cultures. You can be OK on one side of the line, and not to be messed with on the other. Pashtuns are not that petty. Still, over 100 years later, many don’t recognize the Durand Line, the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, placing an invisible line bisecting the tribe. A Pashtun is a Pashtun, it doesn’t matter if he is in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Tribal loyalties are tribal loyalties. If we suddenly redrew state lines and gave the Texas Panhandle to Oklahoma, does anyone think they are going to drop their Texas identity? If the Oklahoma panhandle was given to Texas, would they start drinking Lone Star Beer with pride? Probably not.

In America, you can take a kid from Alabama, train him in Missouri, and send him to a base in Colorado and there is no issue. He won’t care that his commander is from New York or that his squad leader is from California. It is a little different with a person from a culture that has a long memory and grudges die hard. How would a Pashtun from Khost feel about taking orders from a Tajik in Herat? Would an Uzbek trust a Pashtun commander or a Hazara get fair treatment from a Baloch senior? Creating a western style Army in an area that has been fighting as tribes for centuries was pure folly.

As soon as we took Kandahar and Mullah Omar was in hiding, we should have stepped back and let Afghans take the lead. Why were we trying to build a western style military for people that went toe to toe with the Soviets? Whatever they did, worked pretty well in the past. We should have treated Afghanistan as a true ally and worked with tribal leaders to secure the country by tribal, not national or provincial lines.

Reconstruction efforts should have been a reward for regional stability. Instead of the U.S. military patrolling, looking for a fight, let the Afghans handle security. If an area is safe, road crews will come in and repair the highway. If it isn’t, your neighboring tribe will get the new schools and roads. The more money we threw at the war effort, the less inclined corrupt officials were to ensure stability. If the only way to siphon off cash was to have a safe environment for crews to build, you can bet it would have been safe.

After three years of American occupation, police in rural Khost Province were still just working with what they had.

Another benefit of securing the country by region is that when the Taliban tried to make a play when we left, the entire nation wouldn’t fall in a weekend. We would also have pockets of allies we could reasonably support.

Is there a better model for Afghanistan than a western style government? I think the “one person, one vote” way of selecting leaders is a pretty good one, and there needs to be a national leader to speak for the country on the world stage, but maybe the invasion was a good time to let Afghans decide how they want to do things. And not the national leaders who benefit from the current system, and the relationship with westerners, but how do the majority of Afghans want things to work?

Most of Afghan geography is rural and many people still live in huts without power and running water. They are limited by their access to information. This doesn’t mean they are backwards or stupid, but when you never go more than 10km outside your village and don’t have access the internet, you can’t be expected to have a solid grasp on globalization. Your average Afghan wants what anyone else would want. Access to resources and for outsiders to stay out of their way.

The training of the Afghan National Police (ANP) should have been up to the Afghans. It is another way the western way of doing things was pressed on the Afghans. Instead of wasting millions of dollars on POS contractors it should have been up to Afghans to decide if they needed a national police academy in Kabul, with a curriculum developed, and taught by Afghans. They have a lot of smart people in the country, with support, they would have figured it out.

The western way of doing things doesn’t work in Afghanistan

Not only does forcing Afghans to be more western not work, but neither does the way westerners do things work in Afghanistan. Coalition forces must have seemed schizophrenic to the Afghans. Relationships constantly changed, not just in personnel but in disposition. A Civil Affairs team could visit your village to try and gain trust and help with reconstruction efforts the day before some grunts kick down doors in the middle of the night. The promises made by one officer could be completely overruled by the next with no explanation.

I really believe that the nature of the Officer Evaluation Reports (OER) are the core of many issues in the military, especially for the Army. Staff officers have to fight for their OERs. I can’t imagine the reasons for grading staff performance on a curve in a warzone. When only a few can get top marks, it breeds competition. Maybe that is fine for a sales team on a car lot, but not when the staff is making decisions with lives in the balance.

When the individual’s OER is the only focus, there is no value put on the long term. No one wants to take over an old project, they want to start their own. I saw an outgoing unit practically beg the incoming unit to take up an almost complete project. There were delays, but it was going to be a great asset to the local Afghan police. As soon as they left, the new unit dropped it for their own projects. Naturally, the Afghans saw it as another broken promise.

Brand new trucks, like this one, donated by the government of Japan languished in Kandahar because the follow on unit couldn’t be bothered to deliver the project the previous unit started.

Officers would outright ignore long term plans that they wouldn’t get credit for. They would refuse to start the process for something that they wouldn’t get the credit for completing and drop projects they didn’t get the credit for starting. That is fine for the short American attention span, but for the Afghans, it was constantly changing priorities and relationships.

Pam Amini, who served in Afghanistan with the Air Force and later as a contractor, best summed up the major problem in Afghanistan with, “I came to realize that over the course of our occupation, with each new command, also came a ‘good idea fairy.’ Every new leadership had a new plan, a new goal, a new way to earn their award.  There was no consistency or continuity.  We didn’t go into Afghanistan without a plan.  We went in with hundreds of plans and it was a new war every year.” She is right, we didn’t fight one big 20-year war, we fought many, tiny one-year wars.

Afghans are a proud people, and deservedly so. They live in a harsh environment and have been occupied by one nation or another since the beginning of time. They consider themselves always occupied but never conquered. They survived 20 years of us, they’ll survive whatever comes next. Hopefully, someday they’ll find the peace they deserve. When they do, it will be what works for Afghans, and may not look like how westerners do things. Because clearly, that doesn’t work there.

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Where Were You on 9/11? From the School House to the Sandbox

By: Peter Sessum

It was, admittedly, an inauspicious start to the day the world changed. So, there I was, at the Defense Language School (DLI), no shit. I was on the unit volleyball team, practice had ended and I had just changed into my duty uniform. I saw a group silently gathered around the lobby television on my way out. I stopped to look at what had everyone’s attention and saw a plane crash into the second tower. My first thought was, “We are going to kill a lot of people.”

I didn’t know any more than what I had just seen on the screen, I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it was bad and that our response was going to be far from a “proportional” response. While I had never been to New York, it never occurred to me that the skyscrapers were anywhere other than America. In my head, this was America, we had been attacked, and we were going to respond. By killing a lot of people.

“We are going to kill a lot of people.”

Class was about to start, and I didn’t have time to get the details as I headed to my car. I listened to the radio as I drove the Asian School. My unit was Pacific theater focused, and I had been there for only the first few weeks of the Thai language course.

As I arrived to class, like the rest of the world, our TV was tuned to news. I remember a lot of misinformation and unconfirmed rumors being reported. This was the biggest news story in recent memory and a lot of unchecked information was making it on screen.

One report that a building in Washington DC was hit. The major in the class was trying to get a hold of his father who worked in the building. There was a lot of chaos and it took most of the day for him to get word that, yes, his father was okay, and that particular building wasn’t a target. The Marine captain had friends in the Pentagon so that became our concern.

Like most of the rest of the country, nothing got done that day. We were glued to TVs until the end of the school day. I don’t remember how the day ended, but those first few hours are cemented in my head.

In the chaos, there were conflicting reports about what buildings were targets. People were frantically trying to reach family members of alleged targets.

I called my unit back home and asked if I needed to return. When they said no, I asked if I had to change languages, and again, they said no. I was, in effect, just to go about my life as if nothing happened. DLI did, however, change overnight.

When the land DLI was on in Monterey was given to the government, there was an agreement that the post would be open to local travel. Overnight, gates were closed and manned. Vehicles coming on to post were inspected. The locals were furious because it added at least 20 minutes to drive around what had been less than a mile drive through DLI. Agreement or not, we were at war and the rules changed.

Naturally, there were no combat units at DLI, so the only pool of bodies they had to pull from were students. All the enlisted had to rotate through inspecting vehicles at the gate and doing nighttime patrols of the military housing on nearby Fort Ord. it was, of course, an exercise in futility since we were unarmed. Fortunately, they had proper guards before I left.

The days and weeks following 9/11 were strange. On the surface, we were studying languages that had nothing to do with new Global War on Terror (GWOT) but there was an undercurrent of getting ready to go. I can’t speak for other veterans, but for me there was a sense that it was time to go to work. I had been Infantry for over six years before I reclassed to Psychological Operations, this was what I was trained for. It felt like we should be getting ready for something bigger, but too many were still worried about the minutia. As if 19 men hadn’t just completely changed the world.

First assignment in Afghanistan. With a conventional unit operating in Khowst Province.

I do remember Jon Stewart’s tearful speech on The Daily Show his first day back on air. He talked about how the view from his apartment used to be the Twin Towers, and then was the Statue of Liberty and what that meant to him. It didn’t take long for him to start making fun of soldiers that were training to deploy. Unlike the politicians that voluntarily go on his show and often looked stupid, soldiers don’t have a mechanism to defend themselves. Poking fun of training soldiers preparing to do the thing you aren’t willing to do is easy, and in my family, we have a saying, “no points for the easy ones.” That was when I stopped watching his show.

It would be a few years before I touched down on Afghan soil. It felt like spinning my wheels. I gave 90 percent of the tactical classes for my PSYOP unit, using mostly the tactical SOP I wrote. I was denied going on the invasion of Iraq because the results of my five-year physical were going to be available in two weeks and the unit had to submit names in one week for a deployment that wasn’t going to happen for a month. They literally had one of the most experienced soldiers sit out because the unit administrator didn’t like me. He hated me so much, he wouldn’t send me off to war. I was later assigned to a different unit that was short handed and for their Afghanistan deployment.

While the unit sucked, my time in Afghanistan was life changing. I was lucky enough to deploy all over the country, in a number of different roles. I was with conventional forces in eastern Afghanistan, then I traveled to southern Afghanistan and worked with a Civil Affairs teams focused on village assessments and reconstruction efforts, last I was attached to a Special Forces (SF) team as part of their PSYOP support.

I was lucky enough to not just see Afghanistan from behind a gunsight. I have been to hundreds of villages and met thousands of Afghans. Pashtun hospitality has no equal, and I took a few positive things I learned from the culture to enrich my life back home. I got to know many Afghans and liked to think I earned the respect of some. it is why I don’t like it when people disparage Afghans, I know there are many honorable Afghans that are worthy of our respect.

Last assignment of my deployment. Having lunch with Afghans while providing PSYOP support to Special Forces in Kandahar Province.

My unit only had one casualty, I took his place and was on the mission that captured the Taliban bomb maker who planted the four-daisy chained anti-tank mines that killed two SF soldiers, a Navy SEAL and the PSYOP soldier.

Out of everything I did in Afghanistan, the most difficult thing I did was walk away from my interpreters. I knew that soon I would go home to a nice warm bed, a family that loved me and a peaceful country. I was sure these great men, ones I trusted with my life, would keep working for the military, possibly until they were killed. The war was on their doorstep, not mine. I was happy to find out that most made it out before the U.S. pulled out of the country.

My respect for the people and desire to help is why I applied for and accepted jobs on two different counter narcotic programs in Afghanistan. My time as PSYOP qualified me to be an international advisor for the Afghan led drug eradication programs, and later as a liaison officer between the teams that cut poppy and the military. It was in that last role that I would meet the only Navy aviation officer I don’t hate who was, at the time, a reserve officer and full time FDNY Captain.

He brought up that the collected group of friends were brought together only by the events of 9/11. He proposed, and we all agreed, that we commemorate our meeting by symbolically returning to Ground Zero. That was the first “Freedom Run.” Since then, it has become an informal event to remember the lives lost in GWOT since 9/11. We log one mile for every life lost since the morning of 9/11. Any exercise done under our own power counts. One mile counts for every 15 minutes of activity that doesn’t track distance.

A few years later, I was writing a college paper when I heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I went to a local bar and had a few drinks alone, in silence.

It has been 20 years since that morning in 2001, Afghanistan is back to being U.S. military free with the Taliban running the country. While it might seem like things are back to the way they were, I know that I am changed from my time there, and I hope it is for the better.

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The Afghanistan exit was a Charlie Foxtrot; Because of course it was

By: Peter Sessum

Like many other veterans I have been asked what I thought about the recent events in Afghanistan a lot in the past week. My response is always the same, “America’s pull-out game is weak.” This was always going to be a cluster fuck and, honestly, it should have been done a long time ago. Military officers, politicians and the goldfish attention span of the American people doomed the efforts in Afghanistan long ago.

Army officers like to act like they are students of history, but if they were, the Afghanistan exit wouldn’t have looked almost identical to the fall of Saigon. I would love to place blame on a sitting or past president, but the truth is, they just give the go/no go order. They were trusting the SecDef, Joint Chiefs and all the officers between them and last pair of boots getting on a C17. I imagine that the Commander in Chief asked a four-star general if he had a plan, that general asked a three-star if he had a plan, and so on down to some captain who just wants to go home.

You would think that students of history wouldn’t make the same mistakes of the past.

The president wasn’t assigning flights out of Kabul, that buck got passed down, but he had to ultimately reach back from the White House and grab that bill to say, “it stops with me.” It is a great line, but not accurate. Some officer wanted to get a bullet point on his OER that he redeployed his unit ahead of the Sept 11. deadline so he popped smoke as fast as he could. Naturally, it happened so fast that the Afghans on Bagram didn’t know they were gone until long after they were wheels up. There is not a single good reason to abandon a base without partner forces knowing. I hope you got that positive OER sir.

Politicians have been using the military and international conflict for their own ends since the first one was elected. Forgetting the past 20 years for a moment, the rhetoric from politicians in the past few months have been contradictory. The same politician that was supportive of the exit, is now critical of it depending on which way the political winds blow, or if they love or hate the current person sitting in the Oval Office. Whatever fits their narrative now is what matters, not what is good for Afghanistan. None cared about the Afghan people in the past 20 years, the current suffering is only an excuse to grab headlines.

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III safely transported 823 Afghan citizens from Hamid Karzai International Airport, Aug. 15, 2021. The initial count of 640 passengers included only adults, inadvertently leaving off 183 children seated in laps as passengers were transported from the flight line. The correct total passenger count of 823 is a record for the C-17. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

And take the spotlight they will, until the American attention span moves on to something else. If half the people who cared last week, cared half as much 10 years ago, this would have ended differently. Veteran organizations have been screaming from the rooftops for help getting interpreters out for over a decade; no one cared. Now, when it is splashed across front pages, everyone is wondering why we didn’t do more. Where were you last year when the exit was planned? Where were you six months ago when the president announced the May deadline had been extended to Sept? Your concern/outrage is disingenuous at best. The bigger deal about it you make now, the more contempt you will get from veterans when your apathy returns. You didn’t give a shit a month ago, you won’t in another month.

Afghanistan was not one failure, and for sure not a recent one. The current state of Afghanistan is the result of two decades of systemic failures on just about every level. The politicians, military service members and yes, even civilians, that wanted to do some good in Afghanistan were drowned out by the negative words or actions of the ones who were fucking it up for everyone else.

So yes, the pull out of Afghanistan was completely botched by too many hands. But don’t project your outsider perspective on a veteran you know. Some might be having a tough time not knowing the fate of people they liked, trusted and respected. Especially, knowing the outcomes are most likely not good. This might be like a sudden death in the family. Some veterans are reeling, and are deserving of compassion. For others, it is like a death after a prolonged illness. While not a relief, it was expected and we mourned this moment a long time ago. However they are handling it, give them the space to do so. This isn’t your moment.

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Boba Fett was a POG

boba fett rotjFile this under “things troops talk about on guard duty” but with the launch of The Mandalorian on Disney+ this is a timely topic to write about. I understand that some might have strong feelings about Boba Fett being a POG, but if you objectively consider my reasoning, you will agree with me.

Why we think he is cool

There is an overwhelming belief that Boba Fett is awesome, and the reason is simple; we, as kids, made him awesome. He was the only Star Wars action figure with a jet pack! I had the Boba Fett action figure as a kid, I saw Empire Strikes Back in the theater and the mysterious bounty hunter had all kind of bad ass imaginary adventures with my other action figures. He had rockets, he could fly, how could he not be the mot awesome character that wasn’t Jedi trained?

His mystique only added to his inherent coolness. We filled in the blanks for all the information we lacked. He was awesome because we all agreed that he was awesome, but that in itself does not make one awesome. Strong, silent type with a jet pack and missiles, he must be some kind of former Special Forces Delta Ranger SEAL SWAT Commando right? The idea that he was awesome became part of our culture that no one really questioned. We all just knew he was bad ass, that is all there was to it.

Looking back, there really is no evidence to support the idea that he is a former operator, in fact, quite the opposite.

Why he is a POG

For the uninitiated, POG stands for Person Other than Grunt. Infantry are grunts, the stereotypical hard charging, life taker and heart breaker kicking down doors and taking down bad guys is a grunt, cooks, mechanics, paper pushers and the like are POGs. In popular culture, Echo company from Band of Brothers; grunts, the guys maintaining the planes in England, POGs. Spartans; grunts, the guys discussing the actions of the 300 were POGs.

Disney is the man reason why Boba Fett is a POG. When they bought Star Wars they made all previous material except the movies no longer canon. As far as the Star Wars universe is concerned, the only things that happened were the movies and maybe the Clone Wars cartoons. It is that limited evidence that points to Boba Fett being a POG.

He is one of many bounty hunters hired to find the rebel heroes, and while he figures out that Han and Leia are heading to Cloud City what does he do? Does he stealth in and bag and zip tie them? Nope, he calls Vader to set up a trap at dinner. Not very operator of him. That’s it, his big capture is done by someone else.

boba fett jabba the hutt jawas

I’m pretty sure it went like this: “So there I was, at Cloud City, no shit. I tell Vader, I don’t care what you do with blondie, I’m taking Han Solo and that’s that. Unless you want to start something.”

The next we see him in in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi. The lag between the two movies is about a year. So he isn’t out bounty hunting around the galaxy. He is hanging out with Jabba. Not exactly the life of a galactic bad ass. I’m sure he told Jabba that he threatened Vader to give him Solo or some nonsense. He is that guy at the VFW bar telling the same tall tales to anyone within earshot. So more freeloader than operator.

Boba fett ROTJ-Fett-flirt

She’s a slave girl Boba, she has to be nice to you. He’s like the private at the strip club that thinks he has game because strippers keep talking to him.

When another bounty hunter, Leia in disguise, shows up and reveals a thermal detonator, he draws down, but any sharpshooter would have dropped her with a well-placed shot between the eyes. Instead, Boba Fett is freaking out under his mask wishing he had worn his brown pants.

Next we see him, most likely drunk, on Jabba’s skiff when a fight breaks out. He clumsily flies over gets into close quarter battle with a Jedi armed with a lightsaber. Something he should know not to do from personal experience. He is unceremoniously knocked into the Sarlacc pit by a blind Han Solo. That’s it. No sniping from the rail 100 meters away, no rocket, no vibroblade between Han’s ribs. Nope, his POG ass get accidentally hit with a rod and over the rail he goes.

Boba Fett Luke duel

Couldn’t think of a good reason not to get into close battle with a Jedi? No, nothing comes to mind? Maybe if you didn’t believe your own hype you would have shot Luke from a distance.

“But Mandalorians are bad ass hunters,” I imagine you saying. They might be, that isn’t canon, but maybe they are with the new streaming show. But Boba Fett isn’t a Mandalorian, he is the clone of a Mandalorian. Don’t get me wrong, if you are going to make an army out of any genetic material, Maoris are a solid choice. But Boba Fett wasn’t raised on Mandalore, he was orphaned on Geonosis when his “dad” decided to go toe to toe with one of the strongest Jedis in the galaxy. I guess forgetting you have a fucking rocket on your back runs in the family.

Since Mandalor Child Protective Services didn’t come get him and put him in foster care, he wasn’t raised with or by other Mandalorians. He had his dad’s armor and ship, which is what he uses later as a bounty hunter. So, if anything, he is less of a POG and more of a case of stolen valor. If anything on the armor represents anything in Mandalorian culture, he is banking on his dad’s exploits. Just because your dad was a bad ass operator doesn’t make you Specials Forces once removed.

As a veteran, this is more than a fun thought exercise. I have met Boba Fetts in my life before. A prime example is a guy named Troy. He would introduce himself as a “Marine machine gunner.” Like Boba Fett, he wanted people to fill in the gaps and think that he was a grunt, kicking down doors in downtown Baghdad as part of an Infantry platoon.

The reality is that every unit down to the platoon level, even POGs, have machine gunners. During the convoy, someone has to ride up top and pull security. Usually the lowest rank or the dumbest guy. The truth was, Troy was a jet mechanic. They don’t put F18 fighter planes out on a firebase in the middle of nowhere, they are either on ships in the gulf or on the huge airbases. Troy wasn’t kicking down doors, he was turning wrenches. Any operations he claimed he was on was because he was a grease monkey for the planes providing close air support for actual ground pounders for that operation.

Delta Doug

Grease monkey Troy thinks this Special Operations (but not Special Forces) soldiers isn’t a “real vet” compared to him. That is more delusional than normal trash talking.

Of course, Troy believed his own hype. Claiming that women and anyone that didn’t deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom weren’t “real vets.” Once, a Vietnam vet with a Specter gunship patch on his jacket came around, Troy made a show to shake his hand and thank him because they really “saved our ass over there.” Yeah Troy, when did insurgents swim to the ship or overrun the airfield, past many levels of security to get to the point where the only thing that could help you was gunships providing close air support?

What can civilians do with this information? When you find a blowhards in Gruntstyle shirts trying to tell you how bad as they were, politely smile and nod. Honestly, they most likely need the attention. Consider it your good deed for the day. If you want to hear stories from real troops, look for the vet that tells stories that buildup the people he or she served with, not themselves, or the guys talking among themselves at a table with a full beer in front of an empty chair.

Full Disclosure: I haven’t seen any of the episodes of The Mandalorian.

UPDATE follow up piece: Boba Fett is Still a POG

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Hero’s Journey Home Step 5: The Turning Point


The progression of the hero’s journey in movies and myths. Hopefully, for the vet it ends at home.

By: Peter Sessum

This is from five weeks into the Hero’s Journey Home project, a therapy program at the Seattle VA. I’m starting to see some benefits of this long term look at my military service. When I think about my entire military service, certain big issues pop out, but when examining a narrow view at a time, more specific details are seen. It is the difference of looking at a collection of snapshots and watching a miniseries documentary.

Week five was about turning points. There are examples, The Greek story of Psyche, Apocalypse Now, The Truman show, and they look at turning points in the characters. When looking through the lens of this program, I had a number of turning points in my military career.

First, let’s look at the reflection questions.

  1. Can you identify a turning point in journey through the military?
  2. What did this turning point lead you to face in yourself?
  3. Were there ways you felt a part of you died? That you felt part of you was reborn?
  4. Psyche also contemplated suicide numerous times, despairing in her journey. What were times of your greatest despair in your own journey? Did you have any support to assistance the way Psyche did?
  5. Was there a clear moment you knew you were going to leave the service?
  6. When have you tried to avoid things in the civilian world? Did you have any temptations with the “blue pill” of drugs or alcohol? How have these effected your journey?
  7. Write a one-page about your turning point in your military service.

My interpretation of turning points was not just where, after being in the military for a while, I decided to leave the service. Turning points are decisions you make that alter the course of your life, career or the story narrative. In the movie Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard, played by Martin Sheen, faces Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz. Willard is drinking himself to death in a Saigon hotel room when he is forced to sober up so he can be briefed on the mission. That isn’t a turning point, even though he is sober, it is just a continuation of his descent into darkness. His turning point is when he faces Kurtz and makes the decision to turn away from the path that will lead him into Kurtz’s footsteps. He kills the darkness in front of him to stop the darkness inside of him from growing. My turning points were not that extreme, but I had a few in my life.

I remember the exact moment when I cost myself my career. I had screwed up a few times as enlisted, but nothing I couldn’t recover from. I had worked my ass off to be a good soldier, better than I had been before. I was in charge of a mortar squad and loved the responsibility of leadership. I chose to do what I believed to be right, even though I knew it would it cost me. As a leader, I thought I had to set the example and live by my own words. Based on what I knew, I was doing the right thing, and it cost me.

squad live fire range

Protecting one of these soldiers cost me my career.

To be specific, so there I was… at Fort Lewis, no shit. We were still in formation and the platoon sergeant asked the squad leaders who deserved to go to the Combat Lifesaver course. I led fourth squad so we were in the back of the platoon. Each squad leader called out a name of someone in their squad and I could see this train coming, but I couldn’t get out of the way.

I knew the perfect, safe, political choice was Private Willis. He was brand new to the Army and was pretty much a puppy. He didn’t know shit yet, but he was enthusiastic. It would have been simple, the platoon sergeant would have been happy, the other guys were not stellar soldiers or had reputations so no one would have blamed me. But the question was who deserved to go, not who would be safe to suggest. Words matter, and forgetting the platoon sergeant, how could I look my troops in the eye and tell them to do the right thing when I wasn’t willing to do it myself. There was a clear choice of who deserved to go so I gave his name. The platoon sergeant wasn’t pleased, he hated that soldier. Had we been in private, I am sure that he would have directed me to make a different choice, but I said it in formation and he couldn’t take it back without looking like an asshole. But I knew it would cost me. And it did.

Some turning points you choose; some are made for you. I was having fun being involved in the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program at Fort Lewis. I was the rep for my brigade and would regularly report to the command sergeant major about programs and progress in his units. I was on a path to be the president of the post BOSS program, but Sergeant Major Gannon, the garrison sergeant major hated me. Even though I was voted by the soldiers in a overwhelming majority he gave the position to an unknown. I wonder what my time in the military would have been like had I been given that opportunity.

Getting back to the discussion questions, these turning points led me to face that I was prepared to do what I needed to do for what was right. My troops recognized that I was willing to sacrifice for them and that I had their back. That means a lot to me when you consider a lot of people in leadership positions do not have the trust of their subordinates.

I really believe that if you can’t be trusted with the little things, you can’t be trusted with the big things. If you aren’t willing to take a hit for your people, you aren’t going to step up when lives are on the line. Any one that says they will do the right thing when it counts it lying to themselves. They will still be a weasel; they will just find a way to justify it to themselves when the bullet start flying. When some leaders say to never leave a soldier behind, they really mean to not leave them behind. Because that Blue Falcon will leave you to die if it means risking himself.

Death and rebirth

I feel like there are times a part of me died in the military, but I never really felt reborn. I kind of felt that way when I got my Infantry blue cord or my Airborne Wings. Like I was now something different than before. Being Infantry was a part of my identity for a long time, but outside of “turning blue” I can’t think of a feeling of rebirth. I did feel like a part of me died a few times. It pains me when someone would hold me to a standard they didn’t hold themselves to. Or being betrayed by your command. Unit command are the biggest proponents of doing the right thing, but seeing them screw over a soldier or be shady was always disturbing.

I can only speak for myself, but there wasn’t one moment that made me want to leave the service. It was the death by a thousand tiny cuts approach. After a while, you get tired of trying to swim upstream. Overall, I was a decent soldier, not perfect by far, but I was tired of fighting the system. There isn’t any one thing to pin my decision to leave. I don’t blame the Army as a system, I think it is more accurate to say that the conditions I found myself were not right for me. I think it is like surfing, sometimes the conditions are not right. It doesn’t mean that isn’t a good surf spot or that you are a poor surfer. I am sure that I would have had a different experience had a been stationed elsewhere, or had a different MOS.

22 too many

The positive part of this reflection question is that it asks you to look at your deepest despair in the military, but also the support systems. I am fortunate to have a good support system. I learned, the hard way, that not everyone can handle hearing about the things that trouble us. For some people, our world is “too real” to hear. There are things in the world that people don’t want to know, or admit exist. When you have been removed from the military for long enough, people in your life might not know that side, so vets like me hide that darkness in their past. Knowing what I have been through would change how some people see me and I don’t want that to happen. Fortunately, I do have a couple people I can call when things are bad. I am also that friend that will drop everything if someone is hurting.

I wish more vets thought they had a friend that would be there for them, no matter what, and without judgement. A few lives might have been saved if they had. I know some must have had that support system, but didn’t know it. A few years before I joined the Army I had a veteran friend that took his own life. He was my best friend and roommate. He killed himself in our apartment while I was at work. We talked briefly, he called a mutual friend, everything seemed fine, and he was just gone. That was 27 years ago and it still bothers. Knowing the pain it would cause others has made me take that option off the table.

That didn’t stop me from being self-destructive after my deployments. It wasn’t a conscious decision to drink more, but it was more a part of my life then. There was no red pill/blue pill moment. But there is a moment of clarity that comes, usually through reflection or therapy, that you realize you are hurting yourself. Now, I know that using alcohol as an escape, only entraps you more. Most forms of escape are only temporary and the problem is still waiting for you. I am fortunate that I didn’t go to the extreme that it cost me everything. Compared to other people, it wasn’t that bad. I just didn’t know how wound up I was post deployment and took longer to “decompress” because I didn’t know what the issues were.

For the Hero’s Journey Home, this chapter was more of a reflection and less of an “A-Ha” moment. But you need the ebbs and flows to make waves so it was still progress. How would you answer the questions?

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Hero’s Journey Home Step 4: Mentors, Challenges, Trials and Descent

By Peter Sessum

Week four of the Veterans Administration therapy program. So far in our Hero’s Journey we have answered the call to adventure, crossed the threshold and now found mentors. Using the Matrix example, as the book often does, Neo has answered the call to adventure, taken the red pill, crossed the threshold from the known world (the Matrix) into the unknown (the real world) and Morpheus is mentoring him. Some mentoring is helping them learn the hard way.

Reflection Questions for Step 4:

  1. What was your acculturation process like in the military?
  2. Can you identify the positive and negative mentors in your acculturation?
  3. Has your attitude toward your mentors changed over time?
  4. What kinds of external darkness did you encounter in the service?
  5. What kind of internal darkness did you encounter in the service?
  6. What did you learn from your journeys into darkness?
  7. Write a one-page about your mentors, challenges, trials and journeys into darkness.


I had a difficult time getting acculturated into the military. Part of that is situational, part of that is my fault. On paper, I was exactly the kind of solider the Army wanted. I arrived with the mindset that the warrior is a complex being. Ready to work hard and with foundation beliefs in honor and integrity. However, personally, I struggled to fit in.

I was a little geeky for most of the Infantry. There was a bar across the street from my first unit and I would go and drink cheap beers and write poetry. I wasted an entire weekend locked in my barracks room painting because I had some ideas I had to get out of my head. Not exactly the hard charger expected in most grunts.

If there is a “cool kids” clique, I am not going to be in it. I was a true believer in the “we are all one team” idea in the Infantry. So not being accepted as a member of the platoon was weird to me. I didn’t care where people were from or what their background was, if you are in my unit, you are part of the team. It was a little disillusioning to find out that was all B.S.

I also had bad timing. I arrived to Germany when my unit was in the field and not long after they returned from a deployment. Those shared experiences brought them together and the new arrivals were outsiders. Right after I deployed with them, I did a PCS move to Fort Lewis so I didn’t benefit from the relationships build over deployment.

Since I grew up an hour north of Fort Lewis, I would go home every weekend. That did not help me fit in with my new unit. I would take friends with me, but most of the single guys in the platoon were under 21 and I would go to clubs when visiting Seattle.

One day they carved “fag” in my door. No one would own up to it but it felt like a huge betrayal that my own platoon would treat me like that. I later heard from a soldier that the younger guys did it and their logic was that the never saw me with a woman. The guy who told me did not face that same scrutiny, even though he was a virgin. I didn’t feel like I had to explain to myself to those assholes that they never saw me with a woman because I was dating women in Seattle and the local women I did date I didn’t want to spend time with in the barracks.


I had a number of mentors in my time in the Army. The best ones were the ones that were not my direct supervisors. Sergeant Armour is the first that comes to mind. I learned more from him about Fire Directional Command (FDC) as a mortar than I did from my own squad leader. I was envious of his team because I wanted to be on it instead of my own squad leader Thibodeaux, who was an arrogant POS. Armour demonstrated that he would look after his troops, Thibodeaux would sell you out in a heartbeat. Corporal Aldrich was another. He was one of the universally liked people in the platoon and was the epitome of cool to me as a young private. Over time, and after having a lot of negative leaders in the Army, I have appreciated what they have done for me and what I learned from them.

External Darkness

It isn’t difficult to find external darkness in the military. Depending on your definition of darkness, it is almost everywhere. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is, in my opinion, the greatest internal threat to the military. It takes a special kind of evil to target one of your own. That is someone that just wants to do evil and whatever their reasoning is to help them sleep at night is bullshit.

When I was in Afghanistan, I understood why the Taliban wanted to do me harm. I was the invading infidel, coming at me wasn’t personal, it was business. I get it. But every time you hear about a suicide bomb in a market, it isn’t about repelling invaders. It is just evil expressing itself. What is the benefit of killing Afghans who have nothing to do with the war effort?


Are any of them bad guys? Unfortunately, the Taliban didn’t wear uniforms. And a sleepy Taliban looks exactly like  sleepy villager when you wake them up at stupid O’clock.

I have met evil. Sometimes it is subtle like the mullah that wouldn’t sit and drink tea with us one week, but when he had the female sit out the following week, he was happy to sit and talk with the men. Other times, it was easier. We lost one soldier in my deployment and I did not mind being part of the mission that captured the IED maker.

Internal Darkness

Everyone wants to think they are a good person, and I try to be one, but you need to embrace some darkness to be able to do what you might have to do in war. I don’t know what worked for other people, but I compartmentalized who I was when I was overseas. I thought that on a mission I can’t be the man that picked up his kid from school and when I was picking up my daughter from school, I couldn’t be the man that is going to drop the hammer on a bad guy. The problem is that it is that once you left he darkness in, it is difficult to remove it all.

It took me a while to be able to articulate, but I think I have it now. I envision it as walking into a control room. There are switches, dials and levers all around. Some switches you turn off, and some you turn on. You dial down the fear and turn up the alertness. When you come back, the light doesn’t work and all the labels are missing. There are a couple you remember, but which dial did you turn up and by how much? It feels like guessing and then leaving to go about your life.

You don’t know how much your hyper alertness is dialed up until you almost draw down in the middle of a mall over a balloon popping. I had my hand on my pistol, but hadn’t cleared leather, when I realized what I was doing and pulled my shirt back down. It happened so quick, no one around me noticed, but that was my sign to not carry for a while.

In Afghanistan, Captain Brooks with the 1/501st was the cause of a decent into darkness. You can’t walk into a Tactical Operations Center and swing a dead cat without hitting three captains that don’t have a job. He was the S39 air. He spent the first part of his deployment trying to arrange for a “combat jump” into Afghanistan. I used the quotes because the plan was to have trucks standing by to pick up the troops to drive the rest of the way on the mission. He was just trying to pad his OER and he found his chance with the PSYOP and Civil Affairs (CA) troops. He got the commander to assign us to him, even though that is not how it works. Of course, no one in our chain of command did anything about it. They loved to talk about how PSYOP is only attached to other units, but we report to our own higher, but when it comes down to it, they didn’t have the stones to take care of their troops. Our command was too busy trying to find a way to get their bronze stars for achievement than to look out for the boots on the ground.

Herbig's picts 014

This was the perfect scenario for Brooks, poor security and limited friendly folks made for an attractive target. He never got his firefight, but the entire battalion was given their CIB and he immediately stopped going on missions.

Brooks wanted to get his Combat Infantry Badge so he made us an easy target. He wanted us to stop and assault if we were shot at in an urban environment with only two unarmored vehicles. He fired a warning shot at a kid that had stolen a bag of school supplies that we were going to give to Afghan kids. But he didn’t fire it into the air, I think his intent was to fire near the kid, but from the local’s perspective, he was aiming at the child.

Going on those missions, I knew I was going to die in Afghanistan. Honestly, if had just been me I would have refused to go on the missions. They had no PSYOP value and I had no obligation to go. He wasn’t in my chain of command so he couldn’t order me to go on his ego missions. The problem is that it wasn’t just me. The rest of the team was going, and as prior Infantry, I had the training if things went bad. One guy on our team was able to see his baby be born and was back on a plane the next day to finish mobilizing with the rest of us.

When we say we go to war for the person to the left and right, we mean it. So, I went on these stupid, pointless missions. One day, I went to the chaplain to talk to him out it. I told him that I already knew I was going to die; I had accepted that. I had lived a full life and had been able to spend time with my daughter but my teammate just barely met his son and I was angry that some stupid captain was going to get us all killed. I asked him for help working through that so I wouldn’t be beating the shit out of an officer in the middle of a firefight. The chaplain had some great words of wisdom.

“I’ll pray for you.”

Honestly, I think I broke the chaplain. He was used to people saying they are scared, or they want to go home. I don’t think he was ready for my particular issue.  I still have a journal from that time and I couldn’t read it for years without going right back to those days in my head. There is a switch I turned off when I was in Khost and I don’t know where it is to turn it back on.

Lessons from the darkness

I learned the depth of human darkness and that the rest of us need to work harder to keep the external darkness at bay. I know that people don’t have reasons to do evil. They just are evil and find reasons to justify it. I love how people talk about Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross and Steve Irwin bring the trinity of goodness and we need more people like them in the world. But we also need some good guys that are willing to do bad things to bad people to protect that goodness. I just wish the goody goody people would help those of us that embraced evil transition back int the good world rather than treat us like the bad guys. I know that I am the most dangerous person some people in my town have ever met, but I am not the most dangerous person I have ever met and I don’t like that they look down on people like me for protecting them from meeting those dangerous people.

Minolta DSC

Not exactly the face of evil. Terry sharing bubbles with local kids.

The thing that helped me most come out of my descent into darkness was my daughter. She was my light in the darkness and that helped me find my way back to who I needed to be for her.

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Why Dog and Pony Shows Suck: The Veteran Perspective

As I lay awake in the wee hours of the Fourth of July, I can’t help but think of some poor private pulling guard on a Bradley Fighting vehicle in the middle of D.C. While politicians and the media are focusing on the cost of a military parade on our nation’s birthday, I can’t help but think about the enormity of BS that the troops are going through to pull off this Charlie Foxtrot. Here is why these dog and pony shows suck for the troop on the ground.

Fête nationale, Belfort

How do you say “I demand your surrender in French?” “Guten Tag.” The idea for the military parade came after a visit to France. Not sure they are the best example of military might.

I don’t know what is happening at the president’s parade, I can only go off my personal experience. I’m sure that when Trump says, “I want to have a military parade.” He might think it is just a matter of getting a bunch of soldiers on a bus, dropping them off down the street and having the walk by him a couple hours later. But before we can get the troops there, someone has to choose what troops to get.


At any given time, the president has a high-level officer near him that doesn’t have a real job and looking to pad his Officer Evaluation Report (OER). Hopefully, he will pull from nearby units but I have a feeling he will go with his favorite unit. Whatever combat patch he wears is the division getting the call. Or, alternatively, whatever unit he has a hard on for.

The officers at every level will treat this like a personal request from on high and take it far more seriously than needed. The division level commander can’t say no to the president even though the president doesn’t care which units show up, as long as someone marches past him. All officers that won’t be on the reviewing stand with the big guy is looking to pad their OER and aren’t giving their troops a second thought.

For a captain to look good to the colonel, he has to have a crack set of troops looking all spit and polished. Should be easy to get volunteers, right? After all, who is more patriotic than the American service member? In this case, just about everyone.  Don’t get me wrong, we love the flag and all that stuff. But this is a day off and no one wants to be in a major dog and pony show on their day off.

I’ve been selected for a presidential visit. They asked for volunteers, a dozen or so raised their hands. Then each platoon leader was instructed to select about 20 troops. My platoon had two very strict criteria.

  1. Who will not screw up (intentionally or not) and embarrass the unit, and by extension the entire U.S. army, in front of the president?
  2. Who is left?

Thank God that was just the divisions standing in formation. We did that in a day. A parade is a whole other level of bullcrap.

North_Korea_Stages_Show_of_Force_with_New_Missiles_during_Parade photo Tasnim News Agency

This is what I think of when I think of “military parade,” Doesn’t exactly sing “Freedom” to me.


A parade is just walking. In formation. One would think that is easy. Marching is taught in Basic Training. Meaning it is one of the most basic soldier skills. Ask any soldier about the command “Counter column. March!” and the words “soup sandwich” will likely follow. I have never seen a unit execute it right on the first try and usually ends up with the first few soldiers running into each other like idiots and the maneuver stopped so they can unfuck themselves. There is always someone that forgot how to right wheel and so they have to practice until they get it right.

That is about the first hour. But they will keep practicing because all other work was cancelled and there is nothing else on the schedule. After a while, the company commander will want to see and it will be performed for him. Then the companies need to be combined and the cluster starts all over again. Then they have to practice until the battalion commander gets to see, and then on other the brigade.

Meanwhile, the troops are being inspected, as if anyone more than 10 feet away is going to be able to see them. I was once chastised by a first sergeant because my camouflage uniform during a practice had a black spot near the knee. A black spot. On a camouflage uniform. In a crowed of camouflage uniforms.


Troops you can put on a bus, vehicles you have to ship. There are already images of tanks on the backs of flatbed trucks in D.C. Loading them isn’t a big deal, but someone is going to have to watch them. 24 hours a day. There is some unlucky private, walking around a 70-ton Abrams just counting the hours until his relief shows up and thinking about how bullshit the entire situation is. And there is some NCO that has to listen to that private bitch about it for eight hours.

First you have to load the vehicles on the trucks, then get them to D.C., then find the vehicles and then start pulling guard. If the soldiers are lucky, some agency in D.C. will cover security. But I am guessing that no commander wants to leave it to anyone that doesn’t have a vested interest in the tanks. Because if one graffiti artist tags a tank, someone is losing a career.

And let’s not forget about the bands. I can’t imagine it will just be the Marine Corps band. Every service will want their own. That is just going to add a layer of complexity. The good thing about having a band nearby is that the beat makes it easy for everyone to stay in step. What sucks is when you are in the trail of your unit’s formation and the band I the next unit is not in step with you unit. A number of bands competing for your ears is not fun.

china icbm

It just isn’t a parade until the Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles go by.

Hurry up and wait

Every single veteran can relate to this and has a story about it. The concept of 30 minutes prior is the source of a many a soldier’s rage. Whatever time Trump says to start the parade, General Nuisance is going to require the troops to be there 30 minutes prior. That in itself makes sense. Gives the troops plenty of time to get formed up and ready. If that was it, life would alright. But each layer of command will put their own “30 minutes prior” which pushes the arrival time earlier and earlier.

Division wants brigades 30 minutes before the general said. Brigades want the battalions 30 minutes prior to that. At least when it reaches the company level is shortens to 15 minutes. Companies want platoons 15 minutes prior to battalion formation. Platoons want squads 15 minutes prior to that. Squads want team 15 minutes prior to that. It honestly gets that stupid. A noon start time can have a soldier arriving at 0600.

I actually had a battalion commander order the leadership that no soldier could be forced to show up more than 15 minutes before his stated start time. It was seen as revolutionary and he enforced it for as long as he cared about it.

Then once the troops are all formed up, it is a lot of waiting around. All those concerns about pretty uniforms goes out the window as bored soldiers find a quiet spot in the shade to nap. Modern soldiers should thank God they have smartphones to entertain themselves. It makes the time go faster.


Hopefully, they are pulling units from the area and not tasking the 101st from Fort Campbell or some nonsense. Maybe the troops can get back home in time for dinner and fireworks. But someone is getting the short end of the stick and has to load the vehicles, or guard them until they get loaded because the shipping company has the holiday off.

Other types of dog and pony shows

The Change of Command: I 100% understand why we have those. It is part tradition and part common sense. It is a way for the outgoing commander to say “here are the troops and equipment I am passing to you.” The two commanders do a review of the troops with the outgoing showing that he is passing off a good group of soldiers and the incoming getting introduced to his or her new troops. I don’t deny that it makes sense, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

The change of command rehearsals are drawn out. They run through the entire ceremony a number of times. At the part where the commander is going to give a speech, they just say “remarks complete.” It is space filler for where their speech will be. After the unit has been through the entire ceremony half a dozen times, they have to endure it one more time. The only difference is the addition of the next higher unit commander, their wives and their speeches.

I had a commander thank everyone in his speech. He thanked the chow hall workers, he thanked his first dog for teaching him friendship, he stopped just short of thanking the first girl to give him an awkward handy for giving him the confidence to succeed in the military. It was excessive. It was made all the worse that it wasn’t a CoC for my unit. For some reason, some of us were pulled to fill in for another unit’s CoC. I guess there just weren’t enough soldiers to make it look good.

Gen D two fer

Same day outgoing speech for one unit, incoming speech for another. Mercifully, he kept both short and sweet.

The worst one was a general level change of command. It started with a promotion of one general from one star to two. Then he took over command from the other general. And he gave long speeches at both! Two ceremonies, back-to-back, two separate speeches. We were about 5,000 soldiers, on an airstrip (the only place that could accommodate the formation), in mid-summer Germany, with full battle gear. This was 1996, nowhere near the Global War on Terror. Why are we wearing helmets?

Even better, we are at fixed bayonets. I’m sure it was all to look tough, but having unsheathed knives in the sweltering heat is a recipe for trouble. What happens when some poor sap locks his knees and passes out in formation? He takes out the person in front of him. There are medics floating around the rear of formations ready to attend to the fall outs. The battalion to our left and right had soldiers dropping like flies. One was easily down one third of their troops. My battalion commander yelled at us later because one soldier fell out. Because we are Infantry goddammit and we are better than that.

The Retirement Ceremony: I get it, you want to send one of your senior troops off well. If it was just the people that loved him or her it would be great. But the post had a monthly ceremony for every soldier retiring that month. The ranks were filled with random units so it is possible no one in attendance knew who was being recognized. Pomp and circumstance, I get, the military is a organization deeply rooted in tradition, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

The worst was a retiring one-star general change of command. He straight up said it was going to be his last military speech so he was going to make it worth it. It was easily the longest speech I have ever heard and it was mostly him patting himself on the back. The only good thing about that one was that I wasn’t in formation for it because that guy droned on forever.

The exception to the rule

Major dog and pony shows suck, but there are times when it is kind of fun. Of course, these are instances where the time requirement is minimal. When I was part of the I Corps Color Guard we did a parade in Tacoma. We arrived a few minutes early, walked the mile route ahead

Color guard 2

A different kind of dog and pony show. Presenting the colors for the national anthem before a professional baseball game was fun.

of the military units, and were back in the van heading home in short order. We also presented the colors for the national anthem at a Mariners game. Immediately after, we changed into civilian clothes and watched the game for free. That did not suck.

I honestly think that a military parade on the Fourth of July is the least patriotic thing you can do. Forcing military members to work on their day off, on a day that our great nation told England to fuck off, just to placate on man’s ego is really against what we fought for. When I think about military parades I think of Russia, China or North Korea. The only U.S. military parades I think were positive were troops returning from WWII and Desert Storm. And the last one mostly because there were most likely senior officers and enlisted that had been in Vietnam and got a horrible reception.

What the president should do is invite some BBQ pit masters to the White House, get a pallet of domestic beer, have all his staffers turn in their cell phones and let them get drunks and blow off steam without media, or camera phones, around recording anything. If he really wants to celebrate the true holiday of the spirit, maybe drunk dial England later.

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