April 7, 2007
America's Broken-Down MediaBy Ray Robison
According to Mark Thompson, writer for Time magazine, America's army is broken. While it can not be argued that the military can possibly maintain the same state of readiness in war time as it does in peace time, broken has a certain specific ring to it: incapable, demoralized and poorly trained.
Mr. Thompson begins the article, - featured on the Drudge Report - with the story of Private Matthew Zeimer. Brave PVT Zeimer died within hours of his arrival at a Forward Operating Base in Iraq. Thompson describes PVT Zeimer's training before going on to make the case that the surge cut the young Private's training short. In Mr. Thompson's recounting of PVT Zeimer's tale, he essentially was killed because he had insufficient training.
Mr. Thompson finds confirmation from Congressman Murtha:
Sounds like a pretty solid case doesn't it? But something just didn't sit right with me. I immediately knew this wasn't the full story. So I used a journalistic research tool, possibly unavailable to Time, called Google.
You see, this article makes the brave young Matthew Zeimer sound like an infantry soldier. Infantry soldiers go to the Infantry Training Brigade for 14 weeks of intense training after completing basic training. How can it be he didn't go? Is the army so bad off infantry soldiers don't go to Advanced Infantry Training anymore?
In my research, I found this article Soldier's last days at home memorable at the Billings Gazette. The article tells the story of the brave Private's short military career as told by his family and friends.
Five months of basic training? What this article means is that he did nine weeks of Basic Training, which every soldier does, and then went for three more months of Advanced Individual Training in which a soldier trains on their MOS (Military Occupational Skill). About.com explains the process well:
But most civilians just think of it all as basic training. The point being, this is three more months of a 24 hour a day resident course, tough as nails training that Mr. Thompson has neglected to mention. Three months is a significant amount of training.
And it doesn't stop there. According to the Billings Gazette:
Not only did PVT Zeimer do three more months of training than Thompson lets on, he spent ten months of training before he even went in the army. While this certainly does not equate to training in an active duty setting, it is a training opportunity that most soldiers don't get. In real terms, this brave young man was ahead of the training that a typical artillery junior enlisted soldier received when I was an artillery officer in the mid-90s under President Clinton.
So was this truncated training as Murtha called it effective? Was he really ready? The Gazette goes on:
So according to PVT Zeimer's loved ones, he was fit, proud, motivated and anything but broken-down. He was a soldier damn it! Not a victim. Not a political talking point.
Mr. Thompson also tells us:
Thompson tells us that the army callously failed to train the young private in desert warfare (which is not a deployment requirement for US Army soldiers anyway). His writing certainly makes Tony Snow appear flippant about the issue. But we learn this from the Billings Gazette:
Yet more training? Yes, and it was in the desert just like Tony Snow indicated. But what about that training in Fort Irwin at the National Training Center (NTC) that Mr. Thompson referred to in his article? Would that have helped the brave Private? You bet. More training is always better. But at some point the training stops when the fighting starts (actually, it continues even in combat, but not at a training facility). And a better understanding of what the NTC training mission is makes this clear:
Joint, combined, battalion, brigade, these are all keywords which mean that the NTC is first and foremost a unit trainer. The individual soldier goes to NTC more by providence than by design. Nobody keeps track of your NTC rotations. It is not a training requirement for individual readiness. An individual unit may not be scheduled for rotation to the NTC for as long as two years. It is one facility and there are many brigades. The NTC is not and has never been a requirement for individual deployment.
What happens at NTC? A unit rotation lasts four weeks. The unit typically spends the first week in preparation and the last week in recovery. That means that the unit spends two weeks "in the box". While the training is valuable, and is the best two weeks of training a unit can get in the army, it is only two weeks after all.
While it certainly increases the skills of the individual soldier, you don't have to send a soldier to brigade level training to learn how to clean the sand out of your weapon as Mr. Thompson laments. And dealing with civilians on the battlefield can be taught anywhere.
Mr. Thompson's article also states:
What Mr. Thompson doesn't tell the reader is than the soldier that was killed with PVT Zeimer was "Spc. Alan E. McPeek, a 20-year-old who had been in Iraq for 14 months" according to the Gazette. Of course, it's difficult to make a soldier appear to have died due to lack of training when the soldier who died next to him was a 14 month combat veteran, isn't it?
As disgusted as I am by the absolutely misleading nature of Mr. Thompson's article and how it affects the general public's perceptions, I am far more sickened by these vultures not explaining to the families of men like PVT Zeimer that their son was a hero, not a victim to be used in creating a political talking point for shoddy journalists and opportunist politicians. Army officials should explain what the standards of deployment training are to the families of our brave soldiers before rotten tomatoes like these convince them that heroes like Matthew died for lack of training.
God bless you Private Zeimer.
Ray Robison is co-author of the book Both in One Trench, just published.