Old War Dogs teach new tricks

This past year I came up with an idea that, strangely enough, bore fruit: I knew that there had to be lots of other old vets out there like me who had overcome their fear of computers and the Internet to discover that these are tools which can be used effectively to expand on the knowledge gained from our military experiences to provide unique insights and perspectives to the millions of web viewers who've not been there nor done that. I looked at it as a situation of old dogs learning new tricks, and out of that, through the dedication and skills of Bill Faith, owner of Small Town Veteran Blog and volunteer webmaster for this endeavor, was borne our blog, Old War Dogs.

To our delight we have become a site of some note in the military blogosphere, due, I'm sure to the fact that we have member Dogs from every major conflict from WWII to the present. We don't have any generals or admirals yet as contributing Dogs (the major networks have all those guys) but we do have a couple of senior officers, large unit commanders, a sergeant major, some NCO's and a few draftees who served their time and are proud now that they were called by their government. Some of our Dogs have PhD's and some of those lacking such academic qualifications have the offsetting benefit of extensive combat experience. We're an eclectic, mongrel bunch at Old War Dogs.

Which brings this Dog to his point. In the midst of all the discussion and dissension regarding our situation in Iraq, it is becoming readily apparent that one of the most insidious flaws of my war in Vietnam, that is, senseless, bureaucratic influence upon the rules of engagement, is once again being resurrected by politically expedient commanders in this current conflict, and this Old War Dog feels compelled to bark.

Fearful of being condemned for possible civilian losses in their areas of operations, American commanders are burdening the troops at the point of the spear, those facing the greatest risk of life and limb in this treacherous insurgency, with ridiculously cautious rules of engagement just as their predecessors did to American troops in Vietnam. I recall a situation in early in that war, when I was a young buck sergeant, squad leader in an infantry company of the 101st Airborne Division. We were operating well out in Indian country, setting up a defensive perimeter for the night. The company commander called the officers and NCO's together at the company CP for a briefing. To the absolute amazement of a bunch of hardened old paratrooper non-coms, and the bafflement of some of us newer members of that fraternity, he informed us that he had just received a directive by radio that if we were hit by the enemy that night, we were not to return fire without obtaining direct, verbal authorization from him or the company first sergeant. In other words, if someone outside the perimeter tripped one of our defensive flares or Claymore mines, we could not commence fire without clearance from company headquarters.

This precaution, it turned out, had been directed from II Field Force headquarters back in their very safe, coastal enclave. Here we were, in hostile country, where we could be overrun by any well-directed, concerted assault by a proven, accomplished enemy, and we were being told by rear echelon staff weenies that we could not respond to such an assault with all the force at our disposal without proper authority. In other words, all the money and time that had been spent by the American government to train me and my fellow junior NCO's to lead our troops in combat had just been negated by some jerk, rear area, general officer, who was more interested in covering his ass and his stars than preserving the lives of those troops under his command.

Being one of the younger, less seasoned and thus less disciplined, NCO's, I protested, and was immediately told by my young company commander to shut my mouth and to do what I was told. OK, so I did precisely that, to the letter. I went back to my squad sector to check on my troopers, who were busily engaged in digging in for the night. And there, I honored my CO's order, in spirit, if not in intent. He had directed that we were not to return fire. To me, that implied firing our M-16's and our M-60 machine guns. Keeping in mind that prohibition, I instructed all of my guys to build up a substantial parapet on the leading edge of each defensive position they dug and to then crimp the pins on several grenades and lay them within easy reach on those parapets.

I explained that we had been ordered not to return fire but that nothing had been said about grenades. My instructions at each position in my portion of the perimeter were, "If you hear something out there, don't worry about asking for permission to fire your M-16 or M-60, just start throwing grenades and keep throwing them until the whole frickin' balloon goes up." I knew from previous nighttime assaults, that if the shit hit the fan, nobody would ever have any idea of where that first grenade exploded, nor, in the aftermath, would they care. I knew there would be a lot of nervous young paratroopers with twitchy fingers sitting watch that night and the first flash and boom would be enough to send the whole perimeter into an all out, full-fire response, which might waste some ammunition should the intruder be a monkey, but might also save some lives. Fortunately, nothing happened during that night or in the ensuing few days until the much protested, asinine order from II Corps was rescinded.

However, to this day, I feel comfortable knowing the men I was responsible for weren't going to be easily overrun and sacrifice their lives to some bureaucratic inaninity, which brings us to the point. I hear over and over that because of the fear of killing innocent Iraqis and other politically correct considerations, that our forces are being hamstrung with exactly such petty oversights and constraints in the current rules of engagement. The President mentioned this problem in his speech tonight, which is what jarred my memory back forty years and inspired this writing. I would urge everyone who reads this, whether you have a loved one in this fight or not, to contact your congressmen and senators and tell them you will not abide such insanity in this current war. Be very clear in what you say: you do not countenance the callous taking of innocent civilian life but, more importantly, you will not accept asinine rules of engagement that put our troops, our loved ones, at risk only to protect the careers of politically attuned generals and the sycophants who surround them.

Stand up for our troops, folks. They're standing up out there for you.

Russ Vaughn
2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
Vietnam 65-66