All posts by Joel Aber

Joel is an 11 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

How to Identify Terrorist Profiles and Radicalization paths

As terrorist attacks continue around the globe, more and more focus is put on stopping the attack before it happens, not just in apprehending the radicalized individual, but in stopping the radicalization before it takes place.  A large part of that is mapping the radicalization cycle and identifying those at risk.  Then, the correct intervention tactics must be applied to stop the cycle.

But how do you map the cycle and identify those at risk?  Well, a new, as yet unpublished study funded by the Department of Justice and titled with the thrilling name of Across the Universe?  A Comparative Analysis of Violent Behavior and Radicalization Across Three Offender Types with Implications for Criminal Justice Training and Education hopes to shed some light.  If you actually made it past the title, I’m going to attempt to condense 117 pages into a significantly smaller summary.  First, as you can see, they actually look at both mass murderers and “lone actor terrorists.”  The primary difference, they note, is motivation.  Lone actor terrorists are typically motivated by an ideology, whereas mass murderers (here defined as people who murder 4 or more individuals in one place and event) are typically motivated by a personal wrong or grievance.  Second, the study encompassed 71 lone actor terrorists and 115 solo mass murderers.  Third, “socio-demographic data” reveals very little difference between the two study sets, “(h)owever, their behaviors significantly differ with regards to (a) the degree to which they interact with co-conspirators (b) their antecedent event behaviors and (c) the degree to which they leak information prior to the attack” (Page 4). Fourth, the mass murders in the study do not follow the same path to violence as the lone actor terrorists.

The authors are quick to point out that this study is just one study, and isn’t complete, as it doesn’t actually get around to recommendations for how to intervene, but it still provides some useful information.  The first tidbit, stated on page 12, is that “(a) review of the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports from 2000 to 2012 shows that the number of mass murders (four or more victims) was approximately one-tenth of one percent of all murders (excluding the 9/11 deaths).”  While not necessarily germane to the terrorism issue, it does shed some light on the over-representation of sensational mass murders in the media versus “real life.”

So back to the lone actor terrorists, since that is the topic of note.  Three very important conclusions from their study, and I’ll quote directly, are:

  • “In terms of group-related activities, the results indicate that lone actor terrorists were significantly more likely to try to recruit others, interact face-to-face with members of a wider network, virtually interact with members of a wider network, produce letters and/or public statements prior to the attack and recently join a wider movement.”
  • “In terms of antecedent attack behaviors, lone actor terrorists were significantly more likely to have university experience, military experience, combat experience, criminal convictions, experience a tipping point in their pathway to violent extremism, change address prior to their attack, live alone, be socially isolated, engage in dry runs, demonstrate that their anger is escalating and possess a stockpile of weapons.”
  • “In terms of leakage related behaviors, lone actor terrorists were significantly more likely to verbalize intent to commit violence to friends/family/wider audiences, have others aware of their grievance, express a desire to hurt others, have others involved in procuring weaponry and have others aware of their attack planning.” (Pages 17-18)

In other words, there are a lot more chances to catch a lone actor terrorist, because while socially isolated, they will typically both seek out (possibly) known actors for fellowship and guidance and actually verbalize to people what they intend to do, at least in a macro sense.  While they may not lay out specifics of an attack, they will give indications – however vague – that they intend to carry out an attack.  Of the terrorists studied: in 80% of the cases, other people knew about their grievance; in 77% other were aware of their ideology; in 59% verbal statements were made about intent or belief; in 37% at least one other person knew of attack research and planning; and in up to 68% of cases, they interacted either face to face or virtually with a network.  Lone actors are also less likely than mass murderers to be familiar with their planned place of attack since they are not motivated by personal grievance, therefore they need more opportunity to conduct surveillance and dry runs (Pages 27-28).  Any step into the outside world is a chance to intervene or apprehend, and federal law enforcement has been doing this quite effectively.  This type of behavior is also the foundation of the “If you see something, say something” campaign run by the Department of Homeland Security.

As far as education level, employment, and relationship success, of the 48 terrorists for whom education levels were available, over 60% had some form of degree, whether undergraduate, masters, or doctoral.  However, as noted in the report, “the educational success of the lone actor terrorists did not translate into direct success in the job market.”  Only 8% of the terrorists were actively employed as a professional in their field.  Most (59%) worked service sector jobs or were unemployed.  Coinciding with their social isolation, the majority of lone actor terrorists were single, however, as many as 35% were married or divorced (Pages 21-22).  When we look at previous criminal activity, “58% had a previous criminal conviction. Of this sub-sample, 59% served time in prison indicating the seriousness and/or prolific nature of their offending.”

If you’re seeing some parallels between this study’s conclusions and the profiles of the Orlando shooter, Nice terrorist, and Bangladesh shooters, you should be.  Do all of them fit the full “profile”?  No, but they hit multiple risk factors.  Now, as the study also notes: “Of course, not all of the instances in which information is received about verbalized intent are viable threats or risks so instead of acting straight away, the logical next step is to engage in a risk assessment and look at the rest of the individual’s behaviors with regard to their situation, capability, motivation and opportunity to act.”  So just because someone verbalizes an extremist belief or appears angry and speaks of violence doesn’t mean that they will carry through, but they deserve a serious look.  Chapter two of the study closes with the statement: “What we see from the analysis we offer here is that lone actor terrorism and mass murderer attacks are (both) usually the culmination of a complex mix of personal, political and social drivers that crystallize at the same time to drive the individual down the path of violent action. Whether the violence comes to fruition is usually a combination of the availability and vulnerability of suitable targets that suit the heady mix of personal and political grievances and the individual’s capability to engage in an attack from both a psychological and technical capability standpoint. Many individual cases share a mixture of personal life circumstances coupled with an intensification of beliefs that later developed into the idea to engage in violence. What differed was how these influences were sequenced…This is why we should be wary of mono-causal ‘master narratives’ about how this process unfolds. The development of these behaviors is usually far more labyrinthine and dynamic.” (Pages 34-35)  This gives us two points to ponder: first, as the study has repeatedly stated, the terrorists are very likely to telegraph their intent, so there is a chance to intercede before action is taken; second, terrorists seek a suitable target and may be discouraged if one is not available.  Hardening targets is key – we cannot allow terrorists to strike soft targets with impunity.

So how about the path?  I can’t even attempt to condense all of the background information in the study into this article, so I highly recommend you go here and read it, as it provides an entire chapter analyzing the typical steps of some well known historical attacks.  To try to keep it within everyone’s attention span, I’ll use the below graphics from the study (Pages 75 & 89).  By way of definition, the study differentiates here between a lone actor terrorist (one who plans and carries out the attack alone) and a solo actor terrorist (one who has assisted in planning the attack but carries out the attack alone).  As you can see, the primary difference is in the level of guidance and logistical support provided by the group to the actor.  The amount of support provided to a solo actor may enable the actor to maintain a lower profile by eliminating some of the direct surveillance and weapons procurement risk, although if the group’s representative is known to law enforcement, it may actually lead investigators to the actor faster than a lone actor, who may appear as just a casual devotee.  Also keep in mind that though the script uses guns and IEDs as means, recent events amply demonstrate that neither are required for successfully executing attacks.

Lone Actor Attack Script (credit to study authors)
Lone Actor Attack Script (credit to study authors)
Solo Actor Attack Script (credit study authors)
Solo Actor Attack Script (credit to study authors)

In conclusion, I want to leave you with two more quotes from the study:

  • “The temporal issues also highlight the fact that we need to view risk dynamically. Given a set of circumstances and conditions an individual may appear to be no or low risk. However, small changes in their life-course, personal circumstances or opportunity to offend can have a force-multiplier effect and propel the individual into a higher category of risk.” (Page 112)
  • “Traditional methods employed against formal terrorist organizations and loosely connected terrorist networks (such as counter-intelligence, HUMINT, interception of communications, surveillance of persons, targeted killing etc.) may not be as readily applicable against the threat of lone actor terrorists. Strategies aimed at countering radicalization in the community may have no reference point in identifying lone at-risk individuals. Deterrence measures also may prove problematic for countering lone actor terrorism. Because prediction and identification are difficult, it might be better to instead guard against future lone actor terrorists by making the actual undertaking of a terrorist attack more difficult. For example, it might be easier and more cost-efficient to deter a budding lone actor terrorist by making it more difficult to acquire the necessary bomb-making materials than by convincing him/her of counter-narratives.” (Page 114)

Essentially, the authors are saying that as of right now, there isn’t enough information to accurately identify, target, and disrupt the cycle or path of an individual on the way to violence with 100% accuracy.  There are a lot of threats out there, and the environment is – to use their word – dynamic.  In the realm of terrorism, law enforcement has to be right 100% of the time to prevent an attack; the terrorists only need to be right a fraction of that to successfully attack.  They don’t need extremely technical means; they don’t even need guns.  Intelligence officials in the United States and abroad are warning that as Daesh loses ground in Iraq and Syria, they will resort to more and more small-scale, low-tech attacks globally.  The United States is, and has always been, a primary target.

I hope that this article has been interesting and (more importantly) useful.  Alert individuals remain a key component in recognizing threats and intervening before an attack.  Stay alert, stay safe, and if you see something, say something.

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

Where The Hell did The Word “Recondo” Come From?

Tiger Stripe Blasting Cap

Recondo (usually assumed to be a combination of the words Recon and Commando) was founded by Major General William Westmoreland in 1958 to ensure that the critical patrol and reconnaissance skills taught at the Army’s Ranger School were taught and reinforced throughout his command, which at the time was the 101st Airborne Division.

Westmoreland chose Major Lewis Millet to command the school, which was staffed by Ranger-qualified soldiers of the 101st.  At the time, Ranger School was eight weeks long, and lacked the capacity to train soldiers in the numbers that Westmoreland wanted.  The original Recondo was between 2-4 weeks long (as it evolved), and trained soldiers in patrolling, navigation, demolitions, communications, hand to hand fighting, escape and evasion, and POW resistance (later scrapped after an Inspector General investigation).  Other units took this model and implemented it, including the US Military Academy at West Point, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 18th Airborne Corps, and the 25th Infantry Division.  Graduation rates for the 101st Recondo ran as low as 10 percent, with another 20 percent completing – but not graduating  – the course.

By far the most famous – and dangerous – Recondo school was operated by Military Assistance Command – Vietnam from 1966 to 1970.  Instructed by members of the 5th Special Forces Group, MACV Recondo was three weeks long, encompassing over 260 hours of instruction.  The first two weeks mirrored many of the skills taught in previous Recondo courses, but the final week – dubbed “You Bet Your Life” – was an actual combat mission of opportunity.  This mission was planned and conducted by the students, but graded by instructors – and the enemy.  Clearly the students learned something during their first two weeks: an article published in  Green Beret Magazine in 1968, two years into the school, stated that only two students had been lost to enemy fire at that time.  The MACV Recondo course didn’t just train US Army soldiers, though; over 300 friendly forces trained alongside the over 2,700 Americans that graduated.  Graduates received a patch and unique Recondo number upon graduation.  Graduation rates ran as high as 60%, although this number was somewhat inflated due to the fact that most MACV Recondo attendees had already attended and passed a rigorous unit selection and preparatory course beforehand.

RECONDO PVC Patch

Although Recondo was disbanded in 1970, its legacy remained.  The members who graduated usually returned to their home unit’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs or “Lurps”), and the common training they received at Recondo set the standard and ensured commonality among the many LRRPs spread across Vietnam.

Continuing their line of SOF tribute patches, RE Factor Tactical has just released their Recondo PVC patch, styled after the patch awarded to successful graduates of the MACV Recondo school.  Check it out in the store today!

Further reading:

Article from Green Beret Magazine, April 1968

Brief description of 101st Recondo Curriculum

The ever-popular Wikipedia

First-hand account of a 25th Infantry Recondo

About the author

Joel is an 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

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Concealed Carry on Base? DoD Directive 5210.56, Arming and the Use of Force

521056_dodd_2016_page_01**I am not a lawyer, and nothing below should be considered legal advice.  This is merely my reading of a recent DoD directive that I know a lot of people were looking forward to.  User assumes all liability**

If you’ve been keeping up with the flow of DoD directives, I’m sure that by now someone has mentioned 5210.56, Arming and the Use of Force.  People got pretty excited when it was issued, mostly because it “[p]rovides guidance for permitting the carrying of privately owned firearms on DoD property by DoD personnel for personal protection purposes that are not associated with the performance of official duties.”  Now, before we all go out and celebrate our new-found ability to carry (well, your new-found ability – it doesn’t really cover the Coast Guard), let’s talk about what is and is not found within the new directive.

First, the directive actually has multiple sections, it’s not solely about privately owned concealed carry.  It also authorizes commanders to arm members with government weapons (concealed or open) for protection related to official duties, both on and off base.  It establishes the criteria, who may authorize, and some general guidelines.

Second, while the directive authorizes commanders to authorize carry, it doesn’t actually provide the process or format.  It merely directs the services to develop the process – “In addition to the responsibilities assigned in DoDI 5200.08, the DoD Component heads will:

n. Establish rank, grade, or position requirements for personnel who will be designated as the official that may permit the concealed or open carry of privately owned firearms on DoD property for personal protection purposes that are not related to the performance of official duty or duty status. At a minimum, this official must be a commander in the grade of O-5 or civilian equivalent in charge of the DoD property.”

Third, it doesn’t answer several important questions.  For one, it refers to “DoD property.”  So the question arises: if I am authorized to carry on my base, does that authorization extend to other bases as well?  While this may not be a big deal for personnel stationed where only one installation exists, in my area there are no less than six different DoD installations, each with their own commanding officer.  If my commanding officer is only authorized to bless me on my base, how does that help me if I’m required to travel to another base to use a medical or other facility?  For another, it gets really vague about non-DoD government facilities, stating “[n]othing in this issuance will be construed as affecting the authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide for the protection of facilities (including the buildings, grounds, and properties of the General Services Administration) that are under the jurisdiction, custody, or control, in whole or in part, of a federal department or agency other than DoD and that are located off a military installation.”  The directive also does not apply to the National Guard while serving under Title 32 or State Active Duty.  Finally, the authorizing official must make a determination “that the request falls within an exception under Section 930(d) of Title 18, U.S.C.” That last section could either be the easiest part, or the hardest part, depending on your commander and his legal team:

18 USC 930(a) states: “Except as provided in subsection (d), whoever knowingly possesses or causes to be present a firearm or other dangerous weapon in a Federal facility (other than a Federal court facility), or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both.”

18 USC 930(d) states: “Subsection (a) shall not apply to—
(1) the lawful performance of official duties by an officer, agent, or employee of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof, who is authorized by law to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of any violation of law;
(2) the possession of a firearm or other dangerous weapon by a Federal official or a member of the Armed Forces if such possession is authorized by law; or
(3) the lawful carrying of firearms or other dangerous weapons in a Federal facility incident to hunting or other lawful purposes.”

While it seems fairly easy to me to justify concealed carry under (2) or (3), as mentioned, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV either.  I will say that this directive is in response to Section 526 of the NDAA for FY 2016, which states:

“SEC. 526. ESTABLISHMENT OF PROCESS BY WHICH MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES MAY CARRY AN APPROPRIATE FIREARM ON A MILITARY INSTALLATION. Not later than December 31, 2015, the Secretary of Defense, taking into consideration the views of senior leadership of military installations in the United States, shall establish and implement a process by which the commanders of military installations in the United States, or other military commanders designated by the Secretary of Defense for military reserve centers, Armed Services recruiting centers, and such other defense facilities as the Secretary may prescribe, may authorize a member of the Armed Forces who is assigned to duty at the installation, center or facility to carry an appropriate firearm on the installation, center, or facility if the commander determines that carrying such a firearm is necessary as a personal- or force-protection measure.”

Since the NDAA is a law (Public Law 114-92), 18 USC 930(d)(2) seems to be an excellent fit for justification of concealed carry, but then again, it’s not up to me.

521056_dodd_2016_page_19

521056_dodd_2016_page_20

521056_dodd_2016_page_21

Anyway, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade here, I just want people to understand that while this is an important step, it’s only a step.  The various component heads will now have to promulgate their own regulations, and then someone will have to be the test case.  A lot of departmental inertia will need to be overcome, and I wouldn’t expect to see any authorizations springing forth for at least six months.

To learn more about RE Factor Tactical holsters and shooting products click here.

velocityblack1

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.



Tarawa: How an Intelligence Failure Led to the Underwater Demolition Teams

DoD Photo
DoD Photo

In 1943, the Allies debated their strategy for taking back the Pacific from the Japanese.  Their strategic goal: the unconditional surrender of Japan.  General Douglas MacArthur slogged his way through the South Pacific, closing with and defeating the heavily entrenched Japanese defenders.  A victory in the South Pacific guaranteed the safey of Australia and the severing of Japan’s southern sea lines of communication, but defeating layered defenses in heavy jungle was slow work.

Was there another way?  Pacific Fleet’s planners thought so.  They proposed a Central Pacific campaign, with the goal of seizing the Marshal Islands.  Seizing the Marshals would assist Gen. MacArthur by cutting off the Japanese in New Guinea, the Solomons, and the Philippines from resupply.  Additionally, the Marshals provided a base from which to launch a campaign against the fortified islands that were needed for air bases in the final invasion of Japan.

But there lay the problem.  The invasion of the Marshals required far more troops than available, at least without disrupting MacArthur’s drive.  Not only was MacArthur’s drive critical to victory, it also had strong political support.  No delay would be tolerated.  But the planners had an answer: the Gilbert Islands.

Requiring significantly fewer troops, the Gilberts lay on the Marshals’ doorstep, and could be used for reconnaissance and basing for a later invasion.  Planners quickly turned their attention to the atolls of Tarawa and Makin, specifically the individual islands of Betio and Butaritari, respectively.  Aerial reconnaissance craft overflew every aspect of the islands, and the USS Nautilus took periscope level photos of the beaches.  Everyone knew that the two atolls’ islands  sat ringed with reefs, but no one seemed to know how deeply those reefs would be submerged on the day of the landing.

Marine casualties lay on the beach of Betio
Marine casualties lay on the beach of Betio. DoD photo.

The staff of Task Force 54, the assault force commander, stated in their orders that no more than one to two feet of clearance would be available at Betio due to a neap tide.  Divisional planners at the 2nd Marine Division interviewed sea captains and former residents of Betio.  With one exception, all stated that there would be enough clearance for the landing craft (LCVPs), which needed at least four feet to navigate safely, to pass.  Planning proceeded based on those interviews.

On November 20, 1943, after an intense naval and aerial bombardment, the Marine landing force began to approach Betio.  The first wave approached in amphibious tractors.  The tractors crawled across the reef, under heavy Japanese fire, and deposited their Marines.  Then the follow-on waves, loaded into LCVPs, began to hit the reef.  As the Task Force 54 staff had predicted, only one to two feet of water was available on the reef line.  The LCPVs grounded.  Marines scrambled from their boats and began to wade hundreds of yards to shore under heavy fire.  Some companies reported losing 35% of their forces before they ever made the beach.

Marines prepare to repatriate the bodies of 36 Marines killed on Tarawa.
In 2015, Marines of the 3rd Marine Regiment repatriated the bodies of 36 Marines killed on Tarawa. Marine Corps photo.

After three days of fighting, the Marines took the island.  Casualties were hastily buried, and a landing strip was built, leaving some Marines buried there, unknown.  Unknown Marines are still being brought home to this day.

Tarawa (and Makin, to a lesser extent) drove home the need for an intelligence gathering and route clearance capability that did not exist in the Navy write large.  The rest, as they say, is history.  According to the UDT/SEAL Museum:

 “[D]uring the Tarawa landing at the Gilbert Islands, a chain of 16 atolls and coral islands in the South Pacific Ocean, a submerged reef caused amphibious landing craft to founder far offshore, resulting in the loss of hundreds of U.S. Marines from enemy fire and drowning. After that experience, Admiral Kelley Turner, Commander of the 5th Amphibious Force, directed that 30 officers and 150 enlisted men be moved to Waimanalo ATB (on the “big island” of Hawaii) to form the nucleus of a reconnaissance and demolition training program. It is here that the UDTs of the Pacific were born.

The first UDT group became UDT-1 and UDT-2, “provisional” UDTs with strengths of about fourteen officers and seventy enlisted men each. They saw their first action on 31 January 1944 in the attacks on Kwajalein and Roy-Namur during Operation FLINTLOCK in the Marshall Islands. Following FLINTLOCK, the UDT men returned to establish a naval combat demolition training and experimental base on a beach near ATB, Kamaol on the island of Maui.

Between December 1944 and August 1945, UDT men saw action across the Pacific in every major amphibious landing, including Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Angaur, Ulithi, Pelilui, Leyte, Lingayen Gulf, Zambales, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Labuan, Brunei Bay, and Borneo. On 4 July 1945 at Balikpapan on Borneo, UDT-11 and UDT-18 spearheaded one of the last and least-recorded offensive actions of the war, where they performed their now classic pre-assault reconnaissance and demolition operations.”

udt_patch_navy_seal-600x600

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.



Estonia Prepares for War

Soldiers with the Estonian Defense Force practice assembling an M2 .50-caliber machine gun during a combined preliminary marksmanship class Aug. 27, at Tapa Army Base. The training was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve an ongoing series of training events and exercises designed to build relationships, trust and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)
Soldiers with the Estonian Defense Force practice assembling an M2 .50-caliber machine gun during a combined preliminary marksmanship class Aug. 27, at Tapa Army Base. The training was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve an ongoing series of training events and exercises designed to build relationships, trust and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)

It’s no secret that Eastern European countries worry about Russia’s intentions.  They have good reason to.  Between cyber and physical attacks, Russia’s activities in its former sphere of influence aren’t exactly an extension of the hand of friendship.  Add to that a little bit of uncertainty about the United States’ dedication level to its NATO allies, and you have some valid concerns building up.  These countries remember what it was like to be in Russia’s orbit, and they have no intention of ending up there again.

The New York Times ran an article in early November that profiled an aspect of Estonia’s response to this uncertainty – they are openly preparing for a guerilla war.  The Estonian Defense League, a sanctioned paramilitary organization, trains and drills civilian volunteers to prepare them for guerilla operations.  The Times profiled the “Jarva District Patrol Competition, a 24-hour test of the skills useful for partisans, or insurgents, to fight an occupying army, and an improbably popular form of what is called ‘military sport’ in Estonia.  The competitions, held nearly every weekend, are called war games, but are not intended as fun. The Estonian Defense League, which organizes the events, requires its 25,400 volunteers to turn out occasionally for weekend training sessions that have taken on a serious hue since Russia’s incursions in Ukraine two years ago raised fears of a similar thrust by Moscow into the Baltic States…

…Since the Ukraine war, Estonia has stepped up training for members of the Estonian Defense League, teaching them how to become insurgents, right down to the making of improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.s, the weapons that plagued the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another response to tensions with Russia is the expansion of a program encouraging Estonians to keep firearms in their homes.”

A member of the Estonian Women's Home Defense team applies first aid to an Estonian Defense League soldier role playing as a casualty during the second annual Admiral Pitka Recon Challenge Aug. 8 near Tapa, Estonia. Hosted by the Estonian Defense League, the challenge tested the strength, speed, endurance, intelligence and willpower of 26 teams from six countries to include eight Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Maryland National Guard through a series of obstacles and simulations along an 81-mile route through the Estonian countryside. The Women's Home Defense team placed 20th in the three-day event hosted by the Estonian Defense League.
A member of the Estonian Women’s Home Defense team applies first aid to an Estonian Defense League soldier role playing as a casualty during the second annual Admiral Pitka Recon Challenge Aug. 8 near Tapa, Estonia. Hosted by the Estonian Defense League, the challenge tested the strength, speed, endurance, intelligence and willpower of 26 teams from six countries to include eight Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Maryland National Guard through a series of obstacles and simulations along an 81-mile route through the Estonian countryside. The Women’s Home Defense team placed 20th in the three-day event hosted by the Estonian Defense League.

Essentially, the Estonians are acknowledging that their 6,000 member army isn’t going to be capable of stopping the Russians (or whoever else may be a threat), but they plan to make any invaders pay dearly and thereby make the idea of an invasion unpalatable.  Lest we consider this strategy to be foolhardy, keep in mind that it is essentially the Swiss defense strategy.  So let’s take a look at the two:

The Swiss

There are significant differences in how the Swiss would execute their strategy versus the Estonians.  As far as manpower is concerned, the Swiss have compulsory service in the armed forces for all males.  This produces an entire populace that is well-acquainted with conventional and mountain warfare.  The Swiss have built their entire defensive strategy around being able to mobilize the population for a conventional war.  They purchase equipment with enough parts to sustain it throughout its planned service life.  They have agreements with major manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and foodstuffs that allows the government to maintain stockpiles, then return the goods to the manufacturer for sale after a set time.  The government only pays for the goods if they use them, and the manufacturer still gets to sell the items and realize a profit.  In case of invasion, the populace would report to conventional military units such as infantry, armor, and air; would blast bridges, tunnels, and factories into uselessness; and then would fight a conventional battle of attrition until the invader loses the will to fight.

Swiss Army soldiers cross a checkpoint during the 49th Annual Marche Internationale de Diekirch, Diekirch, Luxembourg, May 22, 2016. This is an annual international marching event hosted by the Luxembourg Army and the city of Diekirch. Military participants must complete 80 kilometers during a two day period around the vicinity of Diekirch, Luxembourg. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Cathey/released)
Swiss Army soldiers cross a checkpoint during the 49th Annual Marche Internationale de Diekirch, Diekirch, Luxembourg, May 22, 2016. This is an annual international marching event hosted by the Luxembourg Army and the city of Diekirch. Military participants must complete 80 kilometers during a two day period around the vicinity of Diekirch, Luxembourg. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joseph Cathey/released)

An interesting development in the Swiss military system is the creation of private military associations that conduct voluntary training in between required military drills.  Members pay a small fee that helps fund the association, and use their issued arms and equipment for the drills.

The Estonians

The Estonian population also has compulsory military service for males, with an active force of around 6,000.  The objective of the Defense League is to train volunteers that are either not subject to compulsory service, or are past their service age, to conduct unconventional warfare and civil defense missions.  Essentially, they function almost like a State Guard in the United States, but with a war-fighting capability.  The current Estonian plan seems to assume that the invader will achieve conventional victory, but would then be forced to maintain an expensive occupation force that would sap its will to fight.  To that end, “[t]he number of firearms, mostly Swedish-made AK-4 automatic rifles, that Estonia has dispersed among its populace is classified. But the league said it had stepped up the pace of the program since the Ukraine crisis began. Under the program, members must hide the weapons and ammunition, perhaps in a safe built into a wall or buried in the backyard.”

Pvt. Kalmer Simohov, of Parnu, a volunteer with the Estonian Defense League, receives his U.S. Army Airborne wings following the joint airborne operations exercise July 23, at a drop zone in Nurmsi, Estonia. The event was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve an ongoing series of training exercises designed to build relationships, trust and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)
Pvt. Kalmer Simohov, of Parnu, a volunteer with the Estonian Defense League, receives his U.S. Army Airborne wings following the joint airborne operations exercise July 23, at a drop zone in Nurmsi, Estonia. The event was part of Operation Atlantic Resolve an ongoing series of training exercises designed to build relationships, trust and interoperability between the U.S. and its NATO allies. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)

Unlike Switzerland (which is neutral), Estonia is a NATO member, and would be eligible under Article 5 to call for collective self-defense.  What many people forget when they talk about Article 5’s collective defense, though, is that Article 3 specifically states that members “will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

We all hope that Estonia’s preparations won’t be necessary, and that the threat of NATO’s collective self-defense will maintain the border sanctity of the former Russian satellites.  But hope is not a plan, and as long as the sabers keep getting rattled, the Estonians will prepare to make an occupation untenable.

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.



Here’s What A Training Weekend Looks Like with the Virginia Defense Force

The VDF shoulder insignia. Photo credit JKC.
The VDF shoulder insignia. Photo credit JKC.

Some of you may remember a previous article I wrote on citizens, the police reserves, and state guards.  Well, I had a chance today to observe some training that the local unit of the Virginia Defense Force was conducting, as well as talk to the Commander of First Regiment, Major Richard Rheinsmith.

First, a little about the mission of the VDF from their website:

“The Virginia Defense Force (VDF) is an all-volunteer, formal military organization. Its mission is to assist the Virginia National Guard in performing state missions as specified by the Governor.

The VDF is the state’s only military force that is independent of federal control. With units located throughout the state, at the direction of the Department of Military Affairs, the VDF can move into a stricken area quickly, interact with and assist local authorities and restore community integrity as soon as possible. Working during blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters, the VDF volunteers are familiar faces working in nearby towns and cities bringing aid and comfort to their neighbors.”

And from the Code of Virginia:

“The Virginia Defense Force with a targeted membership of at least 1,200 shall be organized within and subject to the control of the Department of Military Affairs.

When called to state active duty, the mission of the Virginia Defense Force shall be to (i) provide for an adequately trained organized reserve militia to assume control of Virginia National Guard facilities and to secure any federal and state property left in place in the event of the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, (ii) assist in the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, (iii) support the Virginia National Guard in providing family assistance to military dependents within the Commonwealth in the event of the mobilization of the Virginia National Guard, and (iv) provide a military force to respond to the call of the Governor in those circumstances described in § 44-75.1.”

And a little about their history:

Virginia State Volunteers / Virginia Volunteers: 1917-1921

In response to the 1917 federalization of the Virginia National Guard, the Commonwealth of Virginia created the Virginia State Volunteers to support civil authorities. Soon renamed the Virginia Volunteers, the group guarded bridges, waterways, fuel storage areas, and public buildings and facilities during the war years, armed with surplus weapons dating back to 1876. With the return of the National Guard units after World War I, the last company of the Virginia Volunteers was deactivated in 1921. A total of 1,300 Virginians served in the Virginia Volunteers from 1917 to 1921.

Virginia Protective Force / Virginia State Guard: 1941-1947

Following the 1940 Nazi defeat of the French army, Virginia Governor Price created the Virginia Defense Council to plan for the possibility that the Virginia National Guard could be federalized once again. Based on the recommendation of the council, Governor Price ordered the establishment of the Virginia Protective Force on January 2, 1941. Provided surplus M-1917 Enfield rifles and blue-grey wool uniforms made in the state’s penitentiaries, the Virginia Protective Force assumed the in-state missions of the Virginia National Guard when it was called to federal service. In 1944 the General Assembly changed the name of the Virginia Protective Force to the Virginia State Guard. With the return of the Virginia National Guard from overseas service, the Commonwealth deactivated the Virginia State Guard in June 1947. A total of 16,885 Virginians served in the Virginia Protective Force and Virginia State Guard from 1941 to 1947.

Virginia State Guard / Virginia Defense Force: 1985-Present

The Total Force policies of the Department of Defense prompted changes to federal law in the mid-1980s, allowing states to establish military forces designated to assume the missions of their state National Guards in the event they were called to federal service. With planning dating back to 1981, the Commonwealth created the first units of the new Virginia State Guard in 1985 with same mission as its predecessors: support of civil authority. In 1989 the General Assembly renamed the Virginia State Guard the Virginia Defense Force. The Virginia Defense Force currently has more than 1000 men and women serving their communities throughout the Commonwealth.

The training I got to observe this weekend was crowd control and entry control points, conducted in conjunction with a

Practicing shield work. Photo credit JKC.
Practicing shield work. Photo credit JKC.

local National Guard unit.  I know the stereotype of State Guard members is typically less than favorable, but I was impressed with how seriously the volunteers were taking the training.  There were a wide variety of ages represented, from teens to retired adults.  There were also a variety of experiences, from untrained to retired military to civilian professionals and first responders.  All were engaged and willing.  The first training day encompassed classroom and practical, including expandable baton, takedowns, empty hand control, and a use of force brief from the Judge Advocate.  The second day covered ECP and vehicle searches, then riot control with the shield and baton.

While this particular drill weekend was focused on a security/law enforcement mission, it certainly isn’t the only mission the VDF undertakes.  During the weekend the 1st Regiment also supported a multi-state communications exercise using High Frequency Radios called TAC-PAK’s – a multi-user “Briefcase Command Center”.  These lightweight, battery-powered, man-portable communication platforms (with full wireless communications functionality) are integrated into small suitcases and attached to Incident Management Assistance Teams (IMAT’s).   This is what the VDF uses when they provide communications support for disasters and other emergent events along with their other assistance to planned events (such as manning aid booths and parking).

Conducting radio inventory. Photo credit JKC.
Conducting radio inventory. Photo credit JKC.

Elements of the VDF are training in wilderness search and rescue, and there is a new cyber unit that will be assisting with major planned events within the next year.

To tie this in to the previous article: the VDF is all-volunteer, and they only get paid when they are called to state active duty, so their drills and associated expenses (gas, gear, food, etc.) are all out of pocket.  They perform a service to the state by augmenting local and state agencies, as well as the National Guard during planned and emergent events, and they do it because they want to.  To me, this is a positive example of the kind of citizen engagement that our country really needs today.  As MAJ Rheinsmith said, “Our volunteer members bring to the table their individually developed skill set.  Through collaboration, cohesion and common goals we provide capabilities to the commonwealth in times of need.  Come join us; you won’t know if you like it until you try!”

Baton takedowns. Photo credit JKC.
Baton takedowns. Photo credit JKC.

If this article interests you, and you don’t mind some long hours for no pay, you can contact the VDF through their website or on their Facebook page.  Even if you have no military experience, I know they’d be happy to hear from you.  From what I’ve seen, it’s a group of guys and gals who are just looking to do their part for their state and are willing to put their time and money where their mouths are.  I just wish half the Internet’s keyboard warriors would do the same.

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.



Mao’s Phases of Revolution and the War for Independence: Part III

This is my second paper for the Naval War College in which I attempt to analyze the American War for Independence through the three phases of revolutionary warfare theorized by Mao Tse-Tung in his book On Guerrilla Warfare.  This is part two of two.  Part one can be found here.  Part two can be found here.  While I do not adhere to Mao’s political views in any way, shape, form, or fashion, his insight into guerrilla warfare is invaluable, as USMC Capt. Samuel B. Griffith II said in his forward to the translation: “it remained for Mao Tse-Tung to produce the first systematic study of the subject….  His study…will continue to have a decisive effect in societies ready for a change.”  Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard, the Naval War College, or the US Government.

Politics and Alliances

If pitched battles produced losses, and even Continental generals such as Horatio Gates and Charles Lee recommended irregular or guerilla warfare tactics (Fischer, 2004), why then did the Continental Army continue to pursue a strategy of attempting to take and hold large cities, such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston?

Simply put, politics (both internal and external) drove the decision.  The Continental Congress realized that losing large cities painted a picture of a failing rebellion.  Congress had begun alliance negotiations with France within a month of declaring independence.  France demonstrated a willingness at first, especially after the British evacuated Boston; however, when Washington lost New York, their eagerness cooled.  While the French provided surreptitious support in the form of arms and financing, a full and public alliance remained out of reach. (State Department, n.d.)

The Congress hoped this alliance would fill critical needs for the colonies.  At the time, no large-scale arms manufacturing existed in the colonies.  The Continental Navy made a name for itself with its daring, but remained outmatched by the power of the British fleet.  The French army also brought experience to the table that the Continental Army lacked.  France saw a vested interest in helping the colonies – they lost significant power as a result of their defeat by the British in the Seven Year’s War, and this rebellion offered a chance for retribution. (State Department, n.d.)  France, however, wished to avoid entangling itself in another costly war unless a benefit could be realized.  The American approach of small guerilla skirmishes and a war of attrition proved tactically sound, but failed to convince the French that the colonials could win the war.

Not until the Colonial victory at the Battle(s) of Saratoga did the French fully commit to a public alliance.  This alliance opened the door for French troops and ships to flow into the American colonies, as well as Britain’s Caribbean colonies.  (Allison, 2011)  While this influx did not result in a surge of decisive battles, it did force Britain to adapt its war strategy, distracting both their naval and land forces from the American colonies. (Pritchard, 1994)  Forces under the French General Rochambeau strengthened the weakened Colonial forces and played a critical role in the victory at Yorktown. (Allison, 2011)

Dressed in a period correct Continental uniform, Guilford Courthouse National Park ranger Jason Baum fires a rifle similar to those Continental soldiers would have employed against the British Army during the Revolutionary War. The demonstration was part of a staff ride conducted by the 108th Training Command (IET) at the Greensboro, N.C., park on Feb. 6. The staff rides are training events used by staff members of the unit to learn important lessons from the past in order to ensure success in future conflicts. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Javier Amador)
Dressed in a period correct Continental uniform, Guilford Courthouse National Park ranger Jason Baum fires a rifle similar to those Continental soldiers would have employed against the British Army during the Revolutionary War. The demonstration was part of a staff ride conducted by the 108th Training Command (IET) at the Greensboro, N.C., park on Feb. 6. The staff rides are training events used by staff members of the unit to learn important lessons from the past in order to ensure success in future conflicts. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Javier Amador)

An Unnecessary Rush

Clearly, Phase III presented opportunities for the colonies.  But was it really necessary to move into Phase III so early, especially with such an unprepared force?  The rivalry between Britain and France that the colonies relied on would certainly have remained alive.  The most influential trainer in the Continental Army hailed from Prussia, not from France, and he worked without pay.  Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben served as a staff officer under Frederick the Great, though he never saw combat in Europe.  He demonstrated a remarkable knack for training: “Washington gave him a hundred men to train; he was so impressed with the results after two weeks that he let him train another hundred….  The men were already veterans; Steuben’s training made them a disciplined and effective army.” (Allison, 2011)   As previously noted, the French military contributions were well-known and significant in replacing lost numbers, but their finances and arms contributions are easy to overlook.  As Griffith notes: “such factors as…the presence or absence of material help, technical aid, advisers, or ‘volunteers’ from outside sources…are naturally relevant to the ability of a movement to survive and expand.” (Griffith II, 1961)   The colonies received supplies, training assistance, and money, and they successfully engaged in unconventional warfare against the British forces – all Phase II activities.  Instead of attempting to seize or defend towns, the individual generals – under the direction of General Washington – should have been given free rein to harry the British in their areas.  While they harassed and wore down the various British units, General Washington would have focused on training up the solid core of the Continental Army.  The British suffered from an inability to properly re-supply and replenish their forces (O’Shaughnessy, 2013), a fact that a guerilla war of attrition funded by the French would have exacerbated.  As Sun Tzu said: “There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.” (Tzu, 1963) When the Continental Army was capable of standing on its own, General Washington would then be able to face off against a British army that was a shell of its former self.

The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and the Commander-in-Chief's Guard demonstrate Revolutionary War battle tactics and customs at Mount Vernon, Va., Feb. 17, 2014. The demonstration was part of festivities celebrating President's Day at the home of George Washington. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Diana Sims/Released)
The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard demonstrate Revolutionary War battle tactics and customs at Mount Vernon, Va., Feb. 17, 2014. The demonstration was part of festivities celebrating President’s Day at the home of George Washington. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Diana Sims/Released)

Conclusion

Arguably, the Continental Army did eventually flow back into Phase II, especially throughout the South.  This shift led to the over-extension of General Cornwallis, and eventually to his establishment of a base at Yorktown, Virginia.  There, the now-well-trained Continental Army, along with their French allies, delivered the fatal blow to the British army.  But prior to this well-executed combination of unconventional and conventional warfare, Washington and his generals obsessed with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.  This obsession cost the army dearly in lives, resources, and morale.

The pursuit of the French alliance was a key political aim, and military decisions were made in support of that aim.  As Clausewitz said: “The political object…will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires.” (Clausewitz, 1976)  It was only after much effort had been expended that a better strategy was devised.  Much of that effort could have been saved had the urgency of a formal alliance been re-evaluated and more emphasis placed on unconventional tactics coupled with a rigorous conventional training regime.  When the colonies declared independence, their chances of winning were limited.  A well-planned guerilla war would have thrown the British army off their guard, and shifted the chances toward the upstart colonies and their revolutionary way of thinking.

Works Cited

Allison, R. J. (2011). The American Revolution: A Concise History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Clausewitz, C. v. (1976). On War. (M. Howard, P. Paret, Eds., M. Howard, & P. Paret, Trans.) Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Ferling, J. (2010, January). Myths of the American Revolution. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from Smithsonian.com: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/myths-of-the-american-revolution-10941835/?no-ist

Fischer, D. H. (2004). Washington’s Crossing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Griffith II, S. B. (1961). Strategy, Tactics, and Logistics in Revolutionary War. In M. Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare (S. B. Griffith II, Trans., pp. 20-26). Champaign, IL: University of Chicago Press.

O’Shaughnessy, A. J. (2013). The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the British Empire. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Pritchard, J. (1994, Autumn). French Strategy and the American Revolution: A Reappraisal. Naval War College Review, 83-108.

State Department. (n.d.). French Alliance, French Assistance, and European Diplomacy during the American Revolution, 1778–1782. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from Department of State, Office of the Historian: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/french-alliance

Tse-Tung, M. (1961). On Guerilla Warfare. (S. B. Griffith II, Trans.) Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Tzu, S. (1963). The Art of War. (S. B. Griffith II, Trans.) New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.



Mao’s Phases of Revolution and the War for Independence: Part II

This is my second paper for the Naval War College in which I attempt to analyze the American War for Independence through the three phases of revolutionary warfare theorized by Mao Tse-Tung in his book On Guerrilla Warfare.  This is part two of two.  Part one can be found here.  While I do not adhere to Mao’s political views in any way, shape, form, or fashion, his insight into guerrilla warfare is invaluable, as USMC Capt. Samuel B. Griffith II said in his forward to the translation: “it remained for Mao Tse-Tung to produce the first systematic study of the subject….  His study…will continue to have a decisive effect in societies ready for a change.”  Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard, the Naval War College, or the US Government.

The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and the Commander-in-Chief's Guard demonstrate Revolutionary War battle tactics and customs at Mount Vernon, Va., Feb. 17, 2014. The demonstration was part of festivities celebrating President's Day at the home of George Washington. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Diana Sims/Released)
The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry, the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard demonstrate Revolutionary War battle tactics and customs at Mount Vernon, Va., Feb. 17, 2014. The demonstration was part of festivities celebrating President’s Day at the home of George Washington. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Diana Sims/Released)

The British Regulars and their German Allies 

In stark contrast to their colonial opponents, the British fielded one of the largest and most professional armies in the world at the time.  In 1776, “this was a modern, professional army with much experience of war.  Its fifteen generals were on the average forty-eight years old in 1776, with thirty years of military experience.  By comparison, the twenty-one American generals who opposed them in New York were forty-three years old, with two years of military service.  In British infantry regiments, even privates had an average of nine years’ service in 1776…From 1755 to 1764, the British army fought on five continents and defeated every power that stood against it.” (Fischer, 2004)  Twenty-three thousand of these highly experienced troops landed in New York in July and August of 1776.

In addition to the twenty-three thousand British Regulars, ten thousand professional German troops, commonly called Hessians (though not all were actually from Hesse-Cassel), landed in New York.  More soon followed.  These soldiers hailed from a long tradition of professional soldiering.  In fact, their officers “were highly educated in their profession….They were expert at military cartography, tactics, and logistics, more so than British or American officers.” (Fischer, 2004)  The enlisted troops fell subject to harsh discipline, but that discipline inculcated in them a legendary fearlessness and adherence to orders.

Members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment – Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall at Fort Myer, Va., stand in a defensive formation during the Revolutionary War as part of the annual Yorktown Day celebration, in Yorktown, Va., Oct. 19, 2014. The regiment’s fife and drum corps also preformed during the events. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle/ Released)
Members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment – Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall at Fort Myer, Va., stand in a defensive formation during the Revolutionary War as part of the annual Yorktown Day celebration, in Yorktown, Va., Oct. 19, 2014. The regiment’s fife and drum corps also preformed during the events. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle/ Released)

The Argument for Guerilla Warfare

Clearly, as the War of Independence began, the British and Colonial forces were seriously mismatched.  The Colonial militia demonstrated a proficiency in unconventional warfare, and successfully conducted multiple Phase II-style engagements.  Examples include the ambushes employed during the British retreat from Lexington and Concord and the seizure of Fort Ticonderoga by the Green Mountain Boys. (Allison, 2011)  General Nathanael Greene also distinguished himself through his unconventional tactics in the South later in the war.  In late 1780 and early 1781, Greene employed hit and run tactics, losing many battles, but constantly drawing the British away from their sources of supply.  He summarized this method of attrition warfare in a letter: “we fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.” (Allison, 2011)  In this manner, he embodied what Mao later wrote: “When guerrillas engage a stronger enemy, they withdraw when he advances; harass him when he stops; strike him when he is weary; pursue him when he withdraws.” (Tse-Tung, 1961)  Throughout the colonies, this pattern repeated itself: Colonial forces regularly beat back the British in small irregular/guerilla engagements, and in some cases, legends were born.  Guerilla leaders such as Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, and Charles Pickens kept the British on the defensive in South Carolina, and possessed a more distinguished battle record than the Continental Army at that time. (Allison, 2011)  Conventional battles, however, continued to produce losses; at one point in 1776, between battlefield losses, desertions, and enlistment expirations, the Continental Army had fallen to less than 3,000 men.

Works Cited

Allison, R. J. (2011). The American Revolution: A Concise History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Clausewitz, C. v. (1976). On War. (M. Howard, P. Paret, Eds., M. Howard, & P. Paret, Trans.) Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Ferling, J. (2010, January). Myths of the American Revolution. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from Smithsonian.com: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/myths-of-the-american-revolution-10941835/?no-ist

Fischer, D. H. (2004). Washington’s Crossing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Griffith II, S. B. (1961). Strategy, Tactics, and Logistics in Revolutionary War. In M. Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare (S. B. Griffith II, Trans., pp. 20-26). Champaign, IL: University of Chicago Press.

O’Shaughnessy, A. J. (2013). The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the British Empire. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Pritchard, J. (1994, Autumn). French Strategy and the American Revolution: A Reappraisal. Naval War College Review, 83-108.

State Department. (n.d.). French Alliance, French Assistance, and European Diplomacy during the American Revolution, 1778–1782. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from Department of State, Office of the Historian: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/french-alliance

Tse-Tung, M. (1961). On Guerilla Warfare. (S. B. Griffith II, Trans.) Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Tzu, S. (1963). The Art of War. (S. B. Griffith II, Trans.) New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.

Mao’s Phases of Revolution and the War for Independence: Part I

This is my second paper for the Naval War College in which I attempt to analyze the American War for Independence through the three phases of revolutionary warfare theorized by Mao Tse-Tung in his book On Guerrilla Warfare.  While I do not adhere to Mao’s political views in any way, shape, form, or fashion, his insight into guerrilla warfare is invaluable, as USMC Capt. Samuel B. Griffith II said in his forward to the translation: “it remained for Mao Tse-Tung to produce the first systematic study of the subject….  His study…will continue to have a decisive effect in societies ready for a change.”  Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard, the Naval War College, or the US Government.

Cristopher Ruff, the Curator of the Army Reserve Museum shown wearing a period correct Continental Soldier's uniform, explains what took place during one of the closing moments of the Battle of Guilford County Courthouse to leaders and Soldiers of the 108th Training Command (IET) during their staff ride on Feb 6 at its site in Greensboro, N.C., which is now a National Park. The staff rides are training events used by staff members of the unit to learn important lessons from the past in order to ensure success in future conflicts. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Javier Amador)
Cristopher Ruff, the Curator of the Army Reserve Museum shown wearing a period correct Continental Soldier’s uniform, explains what took place during one of the closing moments of the Battle of Guilford County Courthouse to leaders and Soldiers of the 108th Training Command (IET) during their staff ride on Feb 6 at its site in Greensboro, N.C., which is now a National Park. The staff rides are training events used by staff members of the unit to learn important lessons from the past in order to ensure success in future conflicts. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Javier Amador)

Introduction

Beginning in 1764, protest spread across thirteen British colonies in America.  These colonies, seemingly the beneficiaries of British protection and largesse, despised the taxes that Parliament levied on them.  Specifically, they questioned the legality of a legislative body – in which they had no say – imposing those taxes.  Protests grew into riots, riots grew into rebellion, and rebellion grew into a Declaration of Independence.

The likelihood that the American colonies could win their struggle against Great Britain was limited in 1776.  A primary factor contributing to this limited likelihood was a lack of a cohesive military organization.  At the outset the colonies relied entirely upon the militia system, and on Mao’s continuum, the colonies were better prepared for a guerilla war than the conventional war they fought.  However, the colonies understood their need for recognition as an independent nation, and sought recognition and an alliance with the French.  To demonstrate to the French that an alliance would be beneficial to them, the colonies needed to be able to show conventional military victories.

Even with this valid need, the colonies should not have rushed into conventional warfare.  The French were longtime enemies of the British, and their support would more than likely have still been available later.  This long-standing enmity could have allowed the colonies to spend more time in the guerilla stage before proceeding to conventional war.

For the purposes of this paper, the terms guerilla or unconventional war will refer to warfare conducted outside the standard of seizing and holding territory or attempting to do so.  The term conventional war will refer to siege warfare or other warfare intended to seize or hold territory.

Mao, Revolution, and the Colonies

Many years after the American Revolution, a Chinese Communist named Mao Tse-Tung theorized on the idea of revolutionary warfare.  According to Samuel Griffith in his introduction to Mao’s On Guerilla Warfare, Mao organized revolutions into three fluid phases.   Phase I is the organizing phase, where “volunteers are trained and indoctrinated, and from here, agitators and propagandists set forth, individually or in groups of two or three, to ‘persuade’ and ‘convince’ the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside and to enlist their support.” (Griffith II, 1961)  Phase II, the “progressive expansion” phase, sees “Acts of sabotage and terrorism multiply; collaborationists and ‘reactionary elements’ are liquidated…The primary purpose of these operations is to procure arms, ammunition, and other essential material….” (Griffith II, 1961)  Finally comes Phase III: “It is during this period that a significant percentage of the active guerilla force completes its transformation into an orthodox establishment capable of engaging the enemy in conventional battle.” (Griffith II, 1961)

In the case of the American Revolution, Phases I & II occurred intermittently from approximately 1764 to 1775. During this period, various Parliamentary acts, such as the Stamp Act, Declaratory Act, and Coercive Acts inflamed colonial sentiment, and violence flared.  Colonists and British authority clashed in places such as the “Boston Massacre,” the “Boston Tea Party,” Lexington, Concord, and Fort Ticonderoga.  July 3, 1775 marked the beginning of Phase III, when General George Washington road to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to assume command of the newly formed Continental Army. (Allison, 2011)

The colonists spent significant amounts of time organizing themselves politically.  Starting with Boston’s Committee of Correspondence in 1772, the colonies gradually formed a network to keep each other informed of events.  By 1774, every colony participated, and British actions in one colony rapidly traveled through the network to unaffected colonies.  These committees served to keep the flame of indignation alive and well from Rhode Island to Georgia. (Allison, 2011)  Other citizens’ groups, such as the famous Sons of Liberty in Boston, stirred civil unrest and attacked tax collectors and other symbols of authority, but typically did not engage in battles with British troops.  The Continental Congress met and adjourned multiple times between 1774 and 1776. (Allison, 2011)

Members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment – Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall at Fort Myer, Va., demonstrate battle techniques used during the Revolutionary War in Yorktown, Va., as part of the annual Yorktown Day celebration, Oct. 19, 2014. The celebration included a parade and other festivities including wreath laying ceremonies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle/ Released)
Members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment – Commander-in-Chief’s Guard, from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall at Fort Myer, Va., demonstrate battle techniques used during the Revolutionary War in Yorktown, Va., as part of the annual Yorktown Day celebration, Oct. 19, 2014. The celebration included a parade and other festivities including wreath laying ceremonies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle/ Released)

The Continental Army at its Inception

The colonies also organized militarily, relying on the traditional militia system.  Each state raised at least one militia, some raised many.  These militias tended to represent a town or region.  Their officers were typically elected, and had various backgrounds ranging from sea captains to wealthy merchants to farmers. (Fischer, 2004)  Militias were not professional military organizations for the most part; they formed to address a specific threat, then disbanded once the threat had passed.  Despite the recent conflicts in the colonies, the majority of colonial militia leaders (including George Washington, who served as the Colonel of the Virginia militia) possessed little to no experience in the large-scale employment of professional soldiers. (Ferling, 2010)  No one would question their determination and valor (except perhaps the British), but they simply did not possess the experience of their British counterparts.  Many viewed militia as unreliable and undisciplined, including General Washington. (Fischer, 2004)  The prevailing opinions on both sides gave the colonists little chance in a pitched battle against British regulars.  A British parliamentarian is reported to have said that the colonists “were neither soldiers, nor could be made so; being naturally of a pusillanimous disposition, and utterly incapable of any sort of order or discipline.” (O’Shaughnessy, 2013)

Despite the fact that Congress named Washington the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in 1775, it retained much control until December 27, 1776.  At the urging of General Nathanael Greene, who implored that “Time will not admit nor Circumstance allow of a reference to Congress.  The Fate of War is so uncertain, dependant on so many Contingencies…that it would be folly to wait for Relief from the deliberative Councils of Legislative Bodies,” Congress granted Washington full powers of management of the war effort for six months. (Fischer, 2004)  The reliance on the militia system, the micromanagement of the army, and the relative inexperience of the army’s commanders combine to portray a steep learning curve for the Continental Army.

Works Cited

Allison, R. J. (2011). The American Revolution: A Concise History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Clausewitz, C. v. (1976). On War. (M. Howard, P. Paret, Eds., M. Howard, & P. Paret, Trans.) Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Ferling, J. (2010, January). Myths of the American Revolution. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from Smithsonian.com: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/myths-of-the-american-revolution-10941835/?no-ist

Fischer, D. H. (2004). Washington’s Crossing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Griffith II, S. B. (1961). Strategy, Tactics, and Logistics in Revolutionary War. In M. Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare (S. B. Griffith II, Trans., pp. 20-26). Champaign, IL: University of Chicago Press.

O’Shaughnessy, A. J. (2013). The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the British Empire. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Pritchard, J. (1994, Autumn). French Strategy and the American Revolution: A Reappraisal. Naval War College Review, 83-108.

State Department. (n.d.). French Alliance, French Assistance, and European Diplomacy during the American Revolution, 1778–1782. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from Department of State, Office of the Historian: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/french-alliance

Tse-Tung, M. (1961). On Guerilla Warfare. (S. B. Griffith II, Trans.) Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Tzu, S. (1963). The Art of War. (S. B. Griffith II, Trans.) New York, New York: Oxford University Press.



About the author

Joel is a 12 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team. He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer. He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US. He is the owner of Hybrid Defensive Strategies, LLC in Chesapeake, VA, and can be contacted on Facebook and Instagram. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Coast Guard or the US Government.