Followup on Patrolling Without Rounds Chambered in Weapons

BY Herschel Smith
6 years ago

The practice of blogging makes one fairly insensitive to strange things being said about you.  But occasionally, things made up by other writers approach the threshold of bizarre and at least mildly humorous.  Recall that Michael Yon reported that he had received a letter alleging that U.S. troops were being ordered to patrol without rounds chambered in their weapons.  I followed up Michael’s report by saying:

I talked to a certain Marine who said something like the following concerning his time in Fallujah in 2007.

“First of all, we employed aggressive ROE, which is why we dominated Fallujah so completely and quickly from the deadly chaos that it was under a different unit early in 2007.  This aggressive ROE saved lives – ours and theirs.  But as to the issue of weapon status, here it is.  When we went on patrol, we had:

  1. Bolt forward
  2. Round in chamber
  3. Magazine inserted
  4. Weapon on safe

Obviously, since the SAW is an open-bolt weapon, the exact same rules could not apply (bolt forward), but a round was always chambered.  He further said that “Marines got hazed if they were found without a round in the chamber,” and that this stupid rule would get troops killed.

After publishing this article I sent the link to Lt. Col. Tad Sholtis, saying that if the report was true, the ISAF had really big problems.  Sholtis responded that he didn’t think so, and later e-mail me the denial that there was a blanket order like that to all U.S. forces or ISAF forces.  I have no reason to doubt his account, though it should be noted that he didn’t deny that there were specific units that engaged in this practice.  He couldn’t possibly know what every unit had ordered.  I amended the article to publish Shotis’ response in the interest of complete openness.

Enter someone named Cassandra who blogs at Villainous Company.  Behold the hysteria.

I found this post fascinating when it came out. Note the total lack of specificity: no rank, unit, or location. Absolutely no attempt to provide context or to verify the “information” provided. Interestingly, a blogger who defended Yon back in April decided that if this unsourced rumor (and absent a single shred of corroborating evidence, that’s essentially all it was) had any meaning then perhaps he ought to do a little fact checking. He received this response …

And then she proceeded to reproduce the note that Sholtis sent me.  It’s strange how someone can get something so totally wrong.  The only answer I have is that a writer takes certain presuppositions to a subject and that tends to cloud all of the facts.

I didn’t “decid(e) that if this unsourced rumor had any meaning then perhaps (I) ought to do a little fact checking.”  Michael cannot divulge sources any more than I can in circumstances like this.  If the note had been sent to me, I would have published it too after a bit of investigation, and I would have done so without divulging sensitive information like rank, unit or name, all of which could have been used against that individual.

Furthermore, my note to Tadd Sholtis was sent after I published my article, not before (as if I was waiting on Sholtis’ e-mail as my ‘fact-checking’).  Finally, the e-mail proves very little except that it isn’t a force-wide order, something I could have already surmised without Sholtis’ e-mail.  Cassandra also seems to equate support for individuals with support for the campaign.  For instance, after General McChrystal called Marjah a bleeding ulcer, she published the standard lines from the PAOs, namely that the quote had been taken out of context.

For those who read my analysis of this incident, we know that whether there was a larger context of mixed successes in Helmand is not relevant.  The PAOs objected to the title of the article, not the fact that the quote was never made.  In fact, the quote was indeed made, and it raises all of the legitimate questions thereto, e.g., Do they not understand the time frames for classical counterinsurgency?, Did they never communicate the long nature of classical counterinsurgency to the administration?, and so forth.  I have smart readers rather than apparatchiks, and jonesgp1996 gave us this important link: Secrets from inside the Obama War Room based on the questions I raised.

So you can make up your own mind on this.  I (and my commenters) gave you critical links and hard questions on Marjah, while still others ignored the report.  Returning to the issue of patrolling with no rounds in the chamber, there is this report from Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes:

The Rumor Doctor heard from a soldier in a military police company in eastern Afghanistan who said his unit was under orders not to have a round in the chamber when going outside the wire.

The unit the company had replaced was under a similar order, which company noncommissioned officers said came from higher, the soldier said.

Rumor Doctor tried to e-mail the company commander in question but was referred to first to Task Force Bastogne, under which the company falls, and then Combined Joint Task Force 101.

“While it is not our policy to comment on the specifics of those force protection measures, I can tell you that individual unit commanders have the flexibility and latitude to increase or decrease their force protection posture as needed and as appropriate for the situation,” Master Sergeant Brian Sipp, of CJTF-101 public affairs said in an e-mail.

So Rumor Doctor gave ISAF public affairs the name of the unit in question. Shortly afterward, the soldier on the ground informed the Rumor Doctor that soldiers in his company were suddenly authorized to chamber a round outside the wire.

So, among the things learned from this incident: (1) Michael was proven right, (2) the hysterical rant about my commentary – with things being made up about my article as if this person thought she was inside my mind –  is still as weird and creepy as it was when it was written, and (3) perhaps most important, Sholtis believes that there isn’t a big problem, and I still demur.  Sure, Tadd didn’t know that an entire company had been issued this order when he wrote back to me.  However, if there is only one Soldier who is being ordered to patrol without a round chambered, that is a big problem.  That Soldier has loved ones too.

You are currently reading "Followup on Patrolling Without Rounds Chambered in Weapons", entry #5089 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Rules of Engagement and was published June 8th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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