Bite off more then you can chew. Then chew it.
- Ella Williams
Before this deployment our unit focused its training on Air Assault tactics, and we practiced those maneuvers with the type of devotion you would expect from a team trying to win the Superbowl. There is nothing magical about air assault missions, if you skip over the helicopter insertions they don’t really differ from any other dismounted infantry maneuvers. During our train up for the mission we started to become familiar with patrolling, fighting, and maneuvering in the heavily armed and armored HMMWVs that comprise the backbone of our ground maneuver forces. Our soldiers have long since becoming experts at motorized tactical patrols, but despite all the formidable power at their fingertips most of our soldiers still prefer the hyperreality of a foot patrol.
To truly understand why we prefer walking the terrain you would have to integrate yourself into the tightly knit family we call a unit, but I’ll do my best to explain it regardless. If you boiled down the infantry into its raw essence, stripping away the proud swagger, the bravado, and the fierce camaraderie, you would be left with a diamond hard knot of sheer willpower. Infantry soldiers don’t try to avoid misery, they embrace it. And in doing so they learn lessons no book could ever teach, about themselves and their environment. The single most important lesson is the one that many in the outside world tend to forget… the easy way is not always the right way.
Slogging through faulted earth and dense underbrush isn’t pleasurable, but it provides the kind of insight no technology on earth could hope to match. When you are dismounted there is no thrumming engine to deaden your ears, and your eyes wander freely instead of conforming to the constraints imposed by armor plate. What you lose in terms of protection you gain back in raw sensing ability.
Driving in our armored vehicles you can sense the change in season; the blistering heat has given way to air laced with chill threads of winter. The cold, biting air is easily overpowered by the glowering heat that leaks past the firewall, and the net result isn’t too far removed from our summer patrols. But on the ground there is no mistaking the changing tides of sun and sky. In summer we patrolled though earth as faulted and ruptured as a volcanic plain. In some regions the dusty ground seemed an amalgam of the raw elements, the ground seemed to have a greater affinity for the roiling air then the staid earth we trampled underfoot. We drudged through the remnants of ancient floodplains, and marveled as our boots kicked up screens of atomized dust. In those fire bright days the plowed earth was a hardened sea of jagged peaks and valleys, as if we were walking through a flash frozen ocean.
Autumn changed all that. With the distant sun in retreat the earth started to slowly recover, and the fields have been reborn. Many of the desolate fields continue to vacillate between the elements, only now they ally with water instead of air. The result is a porridge thick medium that weighs down your every step, and latches to your uniform like so many misshapen leeches. The plowed fields have lost their concrete constitution, now the broken earth swims with scattered emeralds that herald the rebirth of life and vitality. You can see these changes as you barrel down the roads, but you can’t sense them in the same way as when you are moving through the area on foot.
What holds true for the inanimate earth holds especially true for the complex cultural fabric of the populated regions. Although the days have grown shorter there is far more activity now that the air isn’t swollen with wretched heat. On foot you catch all the nuances that are so easily missed when you look out an armored window. You can see the smiling faces of children and see their sharp eyes gauge whether or not your pockets are full of candy. You can read the subtle shifts in posture and carriage, and use those to sense the truth behind the smiling mask some cowardly predators hide behind.
There is no perfect tactic, and approaching every situation with the same methodology is a recipe for disaster. But its always good to add tools to the tool kit… especially when you have soldiers as capable as those in Killer Company.