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home : w.s. wilson special projects : the sentinel in iraq
December 10, 2019

Brown: Technology has changed U.S. military
Editor, The Sentinel

Editors note - This is the final installment of an interview conducted in one of Saddam Husseinís former palaces while Sentinel Editor W.S. Wilson was embedded with the Indiana National Guardís 113th Engineer Battalion in Mosul., Iraq. In it infantry Col. Robert Brown discusses leadership, technology and todayís media.

SENTINEL: This whole ďBand of BrothersĒ thing has been kind of new to me. I donít know what you call that.

BROWN: Cohesion.

SENTINEL: Is that something you just take advantage of or is that something built into the training?

BROWN: Oh, my gosh. See that creed up there (on his office wall)? Pride, camaraderie, discipline, empowerment. The leaders developed that three years ago, all the leaders in the brigade, and soldiers have lived by that. You know, pride, camaraderie. Together we fight, dominate, win. Discipline, empowerment. Team is the biggest thing weíve stressed.

Every six months we do a team building exercise for every E7 and above in the brigade. That is over 400 people. We went down to Oregon and studied Lewis and Clark and where they spent the winter and discussed everything from how they dealt with the Native Americans to how they developed boats.

So we have been training agile and adaptive leaders and teamwork for two years prior to coming here, and that has been our number one goal to perform as a team. That camaraderie, you know, that you build in peace time, you can only build it so high in peace time and so strong. Once you are shedding sweat, blood and tears with each other, it goes to another level, and all of these guys will be brothers for life. The 113th Brigade will be close for life because we are brothers now from what weíve gone through, both good and bad, from election victory to the victory of capturing 50 high value targets Ė the excitement of defeating the enemy at his own game to the thrill of elections, and of course the tragedy of the losses and the wounded just bond you together. I think itís great you got to see that.

I remember the movie ďWe Were Soldiers OnceĒ with Mel Gibson. It is probably the greatest war movie to capture what it is like being in the military and being a leader and being a soldier in combat that Iíve ever seen. But it was funny to me, because Hollywood said it was corny and unrealistic. Thatís what the critics all said. It made me so mad, because they have never been in a military unit. Iím telling you it was exactly like being in a military unit. The wives getting together and going and sharing the grief. My wife is doing that at home. Every memorial for a casualty she goes. They are together. The soldiers are together, putting their life on the line for each other.

SENTINEL:Your wife goes to every casualty?

BROWN: She goes to every single memorial service and every notification.

SENTINEL: She must be tough.

BROWN: She is. You know, Iím not saying it doesnít get to her and all the wives, but she goes to every one and meets with them when they have a spouse. But she is at the ones, even when they are not married, she is at the memorials, but she goes to the notification. It is very tough.

SENTINEL: What are the biggest changes in the military career?

BROWN: Wow, number one is digitization, the ability, you know, things that were done at a division level before are done at a brigade level. So that is a huge change, the power down, if you will, the empowerment of junior leaders. You know, if you look in World War II, could a soldier have done something that would have been on CNN at night or made world news. Probably not. Today every soldier could do something and he could be on CNN that night. It is a huge difference.

Second is agile and adaptive leaders and we have changed how we train. We changed how we develop leaders. Learning by repetition, that weíve had since the Civil War is still good, but now that is no longer good enough to win the battles of the future. Now we have to have agility and confidence, out think the enemy. The checklists are still good and you still need repetition for things like rifle markship, but you also have to take every soldier out of their comfort zone, whether it is a brand new private or a senior NCO or a senior officer. You have to take them out of their comfort zone before they ever get to the battle, because they will be taken out of their comfort zone here by the enemy. You donít want them to experience it for the first time in combat.

I think the other, the final, biggest change is the media. It used to be fairly easy. In World War II they would control what was shown to the American public. You didnít see the horrors of war. You didnít have it brought to your living room. I also see a change that, to me, almost seems like a lot of the media now. I was very frustrated when I went home on leave for two weeks, because what the people are seeing back there is nothing like what is really happening on the ground. You have to admit that when you go back. You only see the car bomb. You only see the negative. No matter how many times we bring up the positive, it is like they just donít want to show it, because it is too good. I mean, there is some bad things that happen. I say come in and show the good, the bad, the ugly, everything, but they only try to show the bad. It is almost like they are working for the terrorists.

SENTINEL: You canít put the Rochester Sentinel in that category.

BROWN: No, no, definitely not, but you know, for example, a paper that Iím not going to name did a story on the Stryker (a high-tech assault vehicle that has been especially effective in and around Mosul). They had a reporter here with us, embedded with us Ė full access to anybody. They didnít even ask him about the Stryker. He could have gone and asked any soldier with no chain of command around and said what do you think of the Stryker, what do you think of this, what do you think of that? They didnít even bother asking anybody.

They just twisted a report that came out that was trying to improve the Stryker, you know, lessons learned to make it better, not that it was bad, to make it better, like we do with every vehicle Ė the tank, the Bradley, helicopters, everything. So, they just took that and twisted it, never even asked the guy on the ground here. He was upset. He came in to see me and he goes, ĎPlease donít make me ride in a Humvee, let me continue to ride in a Stryker,í because he thinks so much of it, just like every one of our soldiers. It is not perfect, but it is better than anything else.

So that just kind of shows it is like they are looking just to sensationalize and sell papers and get on the news headline and they donít want to show the whole picture. To their credit, there are those out there who are trying to show an accurate picture, and thank God they are out there, because it is frustrating to the guys out here working so hard and doing so much great work. It is so important to the future of the world and nobody gets a true picture. I would say it is kind of a shame. I donít think that is ever going to change back.

I think embedding reporters is the best thing you can do, because then they see, you know, they see the good, the bad and the ugly, but they also realize why some things are done and brings a better perspective to them: How could that happen? Oh, I see, because I was out there and I know it gets confusing sometimes.

We appreciate, I think itís great that youíve come out and I know the 113th appreciates it and we really thank you for coming out and helping them and getting some press for the folks back home, because they are going great. They are a fantastic unit, great soldiers, and we are really proud to have them as part of the brigade.

Editorís note: W.S. Wilson was embedded with the Indiana National Guardís 113th Combat Engineering Battalion, based out of Valparaiso and now deployed near Mosul, Iraq. Most of the 113thís soldiers are from northern Indiana.

To contact Wilson:

Published June 27, 2005

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