11 March 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 12 March 2010

FOCPIG! (pronounced: Fock Pig)

Sound profane? Maybe sexy?

I remember the man who introduced FOCPIG to me about 30 years ago. None other than Captain Joe Peagler, USMC, the combat engineer instructor at The Basic School (TBS)--that envied institution of excellence in Quantico, Virginia, like no other military training in the world--where new Marine lieutenants are taught the fundamentals of leading Marines in the art and craft of warfighting.

As a teaching and training technique--in the classroom and field--to ensure it was forever seared into memory, Captain Peagler made FOCPIG seem profane; maybe even sexy. His approach worked. For FOCPIG along with other "words" like ALICE, BAMCIS, BRASS, DRAW-D, FARP, FEBA, LOD, MAGTF, MOPP, MOUT, OMPF, OMFTS, REMF, SALUTE, SMEAC and dozens and dozens of others are buried in a lexicon I seldom use these days. Yet, they surface with clarity when tickled by the right stimulus.

FOCPIG is not profane. If a combat engineer, it probably is sexy. But what it is is the acronym for the principles of wire entanglement placement. Fire, Observed, Concealed, Protected, Integrated, and Non-Geometric are the considerations for creating an "obstacle course" to channel an attacking enemy into fields of fire. In other words, how to lay a trap; a deadly one.

For some odd reason the term and tactic struck as germane to the "don't ask, don't tell" battle--and the entanglements being engineered by opposing forces. Captain Joe Peagler, who retired as a lieutenant colonel after 23 years of dedicated service, would likely agree. Or so I believe.

As a bit of human interest, a couple of other things I remember about Captain Peagler from TBS days; he always had a hand grenade safety pin in his pocket--in uniform or civvies, and accompanying that pin he had one of the most unique "ice-breaker" lines of all times for meeting women. While showing the pin and with an air of casual confidence he'd say, "Hi, I'm Joe, I do demo"--referring to his expertise in demolitions and combat engineering. According to Captain Peagler, it worked every time. Seeing he was rarely without the company of the fairer gender, the lieutenants had no reason to believe otherwise. Oh, his standing rule--if ever caught without his trusty pin, the beer was on him. But if you challenged and he was with pin, the round was yours. Captain Peagler ever spied buying a round? Not hardly.

Captain Peagler, FOCPIG, hand grenade safety pins, combat engineering, and entanglements is good lead-in for today--Part 3 of "don't ask, don't tell."

The president's effort to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" continues. Emotional? Controversial? Polarizing? You bet--all of the above and more; a big entanglement. Even amongst the nation's top civilian and military leadership; where words of disagreement are more calculated, controlled, and polished--you might say "gentlemanly"--than within the rank and file. At least most of the time. After all, our last vice-president--during a heated exchange (though not on this particular subject) with a Senator--did tell the Senator to go, well, amuse himself in a manner most folks consider physically impossible. Considering the matter at hand, it's unlikely a similar suggestion will be uttered to anyone during testimony and discussions. But, you never know. For one, the current vice-president is notorious for saying just about anything.

Anyway, not long after the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, said recently before Congress they supported repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the service chiefs had their initial chance to somewhat formally opine on the matter. They didn't exactly give their ringing support for the secretary's nor the admiral's positions. In fact, none of them were too excited about the idea of repeal amidst two wars.

During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway, said he supported a Pentagon study on the matter. And, that he believes current policy works and there should not be any half-step measures implemented to water down the law pending outcome of the study. Such would only serve to create confusion. Absolutely right. His advice was to keep the law as is. With the bottom line being whether changing the law (allowing homosexuals to serve openly) would enhance the warfighting capabilities of the United States Marine Corps. Exactly. Simple as that. There is no other reason to cause change.

Many pushing for repeal of the law, and many among them having never worn a uniform and completely clueless as to what they are talking about (genus identified by hummingbird ass and alligator mouth), charge the old admirals and generals are out of touch with the real world. And that younger folks are more tolerant of homosexuals. Well, that depends upon whom you ask. As noted in last month's Commentary, even cursory polling amongst those currently in uniform and those with a propensity to serve surely does not accurately support that claim.

In addition to all other substantive arguments for leaving the policy alone there is the matter of military law that several readers raised, though I opted to not include it in my previous Commentary, and today I will mention. That is the matter of sodomy--a crime in the military.

Readers have questioned as to whether or not military leadership is strictly enforcing this breach of conduct. I do not know the answer to that question but, considering the current environment, suspect not. The punitive Article's particulars may be reviewed at: http://usmilitary.about.com/od/punitivearticles/a/mcm125.htm

Few, if any, really care what a mere retired colonel thinks. But, for what it's worth, my Commentary last month titled, "Leave Well Enough Alone--Leave It Alone" and an Addendum that includes a thoughtful perspective by a retired Navy Captain published the following day can be read via the February link at "Blog Archive" to the left of this column.

Mere colonels aside, admirals and generals--especially old retired ones and particularly the four-star variety--are best listened to. They've been around and know a little something.

In a recent Op Ed piece published in The New York Times, General Merrill A. McPeak, USAF (Retired), chief of staff of the Air Force from 1990 to 1994, thoughtfully and factually weighed in on the matter.

General McPeak's distinguished career spanned thirty-seven years. Among many other achievements while in uniform he piloted fast moving aircraft and racked up 269 combat missions during the Vietnam war. His skills and bravery earned him the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and thirteen Air Medals.

What makes General McPeak's position especially interesting and relevant is that he was a strong supporter and campaigner for President Obama. Yet he joins the long impressive list of flag officers who sent a letter to the president and Congress back in March 2009 expressing their sentiments that it best to leave "don't ask, don't tell" alone.

Following is General McPeak's letter published on the 4th of March.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, favors repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the nickname for the policy regulating military service by homosexuals. “I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” he told the Senate last month.

I was one of the service chiefs when the "don't ask, don't tell" compromise was reached in 1993. Until then, every person coming into the military was asked questions directed at establishing sexual orientation, and admitted homosexuals were automatically rejected. Thus the “don’t ask” part of the rule actually means gays no longer have to lie.

In return, the services insisted that homosexuals serving in uniform stay closeted. No doubt this is what bothers Admiral Mullen, as it obliges homosexuals to “live a lie,” if not actually tell one. But this part of the formula was not about individuals. It aimed to protect the institutional integrity of the services, which have no higher responsibility than to organize, train and equip formations that are effective on the battlefield. Seventeen years ago, the chiefs — all four of us, plus the chairman and vice chairman — concluded that allowing open homosexuality in the ranks would probably damage the cohesiveness of our combat units.

A lot more heat than light was produced in the 1993 debate. What passed for dialogue then was often strident and uninformed, each side denouncing motives rather than examining convictions. Even though, as Colin Powell observed recently, the world has “changed” some in the intervening years, I doubt that we’ll have a more enlightened public discussion in 2010.

If one is to occur, it should start with the question, “What are armed forces for?” Assuming the services exist to fight and win wars, those seeking fundamental change in the composition of combat units carry a special burden of proof.

Perhaps young American men and women will fight better when openly gay soldiers are included in the ranks, though I’ve heard no one make this claim. Instead, advocates for gays in the service have by and large avoided a discussion of unit cohesion, relying instead on arguments falling into three categories: training costs, civil rights and individual performance.

First, they say, many otherwise proficient servicemen and women are tossed out only because of an inability or unwillingness to stay closeted. As the services keep track of what it costs to train somebody in a specific skill, the price tag, we are told, can be calculated simply by multiplying the number of service members ejected by the cost of training a replacement.

But this is the wrong way to reckon cost. Each service maintains a multibillion-dollar training system: bases, classrooms, instructors and so forth. This is necessary because of the substantial turnover as service members return to civilian life. The size and cost of the training system is influenced over time by economic factors like pay and benefits or employment opportunities in the civilian sector. In recent years the services have been able to make sizable cuts in training infrastructure because of better retention in an all-volunteer, more professional force.

Nonetheless, these large-scale factors swamp the question of marginal training cost. In the early 1990s, as we thought through the implications of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I worked out the numbers for the Air Force. During the previous decade, we’d put about 800,000 people through basic and advanced training programs, at a cost of about $30 billion. The money we expended on training 3,000 people who were eventually removed on account of homosexuality was minuscule by comparison. (During the same decade, we forced out 15 times as many people for failure to meet Air Force weight standards, with no one objecting to the cost.)

As one might guess, most homosexuality “separations,” as they are called in the Air Force, occurred in the first few weeks of basic training, before the more costly technical training began. And many of these removals would have occurred in any case, since they were the result of unacceptable conduct and not just a declaration of sexual orientation. In any case, it would have made no material difference in Air Force training costs if we had retained all 3,000 people.

The second major argument for allowing openly gay service is that it’s a matter of civil rights, akin to racial integration. This view must rest on the notion that serving in the armed forces is a job like any other, and therefore civilian anti-discrimination laws should apply. While it may seem hopelessly idealistic, my view is that serving in uniform amounts to a calling, different in many ways from other jobs. (One of the ways is that your employer can order you to risk your life.)

But let’s limit ourselves to practical considerations. The services exclude, without challenge, many categories of prospective entrants. People cannot serve in uniform if they are too old or too young, too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, disabled, not sufficiently educated and so on. This, too, might be illegal in the civil sector. So why should exclusion of gay people rise to the status of a civil-rights issue, when denying entry to, say, unmarried individuals with sole custody of dependents under 18, does not?

There is also some misunderstanding about President Harry Truman's executive order of 1948, calling for equality in the armed forces, which is often cited as a model that President Obama should follow. No doubt Truman’s action was a landmark in the civil rights struggle. However, the order was not actually sufficient inducement for the armed forces to do the right thing.

At the time, the Air Force had prepared itself for racial integration and its leadership pushed hard to make it work. As a consequence, the integration of blacks in the Air Force is one of the great success stories of the civil rights movement.

The Army and Navy, however, were models of passive resistance. The Air Force had nearly completed integration before the Army really started. Technically, Truman’s order made no reference to ending segregation, speaking only of equality of opportunity and treatment regardless of “race, color, religion or national origin.” And the Army, at first, argued it was in full compliance. Its subsequent integration was largely forced on it by combat losses in all-white units during the first months of the Korean War. The Navy continued much of its policy of tokenism into the 1960s, with a black steward corps still waiting tables 10 years after the executive order.

Harry Truman did not simply pass his hand over the Pentagon and bring about racial justice. Only after the leaders of each service committed their institutions did we make real progress.

Thus allowing an openly gay presence in ranks will be very difficult until we have committed leadership for it. I certainly had trouble figuring out how to provide such leadership in 1993. While I believed all people are created equal, I did not believe such equality extended to all ideas or all cultures. And since I didn’t know how to advocate the assimilation of this particular form of diversity, I saw no way to prevent it from undermining unit cohesion.

LAST, and most frequently heard, is the seemingly businesslike argument that what’s important is an individual’s performance. Hundreds of service members are mustered out annually for failing to stay closeted, regardless of job performance. Indeed, we seem to have here an odd exception to the American idea that people should be judged by their actions rather than their makeup.

But it would be a serious mistake to imagine that personal performance is what matters in combat. Combat is not a contest between individuals, like poker or tennis; it is a team event whose success depends on group cooperation and morale. So the behavior that concerns us is not individual achievement but the social dynamics of relationships and groups. The issue is whether and how the presence of openly declared homosexuals in the ranks affects the solidarity of the unit.

We have already seen the fault lines form in the current debate: the individual service chiefs have expressed reservations about Admiral Mullen’s views. This lack of cohesion will likely make the Joint Chiefs less effective in the latest round of this debate.

Armies have to care about what succeeds in war. Sometimes they win or lose because of material factors, because one side has the greater numbers or better equipment. But armies are sure to lose if they pay no attention to the ideas that succeed in battle. Unit cohesion is one such idea. We know, or ought to, that warriors are inspired by male bonding, by comradeship, by the knowledge that they survive only through relying on each other. To undermine cohesion is to endanger everyone.

I know some will see these ingredients of the military lifestyle as a sort of absurd, tough-guy game played by overgrown boys. But to prepare warriors for a life of hardship, the military must remain a kind of adventure, apart from the civilian world and full of strange customs. To be a fighter pilot or a paratrooper or a submariner is to join a self-contained, resolutely idealistic society, largely unnoticed and surprisingly uncorrupted by the world at large.

I do not see how permitting open homosexuality in these communities enhances their prospects of success in battle. Indeed, I believe repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” will weaken the warrior culture at a time when we have a fight on our hands.

General Merrill A. McPeak, USAF (Retired)

Stay tuned. Part 4 is coming--as the battlefield takes shape.

Post Script

Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel Joe Peagler, USMC (1953-2008)--one hell of a Marine--was killed in a motorcycle accident in Prescott, Arizona, on Saturday, 29 November 2008. He was buried with full military honors on Friday, 05 December 2008, at the Veterans Cemetery in Boise, Idaho. Semper Fidelis, Marine. Rest in Peace.



Ed Gregory said...

Never was a big McPeak fan--too much ham-handed, negative leadership in the man. But, he was a master of change management. I was on joint duty as the Marine rep at Air Command and Staff College when he was turning the USAF upside down, recreating a new post-Cold War force. To misdirect the attention of a force distraught over the trauma of reorganization, he created a controversy over uniform change. I watched in amazement as the daily arguments among the airpower zealots whirled around the new uniform proposals and scant attention was paid to the demise of SAC and TAC, etc. His article quoted in your post is spot on. It ain't about rightin' wrongs; it's about fightin' bad guys.

Anonymous said...

Andy! Well done. The measure should be as Gen Conway stated..."does this enhance military readiness and combat effectiveness?" Policy makers...political appointees - making changes for the sake of or because they can.