A few weeks ago Katherine Ainsworth wrote an excellent post about the (generally) friendly insults that fly back and forth between the infantry and the logistics tail that keeps them in the field fighting. I definitely smiled a few times; the British Army has similar relations between combat arms and support services, and the term REMF gets thrown around a lot. I’d seen “pogue” in novels about Vietnam, and I remember the first time I heard “fobbit.” I’d been out the Army for a week, and was halfway through an epic journey to start my new job in Afghanistan. The flight was in four legs and something seemed to go wrong on each one of them. The plane being hit by lightning ten minutes after we took off from Incirlik in Turkey was the most dramatic, but two days at Bagram airbase while a couple of us tried to scrounge seats on a plane was the dullest by a long way. I was chatting outside a tent in the Bagram transit quarters when a dusty, weary US infantryman started pouring out his contempt for fobbits and their pampered ways. Another two days later, sitting in the Gravel Pit in Kabul with a chilled Becks in my hand, I sort of saw what he was getting at.
Thinking about it, that infantryman was both right and wrong. The infantry, and the other combat arms, has a brutally simple job – to seek out and engage the enemy. Just about everyone else is there to keep information and supplies flowing forwards to the men on the ground; they’re in the military, but fighting isn’t really their job. And yes, they do often live much better than the ones out on the cutting edge. Nobody would willingly move from a big base like Bagram – or even the dubious charms of Camp Leatherneck – to a grim infantry existence on some patrol base, eating ration packs for weeks on end and only having a shower when it rains. At the same time, the logistics and command chains have always been high priority targets and the people who work there could find themselves fighting for their lives at any time.
Current operations are more fluid than The War most of us trained for, with no defined front lines at all and the infantry often “further back” than a lot of not particularly aggressive people. Civil affairs teams get out among the population daily and are easy targets. Tactical PSYOPS units are also on the ground and field HUMINT teams can be working in some very dangerous places with no real protection beyond a radio link to the nearest FOB. None of these troops are in a ground combat role but they could come into contact at any moment. The same goes for logistics convoys, and in fact in Helmand some FOBs and PBs had to be resupplied by helicopter because any ground move would be attacked. Not even the big bases are safe; the Taliban penetrated the Bastion complex, where Leatherneck was located, in September 2012 and got as far as the USMC flight line. Pilots and ground crews suddenly found themselves fighting as infantry against determined, well-armed attackers. Two of them were killed – a Harrier squadron leader and an aircraft mechanic. That’s why it’s vital that everyone who deploys has the basic infantry skills to form a base of fire, give fire control orders and attack using pairs fire and maneuvers.
The truth is, war without front lines has been the reality since at least 1939. When the Germans broke through to the English Channel in 1940, and again during the invasion of Russia a year later, they tried to isolate and pin down combat formations, and then wreak havoc among rear-area troops with fast-moving panzer columns. The Soviets did the same from 1943-1945, and the western allies from 1944 on. When the enemy had the chance to dig in and form a front, things bogged down into bloodbaths but if an all-arms force could break out into the rear, a whole front could collapse in hours. In the late 1980s I was taught about the Soviet concept of Operational Maneuver Groups, which aimed to do exactly that to NATO, and it was clear at the time that between these breakout forces, airborne desant operations and the activities of Spetsnaz and leftist terrorist groups like the Red Brigades and IRA, ground combat was going to be happening right through our operational depth. We paid lip service to it then, which was a mistake, but it’s not a mistake we can overlook anymore. Yes, Katherine was spot on about the traditional rivalry between those on the front line and the ones in the rear with the gear, but the truth is we’re all on the front line now.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.