On July 12th, in valley called Wanat, little more than a platoon of Soldiers fought a tenacious battle against over a hundred insurgents, a battle so close and personal that both insurgents and Soldiers lobbed grenades at each other from less than ten meters. Hundreds of miles away, watching helplessly on 42 inch plasma screens, Battalion, Brigade and Division commanders tried to control the fight.
The modern battlefield is a schizophrenic place. Just like curling.
Yep, curling. Eric, Matt P, my fiance, and I (along with a good chunk of trendy Americans) have been obsessed with the slowest team sport ever. Shuffleboard on ice is more addictive than heroin.
So how does this slow paced winter sport relate to Afghanistan? After watching a few ends of curling everyone becomes an expert. I started making comments like, “Why don’t they go for a double take out?” Or “I would draw towards the center.” Or as Eric C said, “The US is getting took right now.”
My comments are pretty ignorant though. It doesn’t matter how much I read on wikipedia, or how many hours I consume of CNBC’s curling coverage, I will have a severe gap in my curling knowledge. I have never curled before and though I want to, I might never actually throw a rock towards the house.
This is a perfect example of an important truism: years of study are useful, but nothing compares to experience on the ground. Just throwing one rock on the ice, or playing one match, will give the curling addict a much greater understanding for curling than any amount of off the ice research.
For Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, remember curling. Study Afghanistan as much as you want, drink in the culture, read the Kite Runner, learn bits ofPashtun, and study maps of your area of operations (AO). Until you hit the ground in your AO , you won't have a true appreciation for the terrain. Watching combat from a video screen gives you images, but not the knowledge of being on the ground.
Understanding this will help staff officers and senior leaders on deployment. Staff officers should go on as many patrols as they can when deployed. It sounds incredible, but many Soldiers on Battalion and Brigade staffs never leave the Tactical Operations Center. Many leaders and staff officers don't see the need to go on regular patrols. Obviously they are wrong. (Ranger School is a good substitute for those who can attend, but it can't fully replace patrols in actual combat zones.)
Can you even imagine a curling coach giving advice to his guys if he had never thrown a rock before? How much would you trust color commentators who had never even played curling before?
The point is you wouldn’t. So, senior leaders and staff officers, when you deploy, remember curling.