Monday, April 18, 2016

Defensive Operations in Urban Areas: What I Learned from the Surge

The first time around in Iraq, I had the honor of serving in the 101st Airborne on the Invasion.  I would be lying if I said I do not miss the excitement that was unique to the Invasion.  Everyone I have met that went on the “run and gun” ground assault race to Baghdad, with stripped down HMMWVs, in unbreathable NBC suits, surrounded by 140 degree heat ,with very little water and no air conditioning, tends to compare every other bad event in our life to that year.  I was completely undertrained and underequipped, but I was simply too ignorant to know the difference.   That was the first time. 
On November 3rd of 2007 I happily left the oppressive heat of Kuwait and went back to Iraq for the second time.  I remember the date exact as it was the same day that I got the call on my cell phone that my second Son, Gabriel, was born.  Due to some serious differences between my boss and I about how he treated the Soldiers, I was asked to take an assignment as the Squadron’s, (it was a Cavalry, i.e. light Infantry unit) public affairs officer.  My mother was a union boss and my father was a militia leader so I guess I was just not built to shut up and mind my own lane.  The sunny side of the incident was that it gave me the freedom to step away from a life as a TOCroach or Fobbit, (to those unfamiliar with the terms please see “Bob on the Fob”) and go Soldier.  Some of what I wrote went through sites like DVIDS and can still be seen online if you Google hard enough.  But I digress.

Lesson 1: Know your neighborhood
There are three areas that you should be interested in.  The Army calls this your Areas of Responsibility (AOR).  The primary zone is your area of operations (AO).  This is your house, yard, crops, and everything that has your name on it.  Everything you can physically touch is your Area of Operation.  You have direct control of this area and it is your primary focus for most everything you do.  The second area is your area of influence (AOI).  This area is the block, neighborhood and town you operate in.  This is the area you are a stakeholder in and if something were to happen to this area, your own area of operation would likely come to harm.   I will go more in depth into the Areas of Responsibility and how it relates to planning in future Praxis posts

I told you that story to tell you this one; know who the people are in your areas.  Get a map of your town from the local visitors shop and mark out your AOR.  This is a map that everyone should be familiar with and it will help you in dealing with future contingency planning.  Topo maps are absolutely invaluable, so if you can have your area covered in 1:50,000 scale maps from, please do so.  It should be fairly obvious, but noteworthy none-the-less, to point out that the farther you get outside of your area of operation that the more you will have to interact with other people their own areas of operation.  What this means is that you will be dealing with individuals and groups that will have their own self-motivations and they may not be helpful to your cause.  This is no different than today but hardship tends to magnify personality issues seldom for the better.  The quicker that you can form relationships now in your area of influence is the more you can increase your effective area of influence.

Lesson 2:  Sometimes your “Friends” do stupid things.
The previous unit that occupied our AOR had to put a Stryker armored vehicle on every street corner in order to maintain order.  In order to sustain that presence, they built walled compounds around Baghdad called Joint Service Stations (JSS) to house and maintain a company of infantry.  Given the urban terrain, some were obviously better suited than others but we made do. It is easy to get things done when you don’t have a choice.  In order to get the Iraqi military and police force to do their jobs, the headquarters of the local military or police presence was co-located in the same compound.  With everyone walking around armed all the time it was relatively peaceful so long as you kept them out of your pantry and bathrooms.  Or until tragedy ensues.

Our JSS, dubbed Ghaz 1, was unique in that it had both local militia and Iraqi Army.  The militia was created by Uncle Sugar as what amounted to organized pay outs to local thugs to stop shooting at us and start shooting at the bad guys.  Sounds crazy enough to work, right?  One day, one reformed thug showed up with a bomb but ended up prematurely detonating it on himself.  The glorious moment was caught on one of our cameras and provided more entertainment then what it had a right to.  The take away is that it is impossible to see inside the hearts of the people you call you friends and associates but try to choose them wisely.  Sometimes they do stupid and self destructive things and it is best not to be collateral damage when they do.

Lesson 3 Fences, sandbags and walls are great. Walking is better.
If you want to maintain control your AOR you will have to walk around and see what is going on.  What you do not see, you do not own.  It is fine l to sit in a hermetically sealed bunker with a pile of MREs but that is simply unsustainable.   Walking around gives you positive control over what you currently see.  Just like when you are driving a car or clearing a room, as soon as your eyes are off of a certain space, it no longer becomes safe.  If you are not in control of your AOR, then who is?
Any Intelligence Analyst will tell you that for all of their high end technology to find what they bad guys are doing and that the good guys are thinking, it is the simple act of knocking on a door and talking with someone that will get you the best intelligence.  As I walked around Ghazaliyah with the patrols, we would literally knock on doors to see if anyone would talk to us.  After a brief exchange of peasantries we may be asked to share some tea or Tang, (yes, they loved the stuff) and talk about what was going on in the neighborhood.  Generally speaking, the Platoon Leader or Commander would enter their homes with a very small security force and remove as much armor as they could to scale down the intimidation factor.  Then, with the aid of an interpreter they would have a talk.  The worst thing that would come of this is that the person would know that we were there to help.   Go out and get social.
Lesson 4 Logistics, Logistics, Logistics
Unlike my experience during the Invasion, during the Surge we had seemingly endless supply of ammunition, food, bottled water, and, for the most part, we did not have to burn our poo in fuel soaked metal containers.   We had a mountain of jerky, Fruit Loops, salt, Pop Tarts, toilet paper, and hot sauce.  We received one “hot” meal a day from the main supply base, Camp Victory, and would have to get creative for the rest.  It was not a hardship but then it is amazing what you can get used to. As I remember,  I ate a lot of Ramen that year.  The supply train was great until it wasn’t there anymore.  A huge upsurge in violence from the Jaish Al-Mahdi made the logistical patrols unpractical and the four companies that we had sprinkled around Baghdad were cut off for a solid month.  With over one hundred guys sharing the same few Port-A-Potties, everything stacks up fairly quickly.  Donald Rumsfeld observed that you do not come to war with the military you want, you come to war with the military you have.  In a “come as you are” world, you will have to figure out where your logistical bread gets buttered and make sure you reach those goals.  The internet is filled with endless lists for BOBs, 72 hour kits, etc.  I recommend Rawles spreadsheet monster “List of Lists” over at the Survival Blog for a more comprehensive supply list for extended contingency planning.  Because I am a bit of an Excel nerd, I have tinkered to no end on my version. Take his as a rough draft and make it work for you.   

 Lesson 5: Physical Training
Proper physical training that approximates the types of conditions and equipment that you will use cannot be emphasized enough.  Running in full kit for any distance will take the breath out of you quick.   The last thing you want to do is run to the sound of an explosion or gun fire with an energy tank on empty and have to wheeze your way into your first mag change.  Go on short runs of one to two miles with a 12 to 20 pound weighted vest.  Work your way up to using wrist and ankle weights.  Do some pull ups and sit ups.  If you cannot do any of those things you are behind the power curve and will need to get there.  People will count on you to be able to physically do the right thing. Do not let them down.
If you are overweight, cardio and no carbs is the key. Getting in shape is like a bicycle in that you need both wheels of diet and exercise in order to run it.  One without the other is a losing battle.   It is just that simple.  There are more ways now than ever before to get healthy and in a fighting shape.  Take advantage of it now while you can.  It is slow and painful but looking good naked is the byproduct.
Much of what I have written is not new ground.  Thousands of other Vets have had similar or better, harder experiences than I regarding living and working in a tenuous area between stabilizing the community and fighting.  Whatever your stripe of preparedness, I would ask that you seek out those Veterans and learn from their experiences.  As time permits I may reflect on more lessons learned and produce a follow up.   I would love to hear from the community as to what their lessons learned are from either following a disaster or conflict.  Depending on the response, we can hang them on another post.


Sean said...

Good stuff to know. As always, the simplest lessons are the best ones. Thanks for picking up the blog. I think you'll do just fine. I'm an old Infantryman, VietNam, Combat type 1. I always appreciate the truth. Hang in there bud.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, mike. When I last left a comment on here was a few months ago and I said I was done posting anything. THIS article is EXACTLY what I was hoping you would provide to your readers. It is the MOST useful thing you could have done in recent times as all your political ranting articles and posts are absolutely useless given that our elections (selections) have now been PROVEN to be a long rigged and illusive game where you and others actually thought you had a voice in them and do anything to sway Americas final decline and crash. Stick to the guns and ammo path, its all you really have. as far as your clock doing its final last run down, I am sorry that you are going out in such a painful manner, we do not get to choose our means or time of dying except suicide, thank you for giving your country the best fight you could. Its more than most pathetic Americans, this day in age, will attempt to give. Respectable character counts. thanks for stepping up and being a leader.

Sign me, Neal Jensen

Dutchman6 said...

Mr. Jensen,

Sipsey Street is under new management as per the Change of Command post on Saturday. Mike will still look in on the blog as he is able and post when he can. I, his Son, have taken over the blog. The experiences during the Surge was mine. I apologize if that was not clear. I would also invite you to see the rules for posting comments.

I will agree political positioning is largely a suckers game at a certain level. I do not think my father would disagree with that. It does not absolve us of our duty to make it known on the state and local levels that political decisions have consequences. If that is ranting, then so be it. To the same end, I believe both you and Mike have been in agreement but just not what constitutes the tar and feather phase. I do not think we are there yet, but I would agree that politics has devolved into a series of irreconcilable differences of which others more wordy than I have observed will end poorly. Yes, it will end very poorly.

If you find this agreeable, welcome back. If not, go your way in safety.

Matthew Vanderboegh

j said...

Excellent post, thank you. And that 'premature detonation' afflicts some men more than other, so to speak, but in that case it couldn't have happened to a more deserving fellow. Stay strong.

Anonymous said...

This going to be fun, in the context of a decreasing scenario of political fairness and the increasing likelihood of armed civil conflict. War is not 'fun'.

Your dad was and is still a fine political leader. God saw fit to give us a strong military leader as a replacement. I am a second term precinct chairman for the more patriotic of the two major parties, with some large reservations. They piss me off sometimes too. But the tactic of knocking on doors getting to know the residents of my precinct, (AOR), both for getting out the vote and for finding who I can count on if things go to 'bullet slinging shit' will be invaluable.

I'm also a voting delegate to your big neighbor's Lone Star state convention. THAT should be very interesting this time around. It will also be freedom's safest place considering how many of us will be walking around there with openly holstered side arms. Mine is a antique 1911 that still shoots very well.

I would love to get to know you better as a source of knowledge as you have the actual battle and organizational experience that I lack.

Thanks for stepping up. But watch your back. You are now a target of both the left and those socialists currently running our country into the ground. They will stop at nothing in order to silence you.

God speed to you and your dad, sir.

Anonymous said...

Welcome aboard. And thank you for picking up the command.
I look forward to continued reading of SSI.

And give my best regards to your father, when possible.

B Woodman
SSG (Ret), USArmy
31E, Field Radio Repair
"You Can talk About Us, But You Can't Talk Without Us"

Anonymous said...

Great post. It is a constant source of bone-gnawing annoyance to see groups talk about their "AO" in reference to some patch of woods out in the middle of nowhere that they go to so they can slather face paint on each other and play leapfrog with rifles while convincing themselves that they're badasses. Ask them to list five strategic resources in their immediate area, or what the equipment and capability is of the law enforcement in their town, or even what their neighborhood's greatest asymmetrical threat is, and they'll look at you with something between blank and defensive rage.

But hey, as long as you show up to the woodsy frolics in the latest gear, you're ready for whatever comes, right?

Longbow said...

My thought along those lines are here...

daniel said...

Good read.
I am delighted that you have stepped up to take over for your dad, and it looks like there is good cause for high hopes.

Thank you, sir.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for stepping up.

We need you carrying Mike's torch!

Comrade X

CowboyDan said...

Matt, I heard you would be taking over for your dad, but I didn't realize the change of command would be so immediate.

Your dad's been teaching me a lot over the last few years. I've made comments on many of his posts, and I THINK they were well taken. He once gave me his cell number so I think I have his respect and trust. I hope so.

Your style of writing is a bit different, but we'll adjust. With the bullet points you use, I may find your style more educational. That's me and how I learn.

Please give your dad my best. I have kept him in my thoughts and prayers for quite some time, but we're not getting the results I'd like to see. I'm sure you aren't either. As best you can, take care of him, and your mother and sister. The path ahead of you won't be pleasant, but you will get through. Thanks for being able to step up and try to continue your father's work.

Stay safe, and may God bless. I wish you His peace.


John said...

Great article. I always loved your Dad's Praxis posts and this continues that tradition.

Thanks for continuing on for your Dad.

Anonymous said...

Nothing honorable about killing people half way around the world that never did anything to us. That's not self defense, that is murder. Furthermore, you were paid to do all of this with money that was extorted from me and my family at gun point. Adding insult to injury, you did the opposite of upholding your oath. You attacked people who never harmed you or your family, and instead let the very people that extort, kidnap, assault, and murder all of us,continue to do their evil. Not only did you not defend your oath, you actively worked against it on many different levels.

I understand that you have bought the ticket and took the ride, and now you are stuck defending the jingo mantra for the rest of your life, or be subject to truth that will be embarrassing to you and hard to deal with. My advice, let the truth in and move on, continuing the good guy military role that will honor his oath is a lie. A deadly lie that not only has helped to kill millions, but to only further enslave the rest of us at home. The longer you bask in the lie that is the military industrial complex, the harder you make it for all of us.

I am not happy that you played your part in stealing from me and my family, under color of law, to feed your own, but I sure am grateful not to be among all the dead that you helped to murder.

The liberty and freedom that you "fought" for is a lie. It does not exists. We are all slave in this country, and that makes you a house slave in this equation. Tapping for master and serving master at the detriment of the rest of the slaves. We will pray for you to muster real courage to expose truth, not further disseminate the jingo lie.

Backstay said...

What you speak of is true in all parts of life. The Representatives in government that live sealed away from the day to day of our lives, are detached from what we need and don't need. The police departments that don't engage one on one with their public have no clue what's going on. The business owner or manager that never walks among the workers is also clueless. Great post, thank you.

While I will miss the "rants" of your father, you'll do!

Anonymous said...

I posted a comment to this topic after reading it over and well before making to the Change of command. While I think your fathers focus shifted at a bad time over to politics, he premise was correct well before the contentious election season. I think you will do fine taking up the reins of the blog. Your fathers post that got my attention long ago was concerning the publishing the names and addresses (making them personally accountable for their treason) of the Connecticut legislators that passed the communist gun control legislation. While many articles he covered and commented on were not all interesting to this veteran, I loved the ones where he provided a distinct leadership hand pointing in the proper preparing mindset for the now soon unavoidable civil war. you r combat experience is EXACTLY what I asked him to focus on, logistics, OPSEC and situational awareness will be the most necessary skills for these times. A coherent understanding of the enemy, their tactics, their resources is key to strategy to combat them but also tactical considerations. I don't care about politics, but his leadership could reach the core group of the most successful of the 3% who can actually fight and LEAD in battles. That was what I tried to convey to him as he seemed frustrated somewhat with the misrepresentations the MSM and others aimed at him. the best fight is to use his notoriety and loyal audience to best prepare to fight Obamas/Clintons minions, IN THE SPIRIT OF Founding Fathers and with their commitment and Bill of Rights mindset. I don't have a very high opinion of the alleged militia movement in America right now and was highly critical of the Malheur bunch and their circus act that turned deadly. let me restate what I have said, your combat experience and others with it as well, who will lend that expertise to the realities of combat, then psychology of that battlefield, and the NON trigger finger expertise that makes units successful to the coming fight, IS SORELY NEEDED. From former tanker, another veteran, I hope you understand, why I post. I want good Americans to WIN this war that is coming, and I don't want them to give their lives cheaply nor stupidly when it can be avoided. Enough said. You will do fine, especially without my comments, I am sure. I think if you focus 25% of your time on the politics in play, it will be time wasted fruitlessly. While he was tore up pretty bad over his detractors smearing him, there is not a whole lot he could to combat the SPLC and the rest of the lying smear monkeys. in any respect, good luck to you on carrying the guidon of trust.

Sign Me, Neal Jensen

Anonymous said...

That all said......What is your opinion on whether or not the current crop of Active duty military will fire on / kill American in support of Obamas obvious anti_american and anti WHITE agenda, to turn this country over to the muslim terrorists and communist sympathizers, that seem to be everywhere in every bureaucratic office, and all of them united in the common goal of destroying what remains of America? Will they kill Americans because of the hand that signs their checks or will they honor their Oath to the country and Constitution?

Sign Me, Neal Jensen

drjim said...

You should write a book!

Call it "True Stories From Boots On The Ground".

Thank you for your service, and thanks for posting this.

It could save lives at "some time in the future"....

Anonymous said...

I had to wear the chemical suits too ... the army guys had to wear them for some time in the field. That's what you get for joining the Army I guess .. LOL

Keith Doyon said...

I'm here because your father's philosophy on the nature of patriotism and its duties and obligations, and his expression of that philosophy, honed over decades, is more clear, reasonable, firm and persuasive than any other patriot writings to be found anywhere since the close of the founding era.
The practical and genuinely useful advice you've shared in this post here is certainly welcome and will add to my kit of skills.
But don't think for a moment that when your father was articulating passionate beliefs in the nature of government and the limits of its reach that he was "ranting" any more than Patrick Henry "ranted." To be effective in persuasively resisting tyranny, any group of dedicated patriotic resistors must have some organizing principles as their Foundation. Mike repeatedly tried to give us those. I dearly hope that you won't neglect the most important part of your father's mission. Good luck and God bless.

oughtsix said...

Keith Doyan,

Thank you, Sir. You have clearly stated my own position, and better than I might have done.

That first paragraph is a gem.


Anonymous said...

Getting a map sounds easy, but...

In this age of smartphone GPS, many paper hard-copy maps are out of print, are getting rare, and are now deemed pricey collectibles.

Of course, this depends on location. Tourist areas or big cities where plenty of maps were sold, or stocks had larger printings, offerings are still available.

Point here, don't wait til you think you'll need a street map to start looking for one. And for some locations, printing your own off the Internet may be the best option.

T. Paine said...

100% agree with everything you said right up to working with Veterans. I'm of that age where there was no draft, and being rather significantly color blind (didn't know that until I took a pre entry physical) I decided that if I could not do (or at least have the chance) what I wanted (pilot) I wasn't going to volunteer. Anyway, the majority of the 'veterans' I come in contact with seem to think they have to be in charge, snap orders and such which is complete and utter BS. This is why I would amend your comment to say 'work with like minded, grounded-in-reality veterans'. They're out there, but rather hard to find.

Printed county topo maps are widely available. I recommend those and use them myself in my AOR. I patrol my AOI (area of influence) on foot daily to the tune of several miles, taking note of....what I need to take note of. I do not recommend rucking up and running through the neighborhood thus making yourself stand out in a crowd. Only a fool would do that. IMHO. Above all else, blend in. Quislings will be taking note of your activities!

Remember Mattis.

Dutchman6 said...

"It is a constant source of bone-gnawing annoyance to see groups talk about their "AO" in reference to some patch of woods out in the middle of nowhere that they go to so they can slather face paint on each other and play leapfrog with rifles while convincing themselves that they're badasses. Ask them to list five strategic resources in their immediate area, or what the equipment and capability is of the law enforcement in their town, or even what their neighborhood's greatest asymmetrical threat is, and they'll look at you with something between blank and defensive rage.

But hey, as long as you show up to the woodsy frolics in the latest gear, you're ready for whatever comes, right?"

I love this comment. Yes, absolutely. I would offer one counter point though. Today's Soldiers are the best in the world for raiding. Soldiers and Marines have been perfecting light infantry urban operation tactics over more than a decade of real life experience. What they don't know from shinola is actual fieldcraft. If you were a boy scout or a Cold War vet, I guarantee that you have had more knowledge in fieldcraft than the average senior Sergeant. There are many things we can teach each other and be all the better for it.


TimeHasCome said...

Great post , I only had the privilege of meeting your dad once , but my fighting age sons also met with your dad . I have learned a great deal from your father, and he is correct the future of America is very uncertain.

Joseph P. Martino said...

Hi. I met Mike at a militia gathering several years ago. Sorry to hear he's not doing well. Keep us informed.

Regarding the theme of the article, there are some things that can be done prior to Der Tag, which appear innocent. However, they give you a chance to know your AOR.

Election year. Get involved with a reasonably popular candidate. Take his literature door to door. But talk about other things than the candidate. What's worrying the people? What are their concerns? Even if the office your candidate is seeking can do nothing about their concerns (i.e. candidate is for school board, but a major concern is lack of police protection), what you find is valuable intel.

Is a community organization holding some kind of event? Get their literature and take it door to door. Again, use the opportunity to gather intel, in addition to passing out the literature.

In short, use every excuse you can to get people to open their doors and talk. Later on you'll be glad you did.

Don't forget to take names. Those you'll be able to count on later; those who will need hel later; those with special skills you'll need later.

Now is the time to prepare.

Anonymous said...


It is interesting reading your posts now because we had several conversations (roughly 11 years ago!) on the train between Landstuhl and where you got off (St. Ingbert, I think it was), almost all about politics and freedom, of course! I lived in Saarbrucken and took the train from Ramstein (I worked at the AFB) to Landstuhl to Saarbrucken every day and you, being in uniform, were an obvious 'Ami' so we started talking one day and kept it up for awhile until I moved back to the States. It was probably around 2005 because I loaned you my new copy of Vin Supryowicz's "Black Arrow" (it had just come out, ordered it from Amazon) and that's when it came out.

Sad circumstances to be 'talking' to you again but I look forward to what you write.

A former DB passenger.