View Full Version : A Guerilla War, Not a Picnic

12-28-04, 06:43 AM

Hack's Target

A Guerilla War, Not a Picnic

By David H. Hackworth

Like every vet I’ve talked to, I was anguished and angered when nearly 100 Americans were blown up – 18 of them dying in the blast – by an infiltrated suicide bomber at lunch last week in a large mess tent in Mosul, Iraq.

Hank “The Gunfighter” Emerson, a great combat leader and top guerrilla-warfare tactician who rose from a two-fisted West Point cadet to three-star general, almost melted my phone when he roared: “Why were those soldiers packed in a mess hall on a guerrilla battlefield? Did their leaders think they were on some kind of gourmet picnic?”

Emerson wrote the book on prevailing against hit-and-run insurgents who were masters at ambush, indirect fire attacks and nasty devices such as mines, booby traps and improvised explosives. One of the most successful guerrilla fighters we had in Vietnam, he skippered the legendary 2/502nd Parachute Battalion in 1965 and ‘66 and then ramrodded the 9th Division’s 1st Recondo Brigade in 1968. His units’ war records for combating insurgents remain unequaled. On every op – from the hellhole of Tuy Hoa to the hard city fighting in Saigon during Tet of 1968 to the bloody Mekong Delta – they cleaned the guerrillas’ clocks and sent them scurrying.

But somewhere between Vietnam and the present insurgency war in Iraq, the golden guerrilla-fighting lessons we learned the hard way in Southeast Asia have disappeared.

“A guerrilla war is frontless,” Emerson pointed out. “There are no safe areas. You must always have your guard up and expect the unexpected.”

“When you are fighting in a guerrilla environment, you can’t operate like you’re back at Fort Comfort, eating in spacious dining rooms and everything is just neat and sweet,” this four-times-wounded, 30-year, two-war vet railed. “Field rations were designed in part to keep the troops spread out so one round wouldn’t take out a group of soldiers. Mess lines and mess halls don’t work where the G (guerrilla) can come at you with indirect fire and suicide attacks.”

Mosul has been hit with dozens of mortar and rocket attacks during the past year, and for several weeks intelligence was warning of a possible inside-the-camp terrorist attack similar to what went down in the so-called secured Green Zone several months ago.

According to Emerson: “If our leadership in today’s Army had bothered to learn anything from Lebanon in ‘83 and Saudi Arabia in ‘96 when – in both cases – terrorist bombers killed scores of Americans who were in creature-comfort billets rather than hardened positions, they would know the welfare of the troops isn’t about providing comfy billets, coffee bars and classy chow. It’s about making sure your soldiers survive.”

Emerson was and remains a great believer in taking the fight to the enemy, keeping him off-balance and on the run. “To that end, security was another pet baby of mine, and it was never-ending,” he said. “For example, I never allowed a civilian in my base camps. I figured they were all spies. They’d recon your camp, pace off installations, cut your throat if they could and report their findings to the local guerrilla CO (commanding officer).”

Was he ever right. I had a civilian barber at one of my firebases in Vietnam. Following “The Gunfighter’s” S.O.P., I made him set up shop outside our front gate – even though the hair on my head always stood on end whenever he shaved the back of my neck with his straight razor. And sure enough, he was zapped in one of our ambushes about a month after we hired him, with a sketch of our base in his pocket!

Immediately after the attack in Mosul, the ground commander, Gen. Thomas Metz, proclaimed, “We are not going to be intimidated by this attack.”

At Metz’s order, armored vehicles and heavy U.S. patrols saturated the Mosul area. A perfect example of too little too late – and all wrong.

Our brass better get real and figure out the nature of this guerrilla war and our enemy before another such explosion kills and maims more good soldiers with the misfortune to be serving under incompetent leadership. One smart solution comes to mind: Invite “The Gunfighter” over to Iraq to teach Insurgency 101 to all those senior leaders who’ve been too busy collecting M.B.A. degrees in careerism to study the critical lessons of past insurgency campaigns.

--Eilhys England contributed to this column.


12-28-04, 09:27 AM
I really don't like Hackworth but I like what he says in this post. I agree and it's time to start paying attention.

Toby M
12-28-04, 09:46 AM
A little too late but yeah, good message. I agree with General Emerson though, I would not allow civilians onto the base (foreign civilians). I too wondered many a time in 'Nam if the barber had problems cutting the hair in back of my neck because it was always standing on end when he got near me with the straight razor. That memory still sends chills down my back...

12-28-04, 09:53 AM
I'm just a "know nothing about military tactics civilian" but even I know that you don't amass large groups of military personel and equipment in one central location with calculated and easily timed schedules. This sort of reminds me of the base that was built on top of miles of tunnels in Vietnam. I could be wrong but I still get the feeling that someone or group is still trying to fight this war as a European WWII war. Perhaps a visit to the Algiers and Vietnam lessons would be in order.

12-28-04, 10:22 AM
Osotogary..Yep it is time. Toby...the barber that cust my hair in Vietnam was killed around Tet during a raid by the VC on our base camp. He made himself a map of our compound during his tour as the base barber. Enjoy you birthday Toby....you are getting older than dirt. gbudd

12-28-04, 11:05 AM
Why does all this awaken some memories?
Once myself and a couple others Marines had to go to III Marine Amphibious Corps Headquarters to pick-up an Officer being assigned to our company.
When we got there, we decided to get something to eat.
On entering the mess/dining facility, we were told to turn in our weapons.
At that time I carried an M-16 and .45 cal pistol in a shoulder holster.
I told them that I would give them the M-16 but I keep the .45 because there was a bunch of Vietnamese running around that mess/dining facility.
Well to make a long story short, they denied me service.
No way was going to be unarmed!
No place is safe in a war such as we were in or the one we're now in Iraq.
Yes, somebody should read all our after-action reports from Vietnam or study the war in Vietnam and Beirut Lebanon of 1982-83.
They might also study the Israeli wars against the arabs for an insight to what we're facing and how to combat it.
Yes Toby M is getting older than dirt.
<MARQUEE BEHAVIOR=scroll DIRECTION=left LOOP=infinite>We wish that we could be funny but that would not do, neither would serious do on your special day, so we'll settle for a Happy Birthday to from me to you, Toby M!</MARQUEE>

Semper Fidelis/Semper Fi

12-28-04, 11:37 AM
I know that you are in Indiana but for those who wish to read after-action reports from Vietnam ..a trip to the local public library might be the ticket. I was glad to see that more than just a couple of these reports were offered for public reading in the Vietnam War section. The ones I read were written like telegraph messages, short, factual and to the point. There were also hand drawn maps. They were all authored by Marine Corps Personnel.

Toby M
12-28-04, 03:07 PM
Older than dirt? Ouch...

12-28-04, 03:15 PM
Ricardo,you got to be kidding,Nam 65-66 if you were caught with out your weapon,ANYWHERE,you would git a hell of a chewing out ,and probably lose rank, I was required to carry my M-60 to the water buff shower,anywhere you went your weapon went with you,NO EXCEPTIONS

12-28-04, 03:19 PM
Hey Toby...I'm older than dirt too (57)

12-28-04, 03:23 PM
If you gents are older than dirt I'm older than astroid dust. (59) Pretty soon I'll have to start using 2-ply toilet paper.

12-28-04, 06:09 PM
I wondered the same thing, but I think they are a REMF outfit and the army doesn't seem to train them as warriors.
Politics might have something to do with it the way it did in Lebanon when the 241 were killed.
All that said and done I still think the Hackworth article is a chicken**** attack on Rumsfeld. A Monday morning qb is still a Monday morning qb even if he DID win the wars in Korea and Viet Nam singlehandedly.
I keep trying to respect Hackworth for what he's done but I keep losing my respect for him for what he's doing now.