February 2017 Book Reviews
February 2017 Book Reviews
An Eloquent Spokesman for the Tip of the Spear
Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk. Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, USA Ret. U.S. Naval Institute Press. 235 pages. $29.95
By Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, U.S. Army retired
The story goes that a big advertising firm inherited a huge account to promote a new brand of dog chow. A crack creative team ponied up for a well-known pop song and converted it to a canine-friendly jingle. Clever commercials blanketed the TV channels. Colorful, catchy, full-page print ads touted the product. Social media brimmed with winsome snippets. Pet owners offered earnest testimonials. Cute pups wagged their tails on cue. It all cost tens of millions of dollars. And in the end, the new brand of food did not sell. Confronted by the frustrated corporate client, the ad executives shrugged. “The dogs don’t like it.”
I thought about that failed ad campaign, and the dogs, as I read retired Maj. Gen. Bob Scales’ wonderfully written Scales on War. You couldn’t ask for a more eloquent spokesman for investing fully in America’s overworked, underloved, close-combat contingents: tough Army and Marine infantry; our superb special operations forces; and their immediate running buddies, the medics, the forward observers, and the rest of those at the very tip of the spear. They are few in number, a mere 4 percent of all our armed forces by Scales’ reckoning. We salute their courage. Yet in the end, the American people have repeatedly made manifest that a bloody infantry scrum isn’t the kind of war they want to fight. Scales may be selling it well, but the dogs don’t like it.
Scales seems to know that, but gives it a shot as only he can. In Scales on War, he marshals his considerable talents as a veteran combat soldier, gifted writer and incisive thinker to advance the case. Most Americans know him as the candid, well-spoken military guy who shows up on Fox News to explain to viewers the latest war episode on the far side of the world. Some of Scales’ fellow talking heads tend to complicate or confuse matters, resorting to abstract jargon or trite buzzwords. Not Scales. He spices his contributions with historical anecdotes, memorable one-liners and knowing summaries. If anybody could sell the dog food of close combat to America, he’s the one.
Scales is not an infantryman, but he has been in plenty of desperate, close-in firefights as a front-line field artillery officer. After graduating from West Point in 1966, Scales earned the Silver Star in Vietnam for his leadership during the vicious struggle for Dong Ap Bia, better known as Hamburger Hill. Scales commanded soldiers under fire and learned a lot of tough lessons. He went on to gain a doctorate at Duke University, N.C., command an artillery battalion in Korea and, as a general officer, command the Field Artillery School and Center at Fort Sill, Okla.
When the Army sent a team to study the first war with Iraq in 1991, Scales headed the effort. The resultant Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War remains the best single-volume account of the U.S. Army’s role in that conflict. The book upset some air power zealots and stepped on a few toes up and down the chain of command. Some generals, with an eye toward future prospects, might have sanded down those rough edges. Not Scales—he laid out the facts and let the chips fall.
Scales completed his 34 years of military service as the commandant of the U.S. Army War College. Yet when he hung up his uniform in 2000, he did not retire to whack golf balls or wander the Pentagon hallways buttonholing former colleagues on behalf of some huge defense contractor. Instead, Scales broadened and deepened his study of war. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the retired general became a fixture on National Public Radio and Fox News. He traveled to the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq time and time again. Year after year, Scales continued to write, speak and think.
His message is distilled in Scales on War. It boils down to this: Our country prefers standoff battle, victory through air power and sea power, maybe a tank blitz or two, all guided by exquisite information technologies. We like machine warfare writ large. We prefer our conflicts to be big, fast and decisive. Stupid enemies—Panama in 1989, Iraq in 1990–91, and Serbia in 1999—play along and get hammered. But most enemies are not so accommodating. Scales met the North Vietnamese at Hamburger Hill. They figured it out early. Iraqi and Afghan insurgents followed suit. Draw the Americans into a fair fight, M16 vs. AK-47. Kill us in close combat. Keep killing. Outlast the Yankees. After a while, the U.S. will give up, draw down and sooner or later, go home.
As Scales ably explains, most Pentagon brain trusts and defense industrial communities simply want to ignore this intractable problem. Americans prefer big-ticket, high-end arms such as
F-35 fighter jets and Zumwalt-class destroyers, aimed at traditional foes such as Russia and China. As for those guerrillas and insurgents? Well, we can go after them in the usual way, if we must.
Scales is convinced we must. He rightly wonders why we’re still carrying essentially the same rifle we did at Hamburger Hill almost 50 years ago. He asks why we’re unwilling to work to gain absolute overmatch in the 100-yard fight. We certainly could do so, but we don’t. Scales wonders why we have yet to field a wide array of smart sensors; empower smart shooters; and send forth brilliant soldiers recruited, assessed and trained in ways pioneered by our special operations forces. These are great questions.
To his credit, Scales also offers answers. His book provides a way ahead for a renaissance of U.S. Army and Marine infantry and special operations forces. He offers concrete examples of upgraded weaponry, useful technical solutions to enhance human senses, much more demanding training, and effective borrowings from the social sciences. If adopted, such reforms would compel a cultural change in our military and, indeed, in our broader society’s expectations of our troops. That’s what’s required for our country to dominate the close fight embraced by our enemies. With a new administration in Washington, D.C., Scales is offering the hard-won, hard-edged military advice the incoming civilian leaders need to hear.
Will the new crew listen? Probably not. There’s a bipartisan consensus—and it certainly reflects the view on Main Street, USA—that war must be as clean, distant and push-button as possible, reality be damned. Two more Vietnam-style stalemates in Afghanistan and Iraq used up any remaining public patience for boots on the ground.
Now it’s all death from above. We’ll expend millions of dollars trying to guide a thousand-pound smart bomb squarely atop a disheveled terrorist holding a dirty pistol. As for more and better infantrymen, trained and equipped for the grim horrors of face-to-face clashes? The dogs don’t like it. But I sure did. You will, too.
Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, USA Ret., was the commander of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. Previously, he served as the deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7, and as the commanding general, 1st Cavalry Division/commanding general, Multinational Division-Baghdad, Operation Iraqi Freedom. He holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago and has published a number of books on military subjects. He is a senior fellow of the AUSA Institute of Land Warfare.
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Colonel Offers Thoughts on Wartime Leadership
Ramadi Declassified: A Roadmap to Peace in the Most Dangerous City in Iraq. Col. Anthony E. Deane, USA Ret., with Douglas Niles. Praetorian Books. 432 pages. $28.99
By Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, U.S. Army retired
Other than being shot at, there is no better way to prepare for war than reading a good book. Ramadi Declassified is one of them.
Written by retired Col. Anthony E. Deane, this book chronicles the then-lieutenant colonel’s combat tour commanding Task Force Conqueror (1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment) during the height of the uprising in the Sunni Triangle. Deane was a career armor officer with tours in Germany, Italy, Kosovo and Operation Desert Storm before being dispatched to pacify Ramadi, Iraq, one of the hottest hot spots during the post-conflict chaos in that country. Attached to then-Col. Sean MacFarland’s brigade of the 1st Armored Division, Deane’s task force conducted operations in Ramadi starting in May 2006 and throughout that summer and fall.
Highlights of the combat activities of Deane’s unit are covered in Jim Michaels’ A Chance in Hell. In contrast, Ramadi Declassified is an interpretation of war from a midlevel leader’s perspective. Deane traces his own career while giving a thumbnail background of the geopolitics that led to his task force’s deployment into the middle of a mess.
Deane opens Ramadi Declassified with a telling line that is both painfully accurate and flat wrong. “In many ways,” he writes, “Desert Storm was one of the worst things that ever happened to the United States military, specifically the Army.”
On the one hand, Deane is correct. After the successful 1991 defeat of Saddam Hussein’s forces, expelling them from Kuwait, America’s military spent far too much time trying to figure out how to capitalize on its successes instead of contemplating how to handle other kinds of war it might be called on to fight.
On the other hand, after Desert Storm, the Army didn’t compromise on growing leaders. One reason—perhaps the reason—our ground forces could adapt to the unanticipated, complex and diverse challenges of operating in postwar Iraq was the quality of the midlevel officer and NCO leadership.
While Deane delivers a straight-line narrative from the beginning to the end of his battalion’s deployment, at each step of the way there is a key leadership lesson. They are the kinds of lessons that make leaders effective in fights, whether the battle is an armor duel during Desert Storm, saving an outpost on the outskirts of an Iraqi city, or some unknowable future conflict.
Lesson No. 1: Train. Training is the pastime of a peacetime Army, but in peacetime training, what is often neglected is emphasizing the importance of training in theater after deployment. In-theater training is often one of the most important factors in closing the gap between the war we prepare for and the one we fight.
While Deane’s battalion staged in Kuwait before being dumped into the Ramadi cauldron, he made training job No. 1. In the book, he recalls a picture from his last combat tour in Iraq—an anguished soldier whose squad mate had been killed by friendly fire.
“For the next fourteen years, I kept a copy of that photo in my office desk drawer as a visible reminder of what happens to untrained units. … Upon returning from Desert Storm, I swore to myself that if I ever had the opportunity to command a battalion, my unit would train every minute possible before entering combat.”
Lesson No. 2: Lead. Showing up for battle without solid leaders is like operating without a doctor. Deane had little knowledge of the brigade commander he’d be serving under before they came under fire.
“Tony, I don’t know you,” MacFarland told Deane, “but the Army made you a battalion commander, so you have my unwavering trust.” Deane was caught “flat-footed,” he recalled; with that one comment, “MacFarland had displayed more combat leadership than I had experienced from my battalion commander in Desert Storm, or my brigade commander during the previous six months in Kuwait combined. Here was a senior Army officer who trusted his subordinates at face value. It was a refreshing change.”
Lesson No. 3: Faith. “In the peacetime Army,” Deane writes, “officers become convinced if they do everything right in battle, the results will be minimal casualties.” The brutal reality, as Deane learned firsthand, is that “sometimes the enemy gets lucky or is just better than we are.”
Lesson No. 4: Talent. The organizational chart doesn’t necessarily tell you who the real leaders at the front will be when the shooting starts. Team Dealer was the task force’s pointy end of the spear, going from house to house searching for intelligence, arms, bad guys and friends. One of Deane’s natural-born leaders was a Team Dealer platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Perfecto Sanchez, one of several young soldiers who “performed at a stellar level in the most dangerous city in the world,” Deane writes.
Lesson No. 5: Tactics. In part, Iraq has left an ambivalent legacy on the American Army because of circular debate over counterinsurgency tactics. Deane’s battalion practiced the basics of good tactics—finding the stuff that works in the place you are fighting. The tactics of his battalion in Ramadi might not be a prescription for how to handle the next insurgency, but they are a useful case study in how to learn what works and then make it work.
Today, America’s Army is doubly cursed. It has to relearn how to fight and decisively win conventional conflicts such as Desert Storm, but it can’t forget the hard-won experience of how to fight truly messy wars as in Iraq and Afghan-istan. There is a thread of wisdom in Ramadi Declassified. If good leaders take it to heart, it will prepare them for both kinds of conflicts and everything in between.
Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, USA Ret., a 25-year Army veteran, is a Heritage Foundation vice president in charge of the think tank’s policy research in defense and foreign affairs.
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From Colonel to President, Teddy Rose to Power
Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment, and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill. Mark Lee Gardner. William Morrow. 348 pages. $26.99
By Col. Cole C. Kingseed, U.S. Army retired
In one of his last acts before leaving office and against the backdrop of a portrait of Col. Theodore Roosevelt in his Rough Riders uniform, President Bill Clinton bestowed the Medal of Honor on Roosevelt, whose great-grandson accepted the award. In Rough Riders, Mark Lee Gardner recounts the story of Roosevelt, his “cowboy regiment,” and the epic charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
Gardner is one of this nation’s premier historians of the American West. In compiling this narrative, he draws upon a plethora of private letters, diaries and contemporary newspaper accounts from public and private archives. Gardner also relies heavily on the massive Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Harvard University’s Houghton Library, the sine qua non of any serious study of the 26th president.
Gardner starts by describing the origins of the Rough Riders. As assistant secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt developed a strong friendship with Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, President William McKinley’s personal physician and the newly designated commanding officer of the Rough Riders. Wood, in turn, used his personal relationship with Secretary of War Russell Alger to request that the governors of the New Mexico and Arizona territories provide four cavalry troops and two mounted troops, respectively.
These troops formed the nucleus of the Rough Riders, but Wood expanded the regiment by requesting one cavalry troop from the Oklahoma Territory and two additional troops from the Indian Territory. The Rough Riders’ official military designation was the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.
On June 22, 1898, the Rough Riders disembarked east of Santiago de Cuba. With the U.S. Navy blockading the Spanish fleet in Santiago harbor, Maj. Gen. William Shafter, commander of the Fifth Army Corps, ordered his First Cavalry Division under Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler to seize San Juan Heights.
To his credit, Gardner does not overlook the additional regiments that accompanied the Rough Riders in the charge that seized San Juan Heights on July 1, 1898. Roosevelt, however, remains the center of Gardner’s narrative.
Using the memoirs of individual Rough Riders, Gardner paints Roosevelt in glowing terms. Roosevelt later summarized his personal actions in a diary entry that simply read: “Rose at 4. Big Battle. Commanded regiment. Held extreme front of firing line.” Two weeks after the cavalry division seized San Juan Heights, the garrison of Santiago capitulated.
By late summer, the war was over and the Army mustered out the Rough Riders, but not before Roosevelt paraded the regiment before McKinley when the president visited them at Camp Wikoff on Long Island, N.Y. By then, Roosevelt was idolized as one of the war’s legitimate heroes and his political future was ensured. In November 1898, New York voters elected him as governor.
An unabashed admirer of Roosevelt, Gardner presents an intriguing portrait of the man before he assumed the governorship of New York. The Roosevelt who emerges from these pages is extraordinarily ambitious and possesses a special flair of histrionic behavior and self-promotion. One photographer who accompanied then-Col. Roosevelt to Cuba said the regimental second-in-command’s “zeal for publicity was alive and roaring.” Said Roosevelt, “I put myself in the way of things happening, and they happened.”
Perhaps, but Roosevelt did not always appear as selfless as newspapers and his admiring friends portrayed him. When Alger denied a request to award the Medal of Honor to Roosevelt, a far less sympathetic Roosevelt emerges. Convinced that he was a victim of War Department treachery because he testified that Alger’s department was guilty of crippling deficiencies that hindered the campaign in Cuba, Roosevelt complained bitterly to his friend Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge: “I don’t ask this as a favor. I ask it as a right. … I am entitled to the Medal of Honor, and I want it.”
Did Roosevelt’s actions at San Juan Heights justify favorable consideration of the nation’s highest award for valor? The jury remains out, but Gardner emphatically believes Roosevelt was, indeed, a victim of political intrigue that denied him the award in 1898.
Gardner spins a well-told story, and he witnessed the presentation of the Medal of Honor on Jan. 16, 2001. Belated justice was finally done as the descendants of Roosevelt witnessed “the leader of the Rough Riders receive the medal he deserved.”
Col. Cole C. Kingseed, USA Ret., is a writer and consultant. A 30-year infantry veteran, he commanded at the platoon, company and battalion levels and served in a variety of military assignments, culminating in his tenure as full professor of history and chief of military history at the U.S. Military Academy. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton, Ohio; master’s degrees from Ohio State University and the U.S. Naval War College; and a Ph.D. from Ohio State.
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Gripping Story of an Overlooked Campaign
War at the End of the World: Douglas MacArthur and the Forgotten Fight for New Guinea, 1942–1945. James P. Duffy. NAL Caliber. 436 pages. $28
By Col. Stanley L. Falk, U.S. Army retired
On March 8, 1942, Japanese army and navy ground troops landed in the cities of Lae and Salamaua on the northeast coast of New Guinea. Thus began nearly three years of vicious fighting for control of this huge southwestern Pacific island nation. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers struggled through dense, trackless jungles and over rugged mountains, in intense sapping heat and soaking monsoon rains, faced with the constant scourge of debilitating tropical diseases. Not until late 1944 did American and Australian forces, under the leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, finally gain complete victory over a stubborn foe.
James P. Duffy is an experienced military historian and author of over a dozen books, including three earlier works on World War II. In War at the End of the World: Douglas MacArthur and the Forgotten Fight, he begins his gripping story of the punishing battle with the Japanese seizure of the key port of Rabaul, New Britain, in late January 1942, a necessary prelude to their advance into New Guinea. He then carefully describes the subsequent Japanese push down the Solomon Islands and into Papua and western New Guinea.
This ambitious drive would soon be frustrated by an American counteroffensive that halted and eventually overwhelmed the increasingly desperate Japanese. More than 200,000 Japanese soldiers would be killed in action, or die of disease or starvation in isolated pockets bypassed by MacArthur. American and Australian forces each suffered about 7,000 fatalities, while thousands more were wounded or suffered from malaria or other insidious tropical diseases.
War at the End of the World is a well-written, highly detailed account of a strategic victory. Yet the horrific struggle for New Guinea is not so much “forgotten,” as the book title suggests, as it is simply overlooked in the usual memories of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other famous Pacific battles. Nevertheless, there is a large body of readily available literature on MacArthur’s New Guinea campaign, and most of these publications are included in Duffy’s extensive bibliography.
The author has clearly studied this material carefully, as reflected in the comprehensive nature of his narrative. Especially impressive is his use of translated Japanese materials.
Duffy does equally well with Australian sources. This is also important since most of the early fighting was done by Australian troops. MacArthur gave their contributions little publicity during the war but in fact, until as late as March 1944, most army divisions under his command were Australian. The arrival of 10 more American divisions in the next few months reversed this balance, but the presence of Australian troops in New Guinea was essential to MacArthur’s success.
After the Australians had fought the Japanese to a standstill and then pushed them back upon themselves, American forces began a series of leaps and bounds along the north coast of New Guinea around and over the heads of the frustrated enemy. Covered by strong and effective airstrikes and with a growing amphibious capability, the Americans easily bypassed strong Japanese defensives that would have otherwise blocked their advance. Once established in their new positions, they quickly built airfields and beach sites from which to support and supply their next advance.
The most dramatic of these maneuvers came in April 1944, when Mac-Arthur’s forces leaped 1,500 miles westward over Japanese strongpoints to land at and seize weakly defended Hollandia. This dramatic operation split Japanese forces in New Guinea, isolated the bulk of their troops further east, and gave MacArthur the crushing victory that soon led to his complete control of the rest of that great island. This triumph was an essential prelude to his promised return to the Philippines.
Duffy’s in-depth account of MacArthur’s New Guinea campaign is a well-paced and informative one. His narrative covers the brutal details of tactical operations in the air and sea as well as on the ground, and the often-dramatic efforts of individual soldiers. He describes MacArthur’s key role in planning and directing a complicated series of offensive maneuvers all aimed at the swift advancement of his forces.
Duffy is on less sure footing, however, in his discussion of broad strategy, which he sometimes misstates or oversimplifies. Nor does he attempt any deep analysis of overall Pacific strategy. He makes no effort to weigh the advantages of Mac-Arthur’s plan to defeat Japan via the Philippines against the alternate central Pacific drive that opened the way for the great strategic bombing offensive against the Japanese home islands.
Despite this omission, War at the End of the World is an excellent account of the fight for New Guinea and a solid contribution to Pacific war history.
Col. Stanley L. Falk, USA Ret., is a military historian and author of books and articles on World War II in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Bard College, N.Y., and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
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4 Key Leaders Provide Lens for WWII Account
American Warlords: How Roosevelt’s High Command Led America to Victory in World War II. Jonathan W. Jordan. Penguin Group. 473 pages. $17
By Lt. Col. Kirby R. Dennis
The most effective tool historians use to educate their audience is portraying events through the eyes of those who were present at the time. One thinks of powerful books such as Guy Sajer’s The Forgotten Soldier or Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front—two classic examples of this technique.
In the case of World War II, the task of clearly explaining history and describing the context in which decisions were made is particularly difficult given the war’s length and geography. In American Warlords: How Roosevelt’s High Command Led America to Victory in World War II, author Jonathan W. Jordan succeeds in accomplishing this task.
American Warlords is a sweeping account of the war’s military, strategic and political dimensions, and Jordan provides unique perspectives into the key decisions that led to America’s successful prosecution of a global war by presenting history through the eyes of four key leaders: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Ernest King.
If one is looking for a history of battlefield tactics and operational warfare, this is not your book. Jordan’s disciplined writing keeps the reader at the strategic level, and he impressively details the events that led to key decisions before and during the war. His account of wartime leadership through the lives of Roosevelt, Stimson, Marshall and King underscores several themes that prove central to the book; chief among them are the concepts of joint operations, coalition warfare, and civilian control of the military.
The author does an excellent job contrasting the inherently parochial nature of service leaders with the ultimate need for the services to cooperate on the battlefield. In doing so, he highlights joint operations as a necessary component to the high command’s plan for victory in World War II. In an era when the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 did not exist and personality often trumped policy, joint warfare was waged not as a matter of doctrine but because of common interest and necessity. On this point, Jordan effectively shows the reader how personalities within Roosevelt’s inner circle and the events of the day resulted in successful joint operations against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
Similarly, Jordan provides the reader with superb insight into coalition warfare. Through events such as the Quebec Conference in 1943, he highlights the tenuous nature of managing alliances during times of war. Jordan colorfully captures the nature of personal and professional relationships inside the Allied coalition—relationships fraught with clashing egos, contrasting agendas and, at times, duplicitous dealings.
This is all conveyed within the context of Roosevelt’s total control over the war’s direction and strategy. Whether it was cutting the secretary of war out of the chain of command, rebuffing attempts to formalize the Joint Chiefs of Staff or disapproving the military’s push into the Pacific Theater in 1942, Jordan brings to light Roosevelt’s transformational leadership and ability to deftly manage subordinates.
To be sure, any narrative of World War II cannot be confined to four primary actors, and Jordan is forced to write extensively about other players such as Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr., Gen. Douglas MacArthur, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin, to name only a few. Moreover, given their historical stature, Jordan inevitably focuses attention on Roosevelt and Marshall at the expense of Stimson and King. The reader is often left with Stimson’s views only through his personal diary entries, and King is frequently cast in a negative light because of his brusque personality and leadership style. In spite of this, their importance to the war effort is portrayed in a convincing manner, and Jordan deserves credit for highlighting King and Stimson as two critical members of Roosevelt’s high command.
Aside from the historical aspects of the book, Jordan scores high in terms of his writing style. He effortlessly moves among subjects such as the Lend-Lease Act, the Guadalcanal Campaign and presidential politics, all the while keeping the reader’s attention through tightly written chapters of varying topics. Above all else, American Warlords is impressively researched and filled with vignettes that illuminate the lesser-known aspects of World War II. Through his portrayal of America’s high command, Jordan expertly brings readers to a better and deeper understanding of the strategic decision-making that resulted in Allied victory. For this reason, American Warlords ranks high on the long list of World War II history books.
Lt. Col. Kirby R. Dennis is an infantry officer serving in a joint assignment at the U.S. Northern Command. He previously served as the brigade executive officer of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Military Academy and a master’s degree from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and he is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College.