Short Tour Syndrome - Have we got it????

B

bokkatankie

Guest
#1
My overall point is that we seem to be stuck into a short (emergency) tour mentality that creates a host of procurement, experience and continuity problems of it own.

The British Army is not fighting a war in AFG, it is fighting short tour operations that last 6 months of which there have been 18 to date (give or take). No tour has been the same in terms of threat, location and mission or political interference.

As each tour is sent out with very different brigade structures, attitudes and so some extent capabilities; the resulting post tour reports must make very confusing reading. The attitude of different units to the conflict are also important to take into account. Simply put if you change the structure all the time no one is going to be able to tell you what worked best and why.

Short tour syndrome results in UOR overkill, the poor MOD (and I use this term carefully), will be at best swamped with new ideas and requirements but, as in our case, will become paralized by conflicting requests. Add to that the political interference, mission creep and media pressure and you will end up with a whole host of vehicles and equipment that meets the last but one tours needs.

This, as far as I can see, is exactly what we are getting: Jackal was requested by SF and is now used as convoy protection, Mastiff is now being tried as a manouver platform when is was originally requested as convoy protection and on and on.

Units are switching from one platform to another, no retained pool of knowledge is built up and the resultant usage of each platform varies so much that no one is really in a position to say what worked best. As the tours are, effectively, winter and summer the variations this produces are also adding to the confusion.

NI lasted 30 years but had from the beginning fixed command structures and units on 2 year tours which were supplemented by emergency tour units. Not ideal either as much experience was lost each time the tours rotated.

With NI, eventually, came fixed training and preparation programmes, this I know is happening for current ops but from what I have read much is still ad hoc and put together as Bde assets then disbanded or handed over to the next formation.

Each Bde Comd will probable only do one tour in his 2 year stint, much rests on this six months results, with the possibility of needing one big push a tour being the norm.

If there can ever be a sensible conclusion to this conflict we may have to consider longer tours, fixed command structures and heaven forbid; a mission!!!!
 
#2
Whats the point though when call me dave has stated the day we leave anyway.
 
#3
I doubt you'll find anyone who'll disagree, Bokka. We all know much better now. But, then again, we all knew much better in 2006. So I'm genuinely baffled as to how we've ended up as we are... what worth did our decades of hard won experience have if gave us such little wisdom? What successes have we achieved in Afghanistan that have seriously drawn on our lessons learnt from Northern Ireland, or Oman? Because I haven't seen the Army adapt as much to Op Telic / Herrick as it did to Op Banner.

We can complain about underfunding as much as we like, but a great many of our failings have been operational, not financial. Battalions & Bde sub units have adapted & fought well, but much above them has been abysmal. A great deal of blame - and yes, its about time we began apportioning blame - lies squarely with the middle and senior ranks of the Army. I haven't seen any of them shouldering it yet, or many identified & weeded out either.

Given that we should have easily anticipated the problems you've outlined, you have to ask if we really wanted to win? And if we did, ignoring issues around equipment, why did we not reorganise, retrain and commit to our fights accordingly?

Charlie
 
#4
I agree with Charlie's view that you are capturing the perspective most of us hold Bokka. I have listened to the last two Bde "backbriefs" (I believe they were supposed to be debriefs??) to CinC. Both were VTCd across LF and both left me, and my peers, wondering wtf was going on!? CinC offered very little other than "well done chaps", the questions were pathetic panderings and lasted about 5mins before CinC declared that we had better move on and ended the meeting.....what was he moving on to? Tea perhaps.

It was unbelievably feable achieving nothing more than a MS moment for the Bde Comd and staff. There was no real scrutiny or genuine discussion quite possibly because the audience was not qualified to do so, or more likely CinC was unqualified to do so and got the heck out of there.

I was pretty far forward on an early HERRICK and saw soldiers suffer due to the Bde HQ being way off mark but they were hardly helped by the Command vacuum in UK. Yet we still accept the word of a 1* Bde Comd without question, yet each Bde is blatantly doing 1 x Big Op per tour irrespective of what is actually needed.

This conflict is being screwed up because we lack the mechanism to "audit" wtf Bdes are doing in Helmand. It does not tally with the gentlemanly approach senior officers prefer but I do not see it changing as we limp towards 2015 and close the door on this shambles.
 
#5
I agree with Charlie's view that you are capturing the perspective most of us hold Bokka. I have listened to the last two Bde "backbriefs" (I believe they were supposed to be debriefs??) to CinC. Both were VTCd across LF and both left me, and my peers, wondering wtf was going on!? CinC offered very little other than "well done chaps", the questions were pathetic panderings and lasted about 5mins before CinC declared that we had better move on and ended the meeting.....what was he moving on to? Tea perhaps.

It was unbelievably feable achieving nothing more than a MS moment for the Bde Comd and staff. There was no real scrutiny or genuine discussion quite possibly because the audience was not qualified to do so, or more likely CinC was unqualified to do so and got the heck out of there.

I was pretty far forward on an early HERRICK and saw soldiers suffer due to the Bde HQ being way off mark but they were hardly helped by the Command vacuum in UK. Yet we still accept the word of a 1* Bde Comd without question, yet each Bde is blatantly doing 1 x Big Op per tour irrespective of what is actually needed.

This conflict is being screwed up because we lack the mechanism to "audit" wtf Bdes are doing in Helmand. It does not tally with the gentlemanly approach senior officers prefer but I do not see it changing as we limp towards 2015 and close the door on this shambles.

As I have asked many times: "who the f3ck is actually in charge of this mess???"

No-one above 1* level is actually fighting the war, and those below it seem to be left to their own devices to figure it out for themselves. If i were really cynical, I would suggest that issues like FAD, WFM, and requirements for GS driver conversion exercise more intellectual activity back in the UK....
 

OldSnowy

LE
Moderator
Book Reviewer
#6
............we still accept the word of a 1* Bde Comd without question, yet each Bde is blatantly doing 1 x Big Op per tour irrespective of what is actually needed.

This conflict is being screwed up because we lack the mechanism to "audit" wtf Bdes are doing in Helmand. It does not tally with the gentlemanly approach senior officers prefer but I do not see it changing as we limp towards 2015 and close the door on this shambles.
Ah, the 'One Big headline Op a tour' disease. I had a long discussion with a US Civvy in Helmand a couple of years ago. He'd been there for over 18 months, and was set on staying a while longer. He described the US amusement at the normal Brit Tour Process. He'd seen two, and was in the middle of the third, and all were identical: Arrive - settle in - plan an Op - do an Op - publicise the Op - write citations - hand over. Sadly, he's not far short of the mark. Each Tour has to do something - Kajaki, Marjah, Nad-e-Ali, whatever. That something is the main planning exercise for the Staff, and, of course, the main opportunity for the Brig to show his ability to Command. He'll only get one shot at a Bde in combat - so he does NOT want to **** it up.
Even more pertinent - he DOES want his name to be known, and attached to a successful Operation. No-one remembers someone who did a very competent job of "hold and build". It's the "Clear" that counts.

We also seem to cycle people through Command Appointments rather fast, to ensure everyone gets a go (I would guess that, in a few years, unless you have the HERRICK medal (at the very least) that the golden fruit of High command will not be for you!). In contrast, I know a US Army Brigadier who did over 12 months in E Afghanistan, had less than a year in the Pentagon, and was back as a Brig again, for another 12+ months. He was extremely competent and motivated (nothing odd there - our Brigs are mostly the same), but crucially he was very experienced at how Afghanistan 'worked', how Afghans did things, how the Logs there worked, what the weather was like.

I do not see that we work in that way. We are 6 months (or, occasionally, 12) and that's it.

Is our system good for the Army? Possibly, at some levels.
For the UK? Doubtful.
For the Afghans? Very doubtful indeed.

But it's the way we've always done it, so we continue. Sad.
 
#7
I doubt you'll find anyone who'll disagree, Bokka. We all know much better now. But, then again, we all knew much better in 2006. So I'm genuinely baffled as to how we've ended up as we are... what worth did our decades of hard won experience have if gave us such little wisdom? What successes have we achieved in Afghanistan that have seriously drawn on our lessons learnt from Northern Ireland, or Oman? Because I haven't seen the Army adapt as much to Op Telic / Herrick as it did to Op Banner.

We can complain about underfunding as much as we like, but a great many of our failings have been operational, not financial. Battalions & Bde sub units have adapted & fought well, but much above them has been abysmal. A great deal of blame - and yes, its about time we began apportioning blame - lies squarely with the middle and senior ranks of the Army. I haven't seen any of them shouldering it yet, or many identified & weeded out either.

Given that we should have easily anticipated the problems you've outlined, you have to ask if we really wanted to win? And if we did, ignoring issues around equipment, why did we not reorganise, retrain and commit to our fights accordingly?

Charlie
Spot on, Cong. As ever. Keep 'em coming. We are MUCH too deferential for our own good and as a result learn far too little from our mistakes.
 
#9
I just read that General Messenger was complaining about not having enough troops to the defence select committee. I remember when he was Bde Comd and the tour was spent mowing the grass up and down the Helmand river valley. As said before, it's all about the big ops. If he had spent his time developing indigenous forces and concentrating on the key towns rather than trying to kill everybody everywhere then maybe some real progress would have been made.
 

Bowmore_Assassin

MIA
Moderator
Book Reviewer
#10
Bokkatankie, in line with other posters, no argument here. Do we have short-tour syndrome - yes. Does it help us, probably not. Having said that, the US military are having massive issues with PTSD and their suicide rate of combat vets is high, to say the least; I suspect tour lengths and frequency of tours are major factors. So maybe six month tours are good with regard to mental fragility ?

Having said that, I think 1 year tours are the way ahead in terms of continuity.

On a related topic, I do believe that we should stop RnR for tours of less than a year. On a 6 monther you get 2 weeks and you get on a plane and go home for this, regardless of role in theatre. So, lets say you have been in combat, seen your mates die or get injured and then the next day you are at home. 2 weeks is not long enough to adjust to 'civdiv' or start dealing with the mundane stuff like car insurance renewal, domestic day to day bullshit etc (and if anything, none of it is important compared with you knowing your comrades are in harms way) However, at the end of the tour, before you are allowed home, you get to 'decompress' in order to 'adjust.' Sorry, something is not adding up here. IMHO, RnR is not helpful to the deployed individual or the family. And, yes, I have done a tour with no RnR - again IMHO it was easier than going home half-way through and having to go back on ops again.

I remember when went from 4 month deployments in NI to 6 months (a long time ago !). Initial fuss and then it was all over and the accepted norm. We need to break out of 6 month syndrome and accept the reality that war is war, comes at a price and people just need to suck it up.
 
#11
Things were much the same in NI in the 70s and 80s - the attitude at the lower levels was along the lines of "nothing we do will sort this out so let's get through the tour in one piece and go home at endex". As usual many higher commanders wanted to use the situation so shine for the promotions board.

It was quite odd to deploy for the Falklands with the mission to retake the islands and clear out the opposition with no endex date. The idea that we could only go home via Port Stanley when we had completed the mission certainly focussed people's attention. I assume that it was similar in GW1. Current ops do not have a clear aim or objective and I think this has as much to do with problems as the short tour syndrome.

Rodney2q
 
#12
Continuity and the consequent corporate memory are alien concepts to the MOD. One could argue that whilst admin and training at the Bn level works operationally the largest independent unit should be the Coy and in line with that Coys should be the largest single unit that is rotated in and out of theatre.

Although prone to switching off when subjected to death by vuefoil at Camberly I do recall this bit:

The ten principles of war as listed and defined in the 2008 edition of British Defence Doctrine (which also provides explanation) are:

1. Selection and Maintenance of the Aim <snip>
 
#13
I just read that General Messenger was complaining about not having enough troops to the defence select committee. I remember when he was Bde Comd and the tour was spent mowing the grass up and down the Helmand river valley. As said before, it's all about the big ops. If he had spent his time developing indigenous forces and concentrating on the key towns rather than trying to kill everybody everywhere then maybe some real progress would have been made.
It wasn't so very long ago that everyone was spouting the mantra that the British Army was a warfighting force, that could step down easily to peacekeeping and COIN tasks. Too many senior officers are so ingrained with these sort of ideals, that sticking bayonets in people will always be seen as the underlying unifying purpose to any mission.

Anyway, I guess Messenger got a high/yes for promotion in his OJAR, so he can't of ben that bad...can he? ;-)
 
#14
Bowmore_Assassin- agree with everything in your post.

I find it a contradiction that there is RnR in a 6 month tour and then 2 weeks decompression at the end of the tour. surely there are the same pressures faced in either situation? I think that the decompression period is a good idea. Does it work for the guys coming back?

My understanding was that the tours weren't lengthened due to the casualty attrition rate experienced in earlier tours and the affect on individual battalions for future ops.

Althoug Bowmore mentions the American experience of longer tours, does or has anyone seen info on our rates of PTSD or suicide rates. I'm sure the army has these figures but realise that they will not release them.

I'm suprised that there is not a higher higher group responsible for ops over a year or for 2 or 3 brigades moving through theatre for this amount of time. Surely this would help retain corporate knowledge and co-ordinate a long term plan?
 
B

bokkatankie

Guest
#15
The R & R bit was one area that I had not considered because we did not have it before. But totally agree with the contradiction it imposes. From other comments it also leads to troop shortages mid tour and a lack of through tour sub unit cohesion. A friend lost days of his R & R awaiting repairs to Crab Air, whole experience left him and his family more drained than if he had not got home at all until tour end.

Add this to the process of what is already a short time actually "operational" in theatre and one can begin to see why some of the problems just keep on returning.

As to PTSD and Suicide, no figures available to compare that I am aware of either.
 
#16
It is utterly clear to anyone with 1/80th of a brain that TFH should have been created as a formed HQ years ago to provide campaign continuity. The reasons why it wasn't? Partly for MS reasons as above, but also to justify the existence of x number Brigades in the Review everyone knew was coming. The Army criticises the other services for such tactics; I suggest we may be just as cynical. Less about winning this generation's war & more about preserving favoured structures. Nothing to do with COIN/ISAF/EbP etrc, all to do with tedious inter-service wrangling to preserve jobs for the boys in the closed shop of military officership. Less about generalship; more about shop stewardship.

Not to say that GH BGs couldn't (and shouldn't) RiP on a 6 month basis a la USMC, but certainly not HQs/Comds.
 
#18
My overall point is that we seem to be stuck into a short (emergency) tour mentality that creates a host of procurement, experience and continuity problems of it own.[snip]

NI lasted 30 years but had from the beginning fixed command structures and units on 2 year tours which were supplemented by emergency tour units. Not ideal either as much experience was lost each time the tours rotated.
Trust me on this: short tour syndrome was a recognised problem in NI, mainly because COs/OCs only had 4 months (yes, 4) in which to impose their personality on their reporting officer. As the frequency of violence diminished, so too did the frequency of Field Officer's Really Good Ideas go up . . .

With NI, eventually, came fixed training and preparation programmes, this I know is happening for current ops but from what I have read much is still ad hoc and put together as Bde assets then disbanded or handed over to the next formation.
With NI came also the demise (over 20 years or so) of regular training in basic skills like shooting - by 1991 (my last op tour in the province) NITAT was effectively the only shooting we did in a year - if you weren't going to NI, all you did was an APWT. I think that trend has become the accepted norm, and is in dire need of challenge.

Each Bde Comd will probable only do one tour in his 2 year stint, much rests on this six months results, with the possibility of needing one big push a tour being the norm.
See my first on this topic. 'twas ever thus.

If there can ever be a sensible conclusion to this conflict we may have to consider longer tours, fixed command structures and heaven forbid; a mission!!!!
Your AFG mission is clear, it simply hasn't been made explicit. You will "Satisfy the American Gunmint that Britain is a serious and worthwhile ally, without taking so many casualties that nobody will vote Tory in 3 years-and-a-bit"

Gettit? Gottit? Good.
 
#19
Bokkatankie, in line with other posters, no argument here. Do we have short-tour syndrome - yes. Does it help us, probably not. Having said that, the US military are having massive issues with PTSD and their suicide rate of combat vets is high, to say the least; I suspect tour lengths and frequency of tours are major factors. So maybe six month tours are good with regard to mental fragility ?
I've been reading a lot of Ben Shephard lately, on this topic, one which has occupied my mind since I had soldier flip out on an NI tour in 1976.

I'm not at all convinced that what is said about PTSD is medically and psychiatically valid, it is so at odds with what seemed to work in 1914-18/1939-45.

This may help explain what I mean:

Why the Psychiatry of War is Too Important to Be Left to Psychiatrists

Having said that, I think 1 year tours are the way ahead in terms of continuity.

On a related topic, I do believe that we should stop RnR for tours of less than a year. On a 6 monther you get 2 weeks and you get on a plane and go home for this, regardless of role in theatre. So, lets say you have been in combat, seen your mates die or get injured and then the next day you are at home. 2 weeks is not long enough to adjust to 'civdiv' or start dealing with the mundane stuff like car insurance renewal, domestic day to day bullshit etc (and if anything, none of it is important compared with you knowing your comrades are in harms way) However, at the end of the tour, before you are allowed home, you get to 'decompress' in order to 'adjust.' Sorry, something is not adding up here. IMHO, RnR is not helpful to the deployed individual or the family. And, yes, I have done a tour with no RnR - again IMHO it was easier than going home half-way through and having to go back on ops again.

I remember when went from 4 month deployments in NI to 6 months (a long time ago !). Initial fuss and then it was all over and the accepted norm. We need to break out of 6 month syndrome and accept the reality that war is war, comes at a price and people just need to suck it up.
See Ben Shepard's essay above.

Then read his book "War Of Nerves" - I think you agree with him.
 
B

bokkatankie

Guest
#20
I've been reading a lot of Ben Shephard lately, on this topic, one which has occupied my mind since I had soldier flip out on an NI tour in 1976.

I'm not at all convinced that what is said about PTSD is medically and psychiatically valid, it is so at odds with what seemed to work in 1914-18/1939-45.

This may help explain what I mean:

Why the Psychiatry of War is Too Important to Be Left to Psychiatrists

See Ben Shepard's essay above.

QUOTE]

Read the essay, I do a gree with him, soldiers and people flip out for any number of reasons not always related to thier surroundings. I still remember, with horror, reading about people in UK claiming PTSD after the death of Dianna.

But back on point, short tour or long tour some will find it difficult most will not. What we will gain is continuity and long term goals rather than short term "MS moments". If we want to learn anything from Telic and Herrick (which I sometime doubt) the tour system and command structure must be high on the list.

The constant re-roling post tour is also a point to consider, if a CR2 Regt. is deployed as soon as post tour leave is over it is back to proper soldiering. Lets get those armour skills back up and lets forget what we learned in Jackal, Mastiff, Warthog, Viking and on and on. Next tour will be in say 2 or 3 years, new equipment will have been introduced so what is the point of retaining knowledge????

By then complete new command structure will be in place anyway and they will want to do things thier way that they learnt on thier Telic tour on Warrior!!!
 
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