Unseen Warriors

One branch of the military that is invisible unless you are closely involved in it is the support personnel, yet they make warfighting possible. A tank, a troop transport, an Apache helicopter, a fighter jet, a Humvee, a “Combat Support Hospital”, an aircraft carrier, a nuclear missile, small arms and ammo, food and water supplies, clothing, medical supplies – they all depend on engineers to design the thousands of parts, factories to manufacture and assemble them, transport personnel and machines to get them to location, maintenance personnel, and people to re-arm the weapons systems after a fight. And logistics personnel to make sure the parts, re-supplies, and equipment all get to the right place at the right time. They may be thousands of miles from the war, but they are intimately involved in it and critically important.

Desert Storm put half a million troops on the ground with overall excellent success. You can’t do that without absolutely massive and fairly efficient logistics. You can’t do that without an economic, industrial DYNAMO the like of which, frankly, the world had never seen before America.

And the personnel, both civilian and non-combat military to make it happen.

Per John J. McGrath  (downloadable pdf), there are three non-combat elements to the military: logistical, life support, and headquarters / administrative personnel. That’s just the military non-combat personnel. McGrath’s study is extremely complicated and hard for me to understand. As I read it, McGrath estimates the percentage of combat personnel in Iraq during 2005 as 11% (Table B-4, p. 119)

You could double that number and still have a lot of military non-combat personnel. Never mind the civilian stateside population which manufactures the endless number of products for the military.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ advice in Luke 14:31-32: “… suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.”

Exactly. The nation whose leaders do not take into account all these support roles is a nation heading for annihilation or defeat.

Those who supply their nation with any of these vital resources and services have every right to be proud of their service. This is not a fact that is felt instinctively. It may not “feel” right to honor those who work on an assembly line, or plan production and delivery of vital materials, at the same level as warriors who are face-to-face with death, severe injury, capture and torture, and enduring the sometimes very harsh conditions of life on the front lines.

And I agree, not at the same level, but these support men and women are vital to winning a war. And even, to an extent, to preventing a war, if the enemy knows the “muscle” that backs up those on the sharp end. Do not awaken the sleeping giant.

I had the honor of having lunch with such an individual this morning. She was on active, non-combat military duty with the Air Force in Turkey during Desert Storm. I’d like to share some of what we talked about. Since she preferred not to have her name published, with her approval, I’ll use the pseudonym “Steel Magnolia” for her.

The base Steel Magnolia was assigned to in Turkey depended on Patriot missiles to shoot down the Scud missiles that were fired at them. Perfect example: if not for the designers, manufacturers, and transporters of the Patriot missiles, she might not have lived to make that lunchtime interview. The base might well have been destroyed or rendered much less effective. And the Patriots were spectacularly effective. She said that the only time they even had a detonation overhead was when a Patriot was launched by accident, and they had to send up another Patriot to shoot it down. 😀

I can see some hard-core sergeant tearing someone up over that. “You did WHAT?! Now I KNOW the enemy sent you to foul up my Air Force!”

Steel Magnolia was an E4, and earned a star for Leadership School. Her experiences as a very young E4 trying to lead swaggering macho warrior males produced some very interesting stories! I’m sure I only heard a small part of them.

She re-armed the aircraft that performed close air support for our troops and helped kill the enemy. In her case, the [trumpet flourish] A-10 Thunderbolt, aka Warthog, my favorite aircraft!

I’ll let her tell you a little about the A-10. I already posted the first part in Comments on Sunday, but it revs my motor so much I have to repeat it:

Yeah the A-10 is a bad @$$ . Can you believe they were going to discontinue it before Desert Storm? I saw those beauties bring pilots home on one turbine engine and the belly full of lead. Hearing those pilots talk about taking out a convoy of tanks was always fun.”


This site has a great picture of my aircraft – the A-10 Thunderbolt (Warthog) it also has some good information about Incirliks role in Desert Storm.” (Where she was stationed.)

Re-arming it, she noted, took some getting used to, with that 30mm automatic cannon pointing right at you while you were putting live ammo into it. Tsk tsk, breaking the first rule of firearms safety! The NRA would not approve! LOL! But it was necessary.

She spent three months doing 12-hour days, 7 days a week. Amazingly to me, Steel Magnolia described the weather in Turkey at that time as very cold and rainy, leaving the duty area a sea of mud that required pallet “boardwalks” just to make it a little easier to walk from place to place. “But your feet were always wet,” she said.

Some of the equipment wasn’t up to standard. Thankfully it was never needed. She related one instance where her trainee tried to put on his gas mask (incoming scud) and it was dry rotted. It fell apart when he tried to tighten it up. Again, if not for the Patriot missiles that shot down the Scud, he might have been in trouble.

She said that her tour was “very formative.” Enlisting just out of high school at 17 years old, she said that from her military experience, she learned “I can endure anything.”

More than that, she said that exposure to enemy fire makes you “hardened to your inevitable death“, and she began to “live for the day“. “I was wild,” she said. I think I’ll let it go at that. Enough to say that women can be as wild as the men they hang out with.

As always, combat duty tests one’s beliefs, about nearly everything you believe. Steel Magnolia advised that if someone decides to join the military, they should do so “with an open mind. Those who join with closed minds suffer the most.

I laughed with her as she related that her attitude, though open, was … let’s say, a matter of interest to her sergeant. She said, “I was hard to train. I laughed in formation.” Which led to a moment of education from the sergeant. As she realized, it’s necessary to do things the military way, because when it hits the fan, “there’s no time to ask questions.”

I asked something about what she remembered most, or what stood out most, or something like that, about her military “non-combat” experience. She replied that she learned “how resilient the human psyche is. I learned I can endure anything.”

After saddam was run out of Kuwait“, Steel Magnolia was involved in something she described as “a lot of fun“: something akin to the Berlin airlift: Operation Provide Comfort!

That’s the sort of military operation that every human being on earth ought to stand up and cheer for! I am very proud of our warriors for their humanitarian actions as well as for their combat ability. And nothing other than military might could have accomplished this.

There was much more to that interview that was worth hearing. Maybe Steel Magnolia will get together with Duckie and see about writing an article herself for the Heartbeat. Regardless, thank you, Steel Magnolia. I thoroughly enjoyed that interview and found it well worth my time.

Before we end, though, I want to mention what Steel Magnolia described as her biggest disappointment with her military experience: the way the government treats returning vets. In the Mideast wars, as we’ve all heard, we have a high percentage of soldiers returning with amputations and permanent brain damage as a result of IEDs. They are largely ignored by the government.

As Steel Magnolia pointed out, you never get over the brain damage caused by the concussion of an IED at close range. The damage can be seen in medical scans, but never repaired. It’s very frustrating, she pointed out, when your body seems whole and healthy, “but you can’t make it do what you want it to.” People expect you to be normal because you look normal, but you’re a mess. Frustration arises for the vet and those involved with them.

Steel Magnolia has made helping these vets a personal goal, which is another reason America owes this lady a debt of gratitude. Specifically, she has been involved in “Valor Games”, a sort of Olympics for injured vets…

And although I’ve centered this article largely on a military “non-combat” experience, there are probably several million Americans involved directly or indirectly in supplying our warriors with the thousands of items they rely on to keep them fighting.

To those men and women: your lives may not seem dramatic, but we thank you for your vital service. You’re helping those on the sharp end, and it is very dramatic when it all comes together on the front lines. God bless you all, and you too, Steel Magnolia.


What are some non-combat roles in the U.S. military?

We know a few special characters who can probably tell us a great deal about the “Combat Support Hospital“, which supplanted the MASH unit…


To all who have and continue to serve, Thank You!!

Have a blessed and safe RED Friday y’all!

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