The kind of lessons troops needed to fight this kind of war could be learned only in Korea

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

This Kind of War by T.R. FehrenbachR&R was only a stopgap measure, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and soon there rose talk of Big R, rotation out of Korea and back to the United States:

A point system was set up. It took thirty-six points to rotate.


The point system had great merits — and great disadvantages. No man liked to risk his neck — and thirty points. The handling of high-point men was a continuing problem of commanders from this time on.

Some men, with enough points, did not rotate. James Mount, who had come to Korea a corporal, was made second lieutenant in the medical service. The promotion delayed him till November.

One colonel, who had had long and arduous service since the beginning, was ready to leave. On the eve of his departure he received his brigadier’s single star. He felt it a crowning accomplishment to his service in Korea — until he was informed that as a general officer he was on a new rotation list; he was now the general officer with the least overseas service in the Far East. Dedicated man that he was, the new brigadier’s remarks were pungent and heartfelt.

After the beginning of truce talks, the primary interest of every man in Korea was going home. It could hardly have been otherwise.

And with rotation, the complexion of the Army changed. Now the men and officers coming in were largely reservists, National Guardsmen, draftees. The percentage of regulars in most line units sank to forty or less, as more and more men were recalled from business and farm to man the line.


Worse than lack of enthusiasm, the new troops were green. The kind of lessons troops needed to fight this kind of war could be learned only in Korea.


  1. Kirk says:

    The rotation and replacement policies of the US military are so bad that they really should have been charged as war crimes against the fools that designed them. The whole “treat people as replacement parts” concept came about because of the pressures of WWII, and because they were completely oblivious to the whole problem of raising really effective units for combat, along with how to maintain them once they’d received losses.

    What’s worse is that they institutionalized it all, making the peacetime Army work the same way, with all the BS attendant to it all.

    What’s amazing to me, as a student of history, is that the friggin’ Nazis, of all people, had more humane and effective policies when it came to these issues. I got to talk to a German officer from that era, who’d come up from the bottom to become a company-grade officer during the middle of the war, and who reached field-grade right before the end, attending the appropriate schooling along the way. The way he described it, if he’d ever done or suggested what was standard policy in the American Army when it came to replacements and all the rest of our personnel policies, he’d have been court-martialed and likely shot out of hand. That’s how bad we were at it–The Germans thought we were crazy, and felt bad for our soldiers they’d captured!

    The fundamental issue is unit cohesion. The Germans did everything to foster that, and we did everything imaginable to destroy it, mostly in a fit of absent-mindedness. In the German system, replacements didn’t get trickled into combat formations that were engaged with the enemy the way we did it; they were kept as reserves and not integrated into the combat units until there was a break in the action, and the unit was withdrawn to re-form. Then, the new replacements would be carefully integrated and brought up to speed by the surviving veterans in an environment that didn’t include the enemy trying to kill them. The loss rate for American replacements vs. the one for German replacements was exponentially higher because of this–And, the soldiers were treated as expendable by their veteran peers on arrival, mostly due to the fact that there was no time to train or orient them to the realities of the battlefield. In German practice, the officer doing such a thing would have been dealt with severely. For us, it was standard operating procedure.

    We institutionalized it, such that even in peacetime, we were doing individual replacements at great cost and not just in dollars. The amount of turbulence created by an individual replacement system wreaks havoc in the units–Over the course of my career, the brute fact was that I never really got to train any of the “advanced” tasks we would have to perform in combat, simply because by the time I’d gotten the troops to proficiency on the building-block simpler ones, the rotation policy and turbulence would mean I’d have to go back to zero and start over with the basics–Because the only person left in my squad who’d been around more than a year would be me. The rapid turnover and turbulence meant that they essentially institutionalized a vast mediocrity, and nobody ever really got to true “expert” status on all too many collective tasks.

    That is no way to manage a military force. They tried to ape the forms of other, long-term professional forces a few times during my career, most notably with the whole COHORT thing, but even there, they fundamentally misunderstood how things really work out in the line units. You can’t have an entire unit of nothing but privates with the same date of entry and exit–It forms a massive “bulge in the snake”, and leaves you without available intermediaries down at the senior enlisted levels below NCO. Those guys are waaaaaaay more critical than anyone really credits, and you’ll never notice that fact until you’ve got a squad full of brand-new privates fresh from initial entry training, and you’ve literally got to show them how to do everything, because there are no “senior privates” to devolve that simple stuff down onto. You really don’t realize how critical those guys are until they’re not there, and then you’re running around like a proverbial chicken with it’s head chopped off, from minor crisis to minor crisis.

    First time I ran into that was a night in Korea, where I had to go off to an OPORD briefing and my team leader was running guard mount for the perimeter. Told my privates to get the truck camouflaged, and came back 45 minutes later to find what I can only describe as the likely result of an attack by demented rabid spiders… Where getting the net up usually took like 20 minutes, that night it took three hours in the dark to actually get it semi-presentable and let’s not even talk about the tentage… Right after that debacle, my team leader and I started referring to that tour as our “Specialist (that’s the ‘senior private’ rank…) Appreciation Training Tour”.

    The US military is horrible at all of this. Even after twenty years of low-scale warfare, they’re still horking it up. The turbulence and utter anomie it fosters with the troops is incredible, and it’s all entirely self-inflicted. You don’t train and rotate people, you train and rotate units. Period. No matter how much it hurts…

  2. Redan says:

    Both sides in the War Between the States / Civil War / War of Northern Aggression had better cohesion then with the state regimental system. A fine example was the First North Carolina Cavalry Regiment, raised in 1861. Each company (troop) was composed of men from one or two adjacent counties. One served with one’s friends and neighbors. I recall, but can’t confirm just now, that the regiment’s strength was less than ten when it surrendered in 1865.

    New regiments were formed rather than send new men to old regiments.

  3. Vetrani Sui Sunt Circuli says:

    Kirk is right, and the only decent thing we’ve ever done with the personnel system is suspend it in wartime, aka Stop Loss. No one rotates out and the entire unit deploys over then back home again.
    Unit rotation.

    I’m told from time to time like Astan now they cease stop loss and go back to the circus.

    The individual replacement system came out of Marshall’s 90 Division Bet during WW2, itself a hard even desperate choice of having men in factories in WW2 or men in units. Marshall didn’t make the 90 Division Bet, he asked for 265 Divisions and FDR said 90 Divisions. At that point it’s realized that 90 divisions in ww2 does not allow for unit rotation and so replacement of loses by unit…and the individual replacement system is born. It was horrific from the summer of 1944 on in Europe where it was first imposed. Horrific casualty rates among the replacements. No time to train them.

    Later as McNamara and his evil wunderkind come up with the rounded career ideas, and the Volunteer army carries this terrible mistake forward so people can keep getting promoted [up or out our other horrific flaw - that's for a sales force not soldiers] so to keep getting promoted you move from base to base.

    The USAF at least used to do it different, you go to one base for a long time, perhaps your career.
    They also don’t really do up or out / promotion or elimination.

  4. Vetrani Sui Sunt Circuli says:

    Hey Kirk,

    Guess who just sent an email today that the Contracting out of support, combined with these MOBE/DEMOBE quasi NGO’s handling all our Mobilization/Demobilization has yes Infantilized a generation of soldiers and leaders beyond the tactical?

    Logistics? Go back to the FOB.

    Yep, the chickens have come home to roost.

    They have no concept of real logistics, or really anything beyond the tactical.

    As I said today: Tactics are for Squads/Platoons.
    From Company up the Army’s real job is logistics.


    Sure all the pieces are there but they have no idea how they fit. Someone else has been doing that for 20 years. We might as well take the current crop of leaders with less than 25 years and throw them into any random entrance at the Pentagon.

  5. Kirk says:

    On the bright side, when they go to turn the current/future force on the civilian populace, they’re going to be incredibly inept and incompetent.

    What really irritates me about all this is that precisely none of this crap is at all “unknown”. It’s not that they don’t have the records or the books to refer to, it’s just that they don’t read them. Ever.

    I had a long talk with a personnel type, just before I retired. We discussed this very issue, and she admitted that the issues were well-known, and that they knew how to do it better, it was just that the mass of the Army was too used to the “way things were”, and nobody on the decision-making side would sign off on changing it. Too much “change”, even though everyone recognizes that there’s a massive set of issues with how we’re doing business today.

    I have come to recognize that the Army basically only reforms in fits and starts, usually after a major defeat/setback. Then, they reform under fire and in desperation, until achieving victory. Then, they just keep on keeping on with whatever half-ass solution they had in place when they won, until the next time they get their asses handed to them. That’s just the way it is, and it will never, ever change. The Army somehow had a bunch of things built into its organizational DNA when it was founded, and those things are hard-coded into the institutional culture to the point where we’ll never see them change, ever. Not until it’s destroyed and reformed anew.

    What’s ironic as hell? In the US Army, there’s this near-feudal dichotomy between enlisted and commissioned ranks, something you’d think appropriate to an Army belonging to a country with a much stronger class/caste system. And, at the same time, the UK? With their class system that’s still relatively strong? LOL… The British Army is astonishingly egalitarian, with far more respect and responsibility accorded to their NCO corps than in ours. Of course, training and selection standards are a lot different…

    Brutally put, though? The Army is screwed, in the long term. They have been cutting out the bits that work since I enlisted, and it’s only gotten exponentially worse. The whole training/acculturation issue is something that the people running the place really don’t understand or comprehend, and they keep mucking about with pointless “change” to no effect.

    The really key problem? They’re killing off and erasing all the “tribal memory”, with deliberate malice. They don’t even know what they’ve lost, or what the original function of it was, let alone how to properly replace it.

    I am honestly not too worried about them turning the forces on the civilians. I give it a month or two, and all those fancy weapons are going to be in the hands of the militia, and their only option will be to unleash the nukes–Whereupon they’ll likely find that even if the SAC crews wanted to obey orders to destroy concentrations of “revolutionaries” out in the country, they’re simply going to lack the basic competence to even get the nukes out the doors of the igloos. That’s how much basic competence has been lost–Friend of mine in one of the SAC security elements was telling me about all the tell-tale signs he’s seen, and those guys cheating on their qual tests for missile crew are only the tip of the freakin’ iceberg. They go to hold WWIII tomorrow, I would lay long odds on a bunch of people having a lot of egg on their faces…

  6. Kirk says:

    To be brutally honest, I have to say that the problems with the Army’s social structure and personnel policies are echoed across society.

    The basic and fundamental task/purpose of any social system is to propagate itself. We’re signally not doing that, and the very institutions that are supposed to be engaged in that work are actively trying to tear everything down, rather than build it up and improve it.

    Why focus on generations-old issues like slavery and the Jim Crow era, other than to foster ethnic/racial hatred and prejudice? What purpose does that serve, in the interest of long-term social good? Does it make it better for black Americans? White Americans?

    The real problem is that we’ve allowed these institutions to be captured by our ideological enemies, people with no interest in anything other than the destruction of the “system” they see as illegitimate. There’s no consideration for anything like pragmatic acknowledgement that something like slavery was impossible to eliminate in the South at the time of the Revolution and the writing of our Constitution. All that can be said today by these people is that it’s tainted, with no credit given to the aspirational nature of it all. Sure, Thomas Jefferson talked a good game, but he was an utter bastard because Sally Hemings. Who we don’t even know for sure was being boinked by Thomas, only that there’s sign that someone in his genetic line was. Yet, we’re going to throw out the baby with the bathwater, just ‘cos…

    Never mind all the positive things the Founders achieved. That’s irrevocably tainted, and makes it all irrelevant.

    My take is that our institutions have been failing us for a very long time, and the lies are only now starting to come out. I remember when I was a kid in high school, and all the brights said that world communism was inevitable… They were all about bending over for the Soviets, saying that their victory was coming.

    Question I had for them then was “Just what do you suppose happens after this victory…? Do you think you’re going to be elevated to some high place in the new order, because you bad-mouthed where you were born and raised?”. Reality is, the fellow-travelers and traitors go up against the wall first, because they’re proven untrustworthy by their acts. This has been the case time and time again, throughout history. Yet, the idiots can’t seem to wrap their heads around that fact.

    Same thing going on today with most of our “elite”. They denigrate where they came from, thinking that the people they’re ceding legitimacy and control to will thank them and appreciate their sensitivity. Reality? They’re going to pass them under the yoke and abuse them worse than anything done by the ancestral baddies they’re trying to atone for, most of whom exist only in their imaginations.

    We suffer from the fact that the “elites” have devalued and destroyed much of traditional society, perfectly illustrating Chesterton’s Law. They’ve ripped up the rails, and left nothing behind to guide the mass of the populace, relying on everything just “working out”. Which it will not.

    I’ve had a deep and lasting suspicion of these people from childhood. They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, and they’re stone-ignorant about the realities of most of the things they’re trying to change. They have no idea why things are done a certain way, and assign malign intent to things that merely reflected the reality of the time and the requirements of nature, which they are cocksure certain we’ve managed to rise above. Reality will have its vote, and I think the story of the 21st Century is going to be the chickens coming home to roost in oh-so-many ugly ways.

  7. Vetrani Sui Sunt Circuli says:

    Yes, the nihilists will burn it all down. Well a lot of it.

    I am dubious they’ll get enough takers in the military to turn loose on the civilians.

    DOD said no. Hell no. Won’t help you Congress. Also, the DC NG was not allowed or turned them down. The entire thing was done by 6 PM, and frankly the ‘insurrection’ was on the scale of mischief night at a college or high school dorm until that idiot panicked and shot Ashli Babbitt.

    So the governors of Dem states sent the NG. Well, I was one of them, and we were only going to defend life, probably our own.


    Now the saying of if you don’t know who the sucker is at the poker game doesn’t even cover this situation…it’s more NO ONE ELSE WILL SIT DOWN AT THE TABLE BUT YOU AND THE DEALER…and the Dealer is the Honorable Hysterics of Congress…and they’re ‘so frightened’ it’s funny.

    This is the farce part of history repeating.

    The tragic part – everyone can see they’re pussies frightened out of their wits – the tragic part follows when A MAN steps up and takes what’s laying around for all to see.

    BTW the kids are alright in the army, the real problem is the institution is passing from learning nothing and forgetting nothing ie the Bourbons into end of the Merovings.

    Or maybe we have the Merovings leading and the Bourbons following.

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