4 Lessons for Leaders from The Heights of Courage

The Heights of Courage: A Tank Leader’s War on the Golan by Avigdor Kahalani is a worthwhile read for any young military leader, and a must-read for any armor officer. Kahalani, who retired from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) as a brigadier general, served as a company commander in the Six Day War of 1967, leading tanks in the Sinai, and during the 1973 Yom Kippur War – which is the focus of this book – led a tank battalion on the Golan Heights as a lieutenant colonel.

The Heights of Courage shines as a rapid retelling of near-peer armored combat, offering insight into a type of warfare today’s U.S. Army has trained for, but not engaged in for decades. The lightening quick Gulf War in 1991 pitted well trained, ably led and technologically advantaged U.S. tank formations against poorly led, poorly equipped Iraqi armored units that, by the time the ground war started, were generally locked into static defensive positions. Before and after the Gulf War, in Vietnam and then Iraq and Afghanistan, tanks served as heavy support for infantry and, in the few instances when they engaged in armor-on-armor fights the overwhelming superiority of American formations meant there was no near-peer threat from armored opponents.

It is little wonder then that with its lack of recent institutional history of engaging in peer-to-peer tank warfare, the U.S. Army has chosen, through its Maneuver Self Study Program, to include The Heights of Courage on its combat operations reading list for maneuver officers.

Several aspects of the fighting in and around the Golan during the Yom Kippur War mirror what some top leaders today think the next U.S.-involved conflict could look like. Counter-insurgency tactics, honed and taught during the height of the Global War on Terror, are no longer a pressing topic on the Army’s mind. The next big fight could involve engaging in combat against a relatively well equipped, well trained force that is able to challenge American military superiority on the ground and in the air.

Current Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley believes “Multi-Domain Battle,” as the concept is called, will involve fighting against near-peer forces potentially without the benefit of air superiority and nearly unrestricted communications. “Land-based forces now are going to have to penetrate denied areas to facilitate air and naval forces. This is the exact opposite of what we have done for the last 70 years, where air and naval forces have enabled ground forces,” Milley said in an October speech.

While history is not prophecy, lessons from history can inform thinking about future problems. With that in mind, here are some key lessons gleaned from Kahalani’s The Heights of Courage.

Lesson 1: Leading from the front emboldens subordinates but can degrade situational awareness.

Once the war broke out on October 6, Kahalani, never had a consistent headquarters location where he and his battalion staff monitored and managed the fight. Amid nearly continuous combat operations he monitored his battalion over the radio and called company commanders, occasionally platoon commanders, and staff officers together in various locations near forward positions or resupply areas for quick conferences to exchange information and give orders. Often orders were transmitted via radio or other signals which minimized the number of times small unit leaders had to leave their units to attend briefings and meetings. Leading from the front like this inspired subordinates, but at several points Kahalani is candid about his inability to grasp where every subordinate unit was at during a particular fight. Part of this is no doubt due to the natural chaos of war, and part of it is due to the fact that Kahalani was himself acting as a tank commander, with he and his crew knocking out numerous Syrian tanks during the course of the war.

Lesson 2: Perfect situations never exist, so adapt and overcome.

Conspicuously missing for much of the fight during the first three quarters of the war was the Israeli Air Force, which was preoccupied with missions elsewhere. Kahalani and his subordinates were forced to deal with harassing attacks by Syrian aircraft. With no native air defense capabilities, the armor brigade was left vulnerable to air attacks and tanks crews were reduced to using their mounted machine guns as a haphazard defense, although one tank crew managed to down a Syrian helicopter via their tank’s main gun. In addition to lack of air cover, significant shortages of artillery shells early in the war meant that field artillery was a limited asset that could not always be employed. Despite these challenges, Israeli tank crews and leaders managed to successfully wage a containment battle that resulted in Kahalani’s battalion destroying an entire Syrian armored division before switching to the offensive and driving into Syria near the end of the conflict.

Lesson 3: Ambiguity will always exist, assess the situation and then be decisive.

The next level up will not tell you everything you need to do. Orders will establish what you are supposed to do, but they will not eliminate ambiguity. Ambiguity is present at every level of leadership, and it is what leaders get paid to manage. How many vehicles should be sent back for resupply? What is the likelihood of a night attack? Should you advise higher that a better defensive position exists nearby and you believe part or all of your element should be placed there? When vehicles keep breaking down do you press on with the mission or does your reduced strength require you to hand the mission off? Those are all some of the real-life situations that Kahalani relates in a matter-of-fact way. Through the recounting of actual events he illustrates the kind of decisions that leaders at the tactical level must constantly make.

Lesson 4: Training won’t eliminate technical failure, but it will increase combat effectiveness.

There are more than enough mission and operational variables beyond a leader’s control to create chaos in any situation. No matter how ready a unit is, vehicles will break down and technology will fail, but one way to mitigate the negative affects of these factors is to insist on good training prior to entering the fight. Israeli tank crews in the Golan benefited from extensive gunnery training. Even when heavily outnumbered and lacking the advantages provided by close air support and field artillery, crew proficiency gave Israeli forces a decided advantage over their Syrian counterparts, who had to rely on sheer numbers instead of crew competence to carry the fight home.

Insurance Options Drop For WI Population Centers

Wisconsinites living in key population centers have seen their health insurance choices limited since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange. Launched three years ago, the ObamaCare exchange provides a marketplace for consumers to purchase government-mandated health insurance coverage while potentially receiving a federal subsidy for the cost of that insurance. While anyone can use the exchange, subsidies are allocated based on the annual income of the person seeking coverage.

A Media Trackers review of data collected by the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance finds that in the ten most populous counties in Wisconsin, the number of health insurance providers has significantly decreased since 2013, the year the ObamaCare exchange launched. OCI regulates insurance companies and tracks data about plans offered in Wisconsin, both on and off the federal exchange. Data for insurers offering health plans in 2017 is available because insurers must submit their plans to the OCI for review.

In 2014, there were a total of 20 insurance companies that competed to offer health insurance to Wisconsin consumers. Thirteen of those companies offered plans on the ObamaCare exchange. Those numbers remain relatively unchanged for 2017 with the exception that three large insurers, United Healthcare, Humana and WPS’s Arise Health, have left the market along with several smaller companies who have stopped or started offering health plans in the state.

The total number of insurers competing in Wisconsin for 2017 currently stands at 17, with 14 of them offering plans on the ObamaCare exchange.

But a deeper dive into county-by-county statistics reveals that in Wisconsin’s most populous areas, the number of options available both on and off the exchange has dropped noticeably.

Milwaukee County, the most populated county in the state, had 9 companies offering insurance plans to residents in 2014, with 4 of them offering plans via the exchange at HealthCare.gov. For 2017, only 4 companies will offer plans in the county and all 4 will have offerings on the exchange.

In northeast Wisconsin, Brown County, home to Green Bay, had 11 insurers competing for business and 5 of them offering plans on the exchange in 2014. Next year, residents will have to pick a plan from one of 4 companies with 3 of them offering plans on the federal exchange.

The chart below shows the decline in competition for the top ten most populous counties in the state:

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While options have declined in populated areas, health insurance premium costs have risen across the state, socking consumers’ pocketbooks as they try to avoid the penalties imposed by ObamaCare on those who don’t buy mandated minimum coverage.

The decline in health insurance options available in population centers across Wisconsin, along with the decision of several large health insurance companies to stop offering plans in the state, once again proves President Barack Obama’s now-infamous claim of “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” to be false.

Ken Bone: Carrying a Great American Tradition Forward

Sweaters. They are a sort of everyman approach to staying warm and projecting a bit of style. Far more upscale than a mere sweatshirt or hoodie, a sweater keeps you warm while projecting a sense of down home candor and honesty. Suits can be stuffy, sweaters are friendly. Perhaps that’s why American presidents and presidential candidates have at been known to adopt the sweater as an occasional uniform for the job.

Ken Bone, the refreshingly honest participant in Sunday night’s presidential candidate townhall forum in Missouri, has rocketed to internet fame thanks to his candid question and snazzy red sweater (apparently made by Izod and bought at Kohls in Wausau, Wisconsin). But far from being an aberration in presidential political fashion, Bone’s red sweater (which he wore because he split the pants on the olive suit he originally intended to wear) is carrying a great American tradition forward.

Here’s a quick visual survey of the sweater in American presidential politics.

Who can forget Sen. Rick Santorum’s ubiquitous sweater vest during the 2012 GOP presidential primary? The Pennsylvania senator’s near-constant wear of a sweater vest prompted his campaign to sell versions of the sweater sporting the Santorum for President logo on the upper left-hand chest.

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With first-in-the-nation Iowa known for cold temperatures in the months leading up to its caucus, Sen. Rand Paul could be spotted during this election cycle wearing a sweater from time to time. The look was never as consistent and rote as Santorum’s, but sometimes the combination of turtle-neck and sweater appeared to clash.

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Turns out that wearing a sweater won’t actually doom your campaign to defeat, however. At some point in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton thought it would be  good idea to wear a sweater and khakis while on the south lawn of the White House. Like most fashion ideas from the ’90s, the sweater left a lot to be desired.

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Pre-dating the rise of Ken Bone’s red sweater was President Ronald Reagan’s red button up sweater with a classy shawl collar. Reagan was also photographed wearing a festive red sweater around Christmas at the White House.

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President Jimmy Carter regularly wore sweaters, perhaps as part of his attempt to project himself as an average citizen who was taking the reigns of government after the shadow of Watergate cast the Oval Office into gloom.

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Ever the definition of “preppy,” President John F. Kennedy, both as senator and president, made sure “Camelot” wouldn’t be just about feminine class but would also be associated with upscale New England style.

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Leave Your Safe Space. Now.

Life is busy. Technology accompanies our nearly every move, urgently demanding rapid responses amid crowded schedules and pressing demands. Safely ensconced in our urban or suburban existence we move from one artificial environment to the next, pausing only here or there for a few hours of outdoor exercise. For those lucky enough to live in a rural area, the outdoors is certainly a bigger part of life, but it isn’t always a necessary part of life – at least for the vast majority of Americans.

Like it or not, most of us live in safe spaces. Not the sort of ridiculous adult nurseries that have sprung up of late on college campuses like so many daycares for overgrown, underdeveloped crybabies offended by anything that doesn’t go their way, but the sort of safe space that removes us from the pressing demand to hunt or grow our own food, or think carefully about how we plan our travel, and eliminates any need to cover miles of distance on foot carrying only what we need.

What we need to counter the ultra-modernity of comfortable life is to get away from safe spaces, to venture beyond the realm of the routine and overly predictable.

I recently returned from a relatively last minute trip to western Wyoming where my family and I stayed in a cabin (with running water) and did day trips to Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. We did easy hikes and I did hard hikes. We saw wildlife. We watched as the summer foliage lost its vibrant green and turned to glowing yellows and reds.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and this trip allowed me to add two more national parks to the four parks (and countless non-national park NPS-managed properties) that I’ve visited. As a truly remarkable national resource, the National Parks allow us to experience the landscape of our forefathers, to marvel at the rugged determination of the pioneers who pushed ever westward in search of fortune, or discovery, or simply a better life for themselves.

Grand Teton National Park is a breathtaking panorama of stalwart peaks surrounded by miles of hiking trails of varying difficulty (many relatively easy) and corresponding reward. While most easy trails yield only modest vistas, around the base of the Tetons there is no bad view, although the harder the hike the more rewarding the scenery becomes. The park is a hiker’s and cyclist’s paradise and hitting the trails requires you to prepare for any eventuality that may arise for the time you are on the trail; raingear is necessary, food and water essential and a first aid kit a good insurance policy.

Unlike the Tetons, Yellowstone, the oldest national park, doesn’t stun you with immediate beauty. Spread across the vast pine forest and rolling hills nestled between western Wyoming mountains the bison herds, geyser basis and elk invite closer inspection to reveal their awe-inspiring wonder. Far more cumbersome to get about, Yellowstone is a driving park where stretching your legs on a short trail must suffice if spending a day or more on a single trail isn’t an option.

There are plenty of great days left this year for getting outdoors, so put down your smart phone, shut off your e-mail, and get outside and enjoy the wilderness. With all the craziness of this election cycle, it will be a good investment of your time!

Missouri Senate Candidate Lifts Line from Hollywood

Missouri Democrat Jason Kander is attempting to oust Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, but the young Democrat has a slight credibility problem with a review of old blog posts showing Kander lifted a line from the movie The American President and used it as his own to describe his distaste for Republicans.

Kander, who is the current Missouri Secretary of State, is trailing Blunt by about 5-7 percentage points in the polls, but according to RealClearPolitics Blunt has yet to hit 50% in general election polling of likely voters.

Before running for office, Kander served as an Army officer and in 2006 he deployed to Afghanistan. While there he kept an online diary, the URL for that diary is now his campaign website: www.JasonKander.com. One of Kander’s posts was reposted by an anonymous blogger in 2007.

Prior to coming back from Afghanistan, Kander was apparently disillusioned about the course of the war and in the post shared by another blogger he criticized both then-President George W. Bush and Republicans who agreed with the president’s management of the Afghan war.

“I’m a Progressive Democrat, so when I get into debates about the war with ill-informed, indoctrinated regressives [sic] who don’t know me well, they generally throw Rush’s talking points at me, insinuating that I love my country and support the troops just a bit less than them,” Kander complained. He went on to write:

I have little patience for those who claim to love America but clearly can’t stand the majority of Americans. As a progressive, my beef with President Bush isn’t that he’s fighting a war, it’s that he’s doing it wrong.” [Emphasis added]

The text in bold is very nearly a repeat of actress Annette Bening’s line as Sydney Ellen Wade in The American President. In the movie Bening’s character tells the President of the United States (and also her love interest):

“How do you have patience for people who claim they love America, but clearly can’t stand Americans?”

In 2012 a liberal Australian politician parroted a different line from the same movie, and promptly (perhaps also predictably) blamed it on his speechwriters and staff.

Kander doesn’t appear to have had any staff writing his blog posts in 2007, and while the matter isn’t career ending it certainly merits clarification by Kander, who has heavily relied on his military service to distinguish himself in the Senate race.

Kander’s blog post:jasonkander

FBI Director James Comey’s Sudden Fear of Facts

FBI Director James Comey is not afraid to disagree with his superiors; nor is he afraid to play hardball with the facts. Both of these points make his actions on Tuesday – holding a press conference to publicly lay out the results of the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s misuse of private e-mail servers for confidential and top secret communications before absolving Ms. Clinton of wrongdoing – highly perplexing but for one single fact: Comey has never been afraid to play hardball except when it comes to the Clinton family.

Just days after Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Director Comey’s boss, clandestinely met with former President Bill Clinton at an airport in Phoenix, Arizona, Comey explained in great detail that although a thorough FBI investigation found that then-Secretary of State Clinton had mishandled classified information, no reasonable prosecutor would review the bureau’s findings and file charges or seek an indictment. The confidence with which Comey pronounced his judgment of “nothing illegal here” was unreserved.

Comey hasn’t always been so confident of the innocence of prominent figures.

Earlier this year, Time.com pointed out that this isn’t Comey’s first dance with the Clintons. In the final hours of his presidency, President Bill Clinton pardoned some 176 criminals, including some who were tied to Clinton presidential library donations and contributions to Hillary’s New York-based U.S. Senate race. A write-up in POLITICO this past January detailed new information about the pardons and what they involved, including how they touched Hillary Clinton. Comey, then a federal prosecutor, was tasked with taking over the investigation into the last minute pardons.

Despite telling Congress that he “was stunned,” by what he found, Comey filed no charges and sought no indictment.

But while serving as Deputy Attorney General of the United States during the George W. Bush administration, Comey threatened to resign over a phone and internet meta-data collection program that some administration lawyers wanted to green light. Refusing to give his assent to one portion of the so-called “Stellar Wind” program run by the National Security Agency, Comey clashed with then-White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzalez, who would eventually be appointed Attorney General by President Bush.

The data collection program was suspended until advocates could find another legal ground on which they could justify its scope and scale.

According to Time.com, a few years later Comey agreed with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to make details of the secret program, and specifically the dramatic lengths to which he opposed it, public. The move allegedly led to Gonzalez resigning as Attorney General amid other pressures.

“The hearing was designed to force Gonzales out, and ultimately it worked. Comey’s testimony led to the discovery by White House lawyers that Gonzales had improperly stored classified notes on Stellar Wind, which in turn led to his resignation that August, according to top Bush White House officials.”

Fast forward to the most recent high profile episode of Comey’s career, and instead of speaking truth to power or using facts to make his case and carefully out-maneuver powerful individuals, the FBI director ticked off a laundry list of astonishing facts before pre-emptively clearing his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, from having to explain why her department refuses to file charges against the Democratic nominee for president.

Even the far-left online magazine of skepticism, The Intercept, thought Comey’s kabuki dance around the facts was remarkable and likely due to the powerful position held by the subject of the probe. “This extreme, unforgiving, unreasonable, excessive posture toward classified information came to an instant halt in Washington today — just in time to save Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations,” wrote Glenn Greenwald.

Indeed, Comey threw the book at home decor mogul Martha Stewart whom he successfully prosecuted for illegal insider trading. According to 2013 U.S. News story, Comey decided he had to prosecute Stewart despite her public persona because any other person would have faced prosecution for the same actions.

“[I]f it was Jane Doe she would have been prosecuted,” [Comey] told the student newspaper. “[T]here were 2,000 cases by the Justice Department that year for providing false statements during an investigation. I thought of my hesitation about the case due to someone being rich and famous, and how it shouldn’t be that way. I decided we had to do it.”

Remarkable words from a man who would go on to conclude that while Hillary Clinton repeatedly violated the law while mishandling known classified and top secret information, using private e-mail servers to circumvent secure government servers, nothing she did would merit prosecution by a “reasonable” prosecutor. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board opined late Tuesday:

 It is a felony for anyone entrusted with lawful possession of information relating to national defense to permit it, through “gross negligence,” to be removed from its proper place of custody and disclosed. “Gross negligence” rather than purposeful conduct is enough. Yet Mr. Comey appears to have based his recommendation not to prosecute on the absence of “clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information”—though he did say in the same sentence that there was “evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

Comey’s sudden fear of the facts would appear to have more to do with the subject of his bureau’s latest investigation than it would with any facts that were unearthed during the course of the probe.

Facebook Suppressed News About Conservatives

Facebook’s influential newsfeed feature has suppressed news about conservatives, including Gov. Scott Walker (R), according to a Monday morning story published by Gizmodo, a tech news website. Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez spoke with several Facebook “news curators” who decided to blow the whistle on the social media giant’s censoring practices.

According to the story, Facebook employees routinely monitor news being shared or discussed across the social media platform and write punchy snippets about trending stories. The summaries then appear on the sidebar of user’s newsfeed page.

“Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation,” Nunez reports. The ranking of stories, and their very appearance in trending news, is not the result of algorithms that respond to organic user activity, something that was previously thought to be the source of the news rankings.

Among conservatives who were targeted by the bias, the whistleblowers allege, is Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz. The social media platform’s news editors ignored trending stories about the Wisconsin governor, along with stories about former Massachusetts governor and two-time Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” a source said.

“I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

Another source said: “Every once in awhile a Red State or conservative news source would have a story. But we would have to go and find the same story from a more neutral outlet that wasn’t as biased.”

The names of the sources were not mentioned in the story because they fear retribution from the social media company. The employees quoted worked at Facebook as late as December of 2015.

The full Gizmodo story may be read here.

Feingold Disagrees With Admirals, Wants Fewer US Subs

Two-term Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is desperate to get his old seat back in Wisconsin, and to that end he unveiled a policy plan that he calls “Fiscal Fitness.” According to his campaign, the plan is designed to show that Feingold is serious about cutting wasteful spending in Washington. But there’s a problem with the plan.

A big problem.

In his haste to contrive “savings” for taxpayers, Feingold calls for a reduction in the U.S. Navy’s submarine force. Specifically, Feingold wants the Navy to not replace some Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines as they retire from service. The powerful submarines represent a key part of the United State’s nuclear deterrence capability, a capability that has helped prevent a nuclear conflict.

According to the U.S. Navy, there are currently 14 Ohio-class submarines in service. They are the largest submarines in the fleet and they are getting old. Very old. In fact, by the time all Ohio-class boats retire, they will have been in service longer than any other submarines in U.S. history. Concerns about safety as well as aging technology have led the Navy to plan on replacing the 14 submarines with a fleet of 12 new subs.

In his “Fiscal Fitness” plan, Feingold mocks the Navy’s plan to build 12 new submarines, insisting there is no need to build that many replacement ships. “At present, 12 submarines are slated to be produced by 2042, but the United States could reconfigure the number of missiles deployed per submarine and produce 8 submarines instead,” the plan declares.

That’s not true, according to top Navy admirals. Last year, Rear Admiral Joseph Tofalo was asked by a reporter about a plan by some Senate Democrats to reduce the number of submarines used to replace the old Ohio-class boats. The concept is identical to what Feingold is proposing in his “Fiscal Fitness” plan.

“We have to cover two oceans at once and all of the targets that go with each of these oceans,” Tofalo said before explaining that the absolute minimum number of nuclear missile subs needed is 10 – not the 8 that Feingold claims would do the job. ” The combatant commander says that number is ten, ten operational SSBNs,” the admiral said. “Eight just wouldn’t do it.”

Also last year, Vice Admiral Terry Benedict, who leads the Navy’s strategic systems programs, emphasized that the service needs all 12 replacement submarines. “Anything below the current authorized number of boats for the Ohio replacement will prevent us from meeting our national commitment requirements. We simply can’t do it,” he told a gathering of professionals.

This isn’t the first time that Feingold has blundered on defense policy. In the same plan he calls for the military to acquire more F/A-18 Super Hornets even though he repeatedly waged war on that very airplane when the military was trying to buy them in the late 1990s. On multiple occasions Feingold introduced legislation or floor amendments in the Senate that specifically called for the Super Hornet program to be cancelled.

Judging from what experts say about key defense issues, Feingold’s “Fiscal Fitness” plan appears to be election year posturing that’s just bad policy.