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A Book Review! Hesitation Kills, by Jane Blair.

...and reviewed by our very own in-house Rocket Scientist, Dr. Bad Cat Robot.  (You think I jest, but she is in fact, all of that)

Review of Hesitation Kills by Jane Blair (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2011)

Hesitation Kills is a memoir of the Iraq War from a very unique perspective--not only is the author a female Marine officer, she was formerly an enlisted Marine and before that an HR specialist with a Fortune 500 company. ( The latter experience no doubt gave her a +5 in all encounters with military paperwork, see below.) In addition, her posting with an aerial reconnaissance unit that was in close support of combat units led to her actually being on the front lines even though women were not supposed to be in combat. It is not clear exactly how this was allowed to happen, given that her commanding officer was warned his female Marines would have to be left back in Kuwait before they shipped out. My suspicion is her historic first was likely due to a paperwork screwup, in true military tradition.

Lt. Blair writes in a very clear and engaging manner, never forgetting to translate milspeak and acronyms for the civilian reader. (There is also a handy index in the back.) Her descriptions of what life was like during the hectic and dangerous initial days of the invasion and the Thunder Run are gripping and vivid, and she does an excellent job of giving the reader a “you are there” experience of her unit, the good and the bad. I enjoyed reading of her delight in seeing the ancient Gates of Babylon through the eyes of the UAV, and the puzzlement of some Iraqi prisoners who were not only confused by a female officer, but one who spoke Arabic with an Egyptian accent.

Given this is a personal memoir, I still would have liked a bit more filled-in detail about how the UAV unit supported combat operations and other events that mesh with the overall invasion. I had also hoped to learn more of how she overcame the obstacles that necessarily appeared with being a female Marine officer, to provide guidance to others that may someday be in a similar situation if not just for my own curiosity (and ammo for the ongoing “should women be in combat” Frank Exchange of Views.) It puzzled me, for example, that an early conflict with a fellow officer who was actively sabotaging Lt. Blair’s effectiveness in the unit simply fades away with no final resolution or “Lessons Learned”--especially since this conflict is prominently mentioned in the jacket cover and PR material that came with the book. If there is a “Lesson Learned” about women in combat from Lt. Blair’s experiences, it is that there are women (and men) who cannot handle the stress of combat, and women (and men) who can.

The lack of technical detail notwithstanding, I can forgive much for the generous number of anecdotes and “there I was …” stories. One of my favorites concerned one Lt. Spencer, clearly a member of Clan Murphy. Lt. Spencer found a safe in a Ba'ath party building and wanted to open it. First sign of danger was him asking a corporal how much C-4 to use. Neither of them knew, so they just used more. The detonation naturally caused a fire which initially distracted them from the fact that a) the safe was no longer there, b) there was a safe-sized hole in the wall, and c) they were on the 7th floor of the building. Miraculously, the safe did not land on anyone. It remained unopened, and “Lieutenants weren't allowed to use plastic explosives after that.” This same lieutenant had his rifle stolen by an MRI machine lurking in the darkness of a hospital basement (and consequently magnetized good and hard.) One suspects Spencer's Indian name is “Coyote-who-orders-from-Acme-Catalog”. I mean really, airborne safes and giant magnets 

It just made it onto my reading list. What's not to like? I mean, really, Stupid Officer Tricks?


1) I'm reminded that Elizabeth Moon was a Marine officer.  

2) Didn't the old safecrackers put the nitroglycerin inside the safe (with, I suppose, a drill)?
 Soooooooper Genius!
 Lt. Jane Blair is not the only person who has an engaging writing style. Actually,  events like this are rather extraordinary and therefore, so should our response to it, case in point. Doc Robot, fine job.,  
 The whole serties of cartoons, from Warner Brothers, were actually written for all adults. They were not written as a "Lessons Learned" for our National Leaders.  
Didn't the old safecrackers put the nitroglycerin inside the safe (with, I suppose, a drill)?

No, they put it just behind the tumblers -- blow out the innards and there's nothing left to hold the latch in the locked position.

As the issue of "women in combat" was raised, I'd like to remind everyone that the issue is "women in the infantry".

And if you really, honestly believe that women can be mixed into an infantry outfit that is out.side.of.garrison!!!or FOB!!!! then you honestly, really and totally live in an alternate universe.

You can't even mix women into a REMF outfit on deployment without a double crap load of problems particular to mixing sexes. Someday, maybe, the USN will grow a pair of integrity generators and fess up with the huge problems springing from mixed crews on major ships. I've heard more than one participant on both sides of the sex divide descriping such ships as not much more than floating whore houses.
Ah, Grimmy... remember when women were airlifted off of ships because they had problems with their pregnancies? Like, becoming pregnant while on board ship...

And then there was the Army's experiment to prove that women had just as much upper body strength as men, if only they were trained properly. It didn't work.

But all of this sprang from the mentalities of the Cold War standoff, when we never believed we really, truly would have to go to war, because all that was behind us, and we could treat the military as if it were just another big corporation with plenty of opportunity for everyone...

I don't care what gender  a person is, if they can't do the job, then they shouldn't be there wasting oxygen.
 Grimmy and SKK, you are both quite correct. The Navy has been seriously hollowed by its PC attitudes and insistence on putting women on ships. When I was in, Gitmo had WAVES, and the QMC over me had been stationed there for two years. Several WAVES had a thriving prostitution business there, said he. I'm sure the ships aren't much different.

Funny how some think that explosives can just be slapped into place and set off to get teh result you want. The flying safe is one of the safer things I can think of. One senior Engineer in OHDOT (a Professional Engineer no less) was  sent out to take care of a large rock that had fallen on OH-7 a number of years ago. He sent back to the District Magazine for 10 pounds of TNT (40 quarter pound sticks), set them under one side of the rock after daisy chaining them, and lit them off. The rock fractured, but about 20 tons of rock flew up and crashed through a house. Fortunately, no one was home. Said Engineer, who was also the second most senior Engineer in the district at the time, had to stay until some one came home that evening and explain what happened and help start the process of cleaning up the mess he caused.

OHDOT didn't learn the lesson, however. A guy who had served in the 1st Cav, after it became an Armored Division again, and later became a buddy, was sent out on a similar mission. He, instead, sent a 10 ton rock flying into a house (progress!). The Engineer who had earlier sent the 20 ton rock through a house had to apply his expertise obtained in cleaning up after the earlier fun. When i got into the district one of teh first things I was handed was the task of doing an inventory on all the districts buildings (not so trivial when I saw how many portables they had and that got moved around with various projects). I encountered the district magazine and recognized what it was immediately. When I got back to teh district office and asked the Maintenance Engineer about the contents, was told it was empty and given the two stories above as explanation for the emptiness.

Iirc, there were minor injuries in the first case to OHDOT personnel from fly rock. They hadn't heard of Blasting Blankets.
I do apologize for going hot. I do know it's not much appreciated here.

In my own defense, I will admit that I tend to react to even the suggestion that "women in the infantry" is coming up as a topic in very much the same way I react to numbnuts that try to tell me:

That the USSR was the perfect workers paradise and would still be if evil America hadn't messed everything up.

That the Practical Eugenics movement of the turn of the 20th century, and it's offspring, Nazi racial policies, are the only potential savior of what's becoming mongralized humanity.

Any other brain dead, intellectually inbred, bull**** based utopianism that completely, totally, and by necessity denies even the existance of basic human behavior.

Women in psyops, intel, other stuff: Check.

Women in the infantry: *hysterical laughter*

Women snipers and defenders of things dear: Some are trigger pullers. Yes, indeedy.