For Want of An ROE…

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Army Major Bryan Bowlsbey spent much of 2006 and 2007 in Iraq as a logistics officer with a unit from the Illinois Army National Guard unit. He became frustrated with the hidebound nature of a military force at war.

Bowlsbey spoke about his deployment in this recently-posted May interview with the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. An excerpt:

There was a lot of frustration because there were things that were done because they were habitual. “This is the way that we have always done it.” You try and trace it back, “This doesn’t seem to be appropriate now. In this year, it doesn’t seem appropriate but I bet this happened three years ago when the conditions were different.”

I was trying to find a base document so that I can talk to whoever the authority is that owns the document to see if we can modify it so that it makes sense again. No one knew why that policy was ever initiated but by God, you didn’t want to go against the policy because then you might bring down some disrepute, I guess, on our boss.

There were a lot of things like the use of less-than-lethal weapons. We had the things in Iraq. We had shot guns with rubber darts. We had grenade launchers with foam rubber bullets that we could fire but we couldn’t find any rules of engagement (ROE) so that we could use the less-than-lethal weapons.

Generals would walk through from time to time and ask, “Why aren’t you using the less-than-lethal weapons?” All we could say was, “Well, the unit before us wasn’t using them and I can’t find any ROEs so that when we send a private out there and he’s got a 12-gauge with a rubber dart and he shoots an Iraqi in the face and breaks a cheekbone or something, that private isn’t liable legally because he was following his ROE. I need to have an ROE,” and we just couldn’t find any of that.

We would also try and propose ROE and get the Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers at Arifjan to agree that those were appropriate ROEs. We were never successful in that effort…There was a lot of equipment like that that was either in Iraq somewhere or it was locked up in a container express (CONEX) and couldn’t be used because we couldn’t find any sort of procedure that was okay or had been okayed by some higher authority that could give us a release to use it.