With the end of the war in Iraq, I figure I can tell the story of my "contribution" as the ultimate REMF to the war effort...
So there I was... I'd just been medically-disqualified from serving on submarines and lost my orders to be XO on USS Hartford (SSN 768); as a result, they transferred me to be AOIC of the Submarine Learning Center Detachment in San Diego while I waited for the inevitable 2x FOS to come through and I could put in my retirement papers. When I got to San Diego in July 2003, the OIC -- a real fitness fanatic -- decided that because I was right up against the Navy height-weight requirements I shouldn't teach any classes. So, not wanting to just sit around, I volunteered for the first Individual Augmentation job that came in; they needed an O-4 with SCI clearance to support Operation Iraqi Freedom at CENTCOM. Three weeks after I reported to San Diego, and 6 days after I first saw the message requesting volunteers, I was on my way to Tampa. (The rest of the background information is here, and here's a post about the "good deal" aspects of the assignment.)
CENTCOM headquarters normally had about 900 people assigned on PCS orders, but because they were running the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq they'd been augmented with about 3000 people on six month TAD orders. I got assigned to the Iraq Coalition Coordination Center and got put in charge of handling the financial aspects of supporting the Polish-led Multi-National Division (Central South) that was just arriving in country. The fact that I got assigned a job for which I had no training, and my turnover was spending a day with my predecessor who gave me his E-mail cache and a folder with a 2 page memo from Condi Rice saying we had $500 million in unbudgeted money to play with, a 4 page standard boilerplate agreement between the U.S. and Poland, and a 17 page agreement with no specifics between Poland and the other 22 countries involved -- none of which contained any mechanism for actually carrying out what they'd agreed to -- gave me my first inkling that the people running the war at the higher levels had no idea what they were doing. This was kind of a shock to me, because I'd always assumed that the Big Bosses knew what they were doing. It turns out that it was only the pockets of competence that existed at the O-4/O-5 level that enabled the war effort to function as well as it did from a staff perspective.
The next six months were a blast. Despite having no training in finance, I set up the mechanisms for providing funding for the logistics support for the division of 10,000, got additional force protection set up less than a week before an unsuccessful suicide attack on an MND-CS base that probably would have caused extensive casualties had I not cut through the red tape, and realized that the Spaniards are among the most unreliable "allies" in the world. I came to understand that while you have to be pretty smart to make flag, there are no real intelligence requirements to make O-6, particularly in the Marines. I saw lots of "war pr0n" of early insurgents who hadn't quite mastered the art of having their IEDs wait to blow up until after they had finished emplacing them, and saw one memorable IR camera video of a bunch of Taliban insurgents get out of a truck behind one that had just blown up, sprint about 100 yards off the road, and gather together in supposed safety, followed by a huge flash right in the middle of their group. I realized that the American military really was trying to do what was best for the Iraqi people, and the higher-ups really did have no plans for a permanent occupation -- they had no real plans at all. I saw the original plans for the invasion that showed that Turkey's refusal to let the 4th ID move in from the north negated what would have otherwise been a brilliant encirclement campaign that would have closed the big hole in the lines north of Baghdad, through which most of the future insurgent leaders escaped. Hanlon's Razor was confirmed: "Never attribute to conspiracy that which can be adequately explained by incompetence".
What did you do in the war? Alternately, were your eyes ever opened by serving on a major staff?