Force Protection: Keeping the Wolf at Bay
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 3, 2000 Marine Corps Brig. Gen. John F. Sattler admits he gets "fired up" about his job. A podium or a script can't confine him when he talks about "keeping the wolf at bay."
The 'wolf,' he refers to is terrorism.
"Terrorists are vermin," Sattler told 84 top NCOs at the first Senior Enlisted Advisors Forum at the Pentagon in late June. "They are not raptors. They are not looking for the strong. They are looking for the weak. They are looking for a road kill they can come in and claim."
Commanders must ensure their defenses are strong, he said. "Do you want to be perceived as a lion or a lamb?" the general asked. "'Perception' is the key word there. When terrorists come around and they see a lion, they move on down the road. It's your responsibility to make sure that they don't see your base as the lamb."
Sattler is the Joint Staff's deputy director of operations for combating terrorism. His office conducts over 90 integrated vulnerability assessments each year to ensure military bases worldwide are protected. "We're doing everything in our power to make sure the tools in your commander's tool box meet the threat," he said.
Osama bin Laden and others continue to pose a threat, he said. In 1998, bin Laden put out a religious decree that says it is the duty of all Muslims to kill Americans men, women and children. "The key word here is 'duty,'" Sattler stressed. "It doesn't say, 'In your spare time or if you have the opportunity.'"
Bin Laden's decree is still on the books. "He would probably strike today if the FBI, CIA, State Department, DoD and other agencies weren't constantly staying after him so that he can't get set and comfortable and throw the punch he'd like to throw," Sattler said.
Terrorism is not just an international threat, he added. Timothy McVeigh is an example of the domestic terrorist security officials must defend against. In Oklahoma City, he said, McVeigh killed more Americans than Osama bin Laden.
Unfortunately, most people still believe it won't happen here, the general said. "But how much gas would it have taken for that rented truck to drive across a borderless United States and go to any place," he asked. "Name a base. Name a location. They could have struck there if they wanted to."
The Joint Staff stood up the combating terrorism office following the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers that killed 19 airmen and wounded hundreds more. Within two years, defense officials had established anti-terrorism tactics, techniques and procedures and instituted a requirement for every base to have an anti-terrorism plan.
Today, Sattler said, not every military base has a signed plan. He is determined to change that. "This is serious business. If you're walking with your hands in your pocket and someone yells, 'Look out!' You, and your command, are going to take it right in the face. You have to have a plan on the books."
And that takes time, energy, and most importantly, command focus, he said. By planning for an attack, commands focus on putting hard defenses into place and personnel learn what to do if attacked. "The duty officer kicks the plan into effect immediately without waiting for guidance," Sattler said. "It's been rehearsed so everybody reacts."
How much warning can a command expect? "Weeks? No. Days? Maybe. Hours? Probably, if you're lucky," Sattler said. It might be a call from the FBI that says a truck's been hijacked and the hijackers have 5-tons of ammonium nitrate. It might be an apocalyptic group that believes the military is getting too powerful.
If a commander gets that call and doesn't have an anti- terrorism plan, the general said, that commander has not done his job. He or she can't go out and obtain Jersey barriers or other hard defenses or public address systems on a moment's notice.
Sattler urged the senior enlisted advisors to ensure their commanders remain vigilant and that they devote resources to combating terrorism. If commanders fail to do so, he said, it's up to the top NCOs to get them back on track. "When a commander becomes an emperor, it's your job to knock him or her off the throne and get back to business," he said.
Simply asking for more resources is not the answer, Sattler said. "Sometimes commanders look at us and say, 'Look, I've asked for the money so I'm clean. I've done everything I possibly can.'
"If I had my way," he said, "any commander and any senior enlisted advisor who supported that statement, I'd make sure they were moved on where they couldn't get people hurt. They wouldn't be in command."
Commanders can create an environment that allows enthusiastic, motivated service members to use their wits to combat terrorism, Sattler added. He said he often asks for suggestions and he recalled one sergeant who told him he'd like to see his base get "sniffer dogs."
"Sniffer dogs?" the general replied.
'Yes sir," the sergeant said, "I've heard that the terrorists are scared of them. They're sure that they alert 100 percent of the time. The dog looks so vicious they won't even come near them. I've been told if you have those sniffer dogs, terrorists will move on down the road.'
'Hey wait a minute," Sattler said. "When I got here this morning you had a dog at the main gate. I saw him when I came in."
When everyone in the room laughed, the general asked, "What's so funny?"
"Sir," the sergeant said, "that's not a sniffer dog, that's Cpl. Brown's dog. We knew we weren't going to get any sniffer dogs -- we put in for them but there's a big backlog -- so Cpl. Brown said, "How would they know it's not a sniffer dog?"
The resourceful troops put a camouflage bandana on Cpl. Brown's pooch "to make him official" and posted him at the front gate where he randomly inspected vehicles. In this case, "imagination created a climate." Sattler said. "Nobody said, 'We won't show a dog until we get a dog.'"
Sattler urged the top NCOs to encourage and support that kind of imagination. "Most importantly," he said, "if it's not there, create the command climate with your commanding officer that gives those young soldiers, sailors, airmen Marines and civilians the opportunity to grow that way."