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The Mystical Realm of Human Terrain and COIN: Who Is in Charge?
By John Stanton
National Security Writer
Sgt. Britt Damon talks with children in Nani, Afghanistan, last June. Damon is with the Army's Human Terrain System, 4th Brigade Combat Team.

"To this day I carry the Army Values on my dog tags as a constant reminder and I am having difficulty understanding which of those have been thought of during this decision."

"This transition is due to ineptness and mismanagement of funds that started long ago. Only 15 people out of 230 have signed the transition contract. The whole program is destined to implode within a matter of weeks. There are some who are trying to get a congressional inquiry into the mismanagement of the HTS program and some have even tried to contact investigative reporters from CNN and CBS/60 minutes."

Human Terrain System employees have been given a stay of execution. On 16 February, HTS management sent the following to HTS team members. "Mr. Robert Reuss TRADOC Deputy G-2 has approved an extension on making a decision to transition until 2 March. The previous deadline of 18 Feb 09 is no longer in effect. This allows all teams more time to better coordinate the transition decision with their families, enables the project to better answer your questions and still allows us to complete program total transition by 31 May. We will send out a thorough update on all questions no later than the end of the week after we have conferred with TRADOC Staff from the G1, Personnel Administration, contracting, legal and security this week."

According to sources, the "transition" underway in the US Army's/TRADOC Human Terrain System has little to to do with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq and everything to do with the good-old-boy network. That network, claim sources, is trying one last time to salvage the current version of the HTS program and, in so doing, rescue the reputations and salaries of program manager Steve Fondacaro, deputy program manager Steve Rotkoff, and senior social scientist Dr. Montgomery McFate-Sapone.

But something else seems afoot here. That the US Army would go to wits end on behalf of troublesome $200 million program gives rise to some interesting speculation. It seems plausible that flag rank and/or high ranking civilian officials have staked their reputations on HTS and human terrain geospatial analysis as the new thought of choice underpinning non-kinetic warfare. And that, in turn, makes it seem likely that—in spite of report after report of HTS internal corruption, ineptitude and abuse—-the life of the HTS program has become a political struggle somewhere in Washington, DC, that likely pits US Army General and Dr. David Petraeus and his Think Tank Mafia (Dr. McFate-Sapone; Dr. Mike Meese—advisor; Dr. David Kilcullen—advisor; Dr. John Nagl—advisor; Dr. Fred Kagan—the latter from the American Enterprise Institute and father of the "surge") and more traditional elements in the US Army who know BS when they hear and see it.

HTT Member Vs. McDonald's Team Member

According to Rotkoff, SOFA is the primary motivator behind the HTS transition. Rotkoff, like Fondacaro above him, cares little about those operating in the field. It's the attitude that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held. "People are fungible," he used to say. "Rotkoff ask you all to remember the reason we are doing this: to enable the Human Terrain System HTS to operate under the conditions associated with the Security Agreements. If no one were to sign up for transition the Security Agreements [SA] would still require us to build this program around government vice contractor service. We would lose good experienced people and have to make the changes anyway. Believe what you want. This is not about money it is about the SA, the SA for Afghanistan is all ready in place just not currently enforced; however, we have been informed it will be enforced soon. This change does not effect anyone at Operations or Fort Leavenworth because there is no SA at either location."

An enterprising HTS program member decided to do a salary and benefit comparison between an HTT member and McDonald's Team Member. Turns out McDonald's in Chicago, Illinois is paying pretty well. "I was offered $67,613.00 by HTS. I've got 20 years direct experience and a college degree. I've been deployed multiple times. I'm a qualified linguist and hold clearances. Now if I were an assistant manager at McDonald's in Chicago, here's what I'd get. Hourly rate of $13.25 at 40 hours a week: $530.00. If 80 hours a week: $1,325.00 (McDonald's pays time and a half). Monthly Check would be: $5,300.00. Yearly Salary: $63,600.00. Average sales/performance bonuses: $10,000.00 (it can actually be up to $20,000.00). Total yearly compensation: $73,600.00. Additional McDonald's incentives are pretty good. In addition to my 80 hour work week, I'd be home with mom and the kids every night. I'd be living in a real home and not a plywood cubicle. I would not be getting shot at, bombed, or mortared. And I'd have unlimited access to bowling alleys, movie theaters, libraries, restaurants and shopping malls. Plus I'd get free Big Macs, milkshakes, fries, and apple pies. So who is being loyal to who ??? And you wanted to stay???"

US Army, HTS Management Skews Moral Compass

Can the US Army afford to keep losing its human capital? "I burned some bridges, both civilian employment and my service in uniform, to come to HTT. I came here, like many, attracted to this concept and have met many outstanding individuals in the process. The DA Civilian position is an opportunity that is outstanding stateside, but was never really intended for use by people who dirty their boots with the infantry. The decisions made in the mystical realm of TRADOC G2, as presented by our leadership, come down to a person somewhere.

To this day I carry the Army Values on my dog tags as a constant reminder and I am having difficulty understanding which of those have been thought of during this decision. If it was just lower pay - I wouldn't hesitate. If it was a conversion to government position that gave me the opportunity to support this stateside also so my medical benefits continued – I wouldn't hesitate. If the offer was equivalent to other DA Civilians that work here with me currently - I wouldn't hesitate. If leadership decisions supported mission first, subordinates always - I wouldn't hesitate. But all these combined - I hesitate."

Welcome to Sinking Ship: Swim Home, If You Can

"I don't envy those HTS employees that are now being told to convert to government positions or else. Hopefully, this is a decision that was made for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons. I have to be honest, though. I don't feel sorry or bad for someone dropping from a six figure to a five figure salary. From what I know of the HTS program, these are wonderful people doing extremely dangerous work in the service of their country. But before you fret too much over the old dollar sign, just remember this: The Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen they serve with are lucky if they're making half of what HTS employees are making. Some of the military they're serving with have been to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times.

Some of the military they're serving with have families that qualify for welfare and food stamps. About 600,000 people across the U.S. lost their jobs in January. Yes, HTS employees have an extremely difficult decision ahead of them. However, there are hundreds of thousands across the U.S. that have been told "we don't need you anymore, go home." It's better to go from six to five figures than from six or five figures to nothing."

The military/civilian management chain of command above HTS program manager Fondacaro has one noteworthy quality: its unpredictability. That the Army continues to tolerate this programmatic state of affairs can only be due to either complete incompetence in program oversight or, as seems more likely the case, someone further up the chain of command is pushing to keep the effort alive—no matter what the cost. There is a concerted effort within government/business these days to understand and attempt to quantify the Human Terrain for an assortment of strategic and tactical objectives: soft power/non-kinetic power, COIN, Unconventional Warfare, Information Warfare (the media as battleground), etc.. From a business perspective, this is little more than marketing/sales: attempting to quantify consumer/market behavior either as individual or collective.

General Gordon Sullivan, USA (Ret.), now head of AUSA, once said that in the end, the military—particularly the US Army—is about nuts and bolts, blocking and tackling. The new wave of leadership ought to keep that in mind as they pile higher and deeper in Ph D's and lose themselves in network centric warfare.

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John Stanton is a Virginia-based writer, journalist, and teacher specializing in national security and political matters. He has provided his commentary on the above issues to world's famous news media, appearing CBS Evening News, ABC, and CNN. His articles have been carried in a variety of media around the globe. Reach him at






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