An Encouraging Story

We need this in many more of US cities.

Iraq’s lessons, on the home front

Volunteer veterans help California city use counterinsurgency strategy to stem gang violence

by Karl Vick

SALINAS, CALIF. — Famed to readers as the birthplace of John Steinbeck and in supermarket produce circles as the "Salad Bowl of the World," the city of Salinas carries darker renown in the netherworld of California’s prisons. Instant respect is accorded any inmate tattooed with the words "Salad Bowl" or "Salis" — gang shorthand for a city now defined most of all by ferocious eruptions of violence.

In the space of 11 days this year, seven people were murdered in Salinas. Each killing, like the record 25 homicides the previous year, spilled from the gang warfare that this summer pushed the homicide rate in the city of 140,000 to three times that of Los Angeles. Residents retreated indoors at night, and Mayor Dennis Donohue affirmed his decision to seek help from an unlikely source: the U.S. military.

Since February, combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been advising Salinas police on counterinsurgency strategy, bringing lessons from the battlefield to the meanest streets in an American city.

"This is our surge," said Donohue, who solicited the assistance from the elite Naval Postgraduate School, 20 miles and a world away in Monterey. "When the public heard about this, they thought we were going to send the Navy SEALs into Salinas."

In fact, the cavalry arrived in civvies, carrying laptops rather than M-16s and software instead of mortars. In this case, the most valuable military asset turned out to be an idea: Change the dynamic in the community and victory can follow.

"It’s a little laboratory," said retired Col. Hy Rothstein, the former Army career officer in Special Forces who heads the team of 15 faculty members and students, mostly naval officers taking time between deployments to pick up a master’s degree. Their effort in Salinas counts as extracurricular and is necessarily voluntary, given the constitutional bar on the military operating within U.S. borders.

This is encouraging, so you will want to read it all.

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