Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Auroran Musings

I have been incredibly flustered lately.  The lack of job continues to weigh on me and looking at the debts I have or soon will have, it is enough to drive me batty.  Indeed today, my significant other had to grab me when I was about ready to pound the computer I was working on.  The source of my ire?  A website associated with a national chain wanted me to reenter all the information that was on the resume they asked me to upload, and wanted answers to questions I couldn't answer or was trapped by.  In the process of the move a lot of things were left in the air.  It was not an orderly transition at all.

Perhaps worst of all I've gone from having at least some control over my life, if only to say "you know what? I think I'm going to get Subway, not [insert fast food chain]."  I am literally at the mercy of those around me.  Should I at any point out stay my welcome I am hosed.  More than that I really don't like being this way.  I hate that I have no control.  I loathe feeling like a bum every day, and perhaps worst of all facing the ever growing list of things I need to do is filling me with a sense of vaguely defined panic.  I suppose it is akin to a blind man sensing a tsunami about to hit.

My significant other is great though.  She realized the problem, having gone through the exact same thing herself.  She was calm, compassionate and understanding, and perhaps just by being there she helped.  A lot.  So at midnight even though she desperately needed to get to sleep she took me to the hot tub, because she sensed I needed it, and as I sat outside I happened to look up and see clouds that weren't quite right.  Clouds that moved too fast and I realized what I was seeing.  An Aurora Borealis.  In my opinion it is one of the most beautiful natural phenomena known to man, and like a camp fire it can be truly mesmerizing.

While sitting in the hot tub, my fiancé said all the things a guy ever wants to here.  She had faith in me.  Confidence that our struggles would make us stronger in the end.  She told me that her sisters have had the same struggles.  One sister, if they make it to March will be the first full year that she and her husband have been employed since they knew each other.  Her other married sister hasn't had stable finances in the six years that they've been married, and her husband's current job has him gone three days a week.  Still...  I'm starting off as low as I can get.  Its scary, and the thought of being married with the kind of financial troubles we have now. . .

We didn't stay in that long, though I would have liked to.  It was the first peaceful moment I've felt since I don't know when, but she really did have to get to sleep, and I needed to at least try.  As I looked up one last time before going inside I was struck with a thought.  After the first full day of fighting at Fredericksburg, which saw a terrific slaughter, the Union troops were hunkered down behind fortifications of their fallen brethren, and happened to look up and see an Aurora.  It's rare to see one so far south as Fredericksburg Virginia, and on this particular night after a day of sheer hell, it was a sight that robbed most men of their powers of speech.  That something so beautiful could follow something so ugly touched those men to their very souls.  One Union soldier even said that it was as if the souls of their comrades were watching over them.

With that thought, I realized, I've survived a lot.  My problems, for all the angst they have caused me are not nearly as bad as those of a Union soldier on the night of December 14th 1862.  For me I can enjoy this beauty without fear of someone shooting me.  And, if the souls of those I've lost are looking down on me in this Aurora, than hopefully they'll be saving me a cold one when my times comes to join them.

Monday, June 22, 2015

About the "Confederate Flag"

The "Confederate flag" means a lot of things to a lot of people.  So some it is a symbol of nobility, a struggle against an oppressive regime.  To others it is a sign of absolutely despicable acts of racism.  I won't get into the merits of either side except to note the people on both sides are incredibly passionate about it.  I will also say that I have seen black men sporting stars and bars paraphernalia, which at the time I found odd, and many will find odd to this day.  The original flag, dubbed the "Stars and Bars" looks nothing like the "Confederate flag" we know today

So let's start off with a simple what IS the Stars and Bars?  Well first you really need to understand the early days of the Confederate States of America it was all largely done out of a hat (sometimes quite literally).  No one had actually panned for the cessation, or setting up a formal government after they had left the Union.  In their haste to exit most of the Confederacy hadn't even agreed on what the new government should look like let alone what their flag should look like.  As the war began almost immediately after cessation the armies in the field were hopelessly confusing.  In Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's brigade there were many troops that showed up in blue uniforms of their state militias, there were cadets from VMI in their grey cadet uniforms, and even a unit that showed up in Revolutionary War apparel.  This is to say nothing of the flags.  There were dozens, and no sense to it at all.

Indeed, during the first battle of Bull Run (or Manassas depending on which side you were on) there was so much confusion between the Confederate troops carrying the Stars and Bars, and the Union troops carrying the Stars and Stripes that at one point Jackson tried to rally troops that weren't his.  It seems extraordinary, but the confusion was so great that it was nearly a disaster for both sides.  After the battle General Beauregard demanded that something be done.  Even though the Confederate congress rejected a "battle flag" specifically for the troops Beauregard went around them and used the war department to designate a "peace" or "parade" flag, and a flag for battle.  What came out was a square flag (not rectangular as is commonly depicted) of a blue X with thirteen stars in a red background.  It was distinct enough that it helped cut down the confusion, and for the remainder of the war the Army of Northern Virginia (the main Confederate army in the eastern theater) used it.

The "official" confederate flag remained however.  At least until 1863.  At that point a new flag was adopted owing to the sentiment that the flag was too like the Union flag.  What followed were a series of two flags, both rather goofy looking and neither really popular.  The first was simply the confederate battle flag on a white background.  The second was a vertical red stripe at the end of the flag.  As the political history of the Confederacy is not often studied (or is massively dwarfed by the military history) the history of the Confederate flag is lost, and many assume that the battle flag was the Confederate flag.

I believe that it is an important part of our past, and should not be consigned to the dust bin.  I thing the confederate battle flag should fly.  With a caveat.  It should fly over reenactments.  I think there is a middle ground, where we can honor the courage and sacrifice of Americans, regardless of side, and also at the same time recognize the wrong done.  Unfortunately, at the time, passions are too high for this to happen.  One can only hope that the blood pressure subside enough that we can take a more realistic look at our history.  Accept both the good and the bad, and learn from both.  Like it or not the Confederate States of America is a large part of American history, and without the CSA, the USA would not be the country it is today.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dear Navy, Air Force, and Marines

WE CAME FIRST!!!  Seriously, the US Army was here first, and you can argue all you want that the Navy, and Marine Corps did there parts in later wars, there would not be an America if the US Army hadn't done so well, despite being nothing more than a bunch of country bumpkins, when facing the most powerful military in the world (at the time).

Really, let's take a moment on this, the 240th birthday of the United States Army to give props where props are due.  Who fought in all major theaters of WWII, and conducted a majority of amphibious assaults?  That's right the Army.  I get it, the Marines have a right to be proud of what you've done.  No one will deny you have that right, but guys, seriously?  You act like you were the only ones in WWI, the Pacific, Chosin, Hue, and the drive into Baghdad.  That's getting a little annoying.  Actually we'd love hit you upside with an arty tube once you get going.  It's not personal, but you guys had got to knock off the "we're the only ones fighting" crap.  Even in your most notable battles the Army was near by or supporting you.

And yes, the Navy.  Love you guys.  But lately you've lacked that luster.  The sheer brilliance that you once claimed, has lost its shine.  I understand.  Budget cuts suck.  Lately you've been trying to replace your old ships, and get shiny new toys.  I truly understand the desire.  I also understand that you've been setting unrealistic standards.  You've got people getting fired for minor things.  Corrective training is a good thing.  Accidents are going to happen.  stop treating accidents as if someone peed on the admiral's dog, and start treating them as teachable moments.  Like I said, I love you guys.  Even if you can be insufferable at times.

Air Force. . . oh where do I even begin.  First off. . . GUYS.  MILITARY BARING.  I hate to say it this way but damn.  Hearing junior enlisted personnel refer to light colonels on a first name basis… really?  Your job is to blast the enemy out of the sky, shut down their electronics, and blow the ever loving hell out of their stuff with a wide assortment of bombs.  Can you at least act like your job in the military is part of that end?  While we're on the subject of blowing shit up, what gives with the A-10?  I get that you, like the Navy want new toys, but have you ever serious stopped and asked why so many people are rallying to keep the A-10?  Want to retire the B-1?  You'll probably not hear a peep.  Maybe you ought to ask why this airframe has so much popularity.

To my fellow Soldiers, sit back, drink some beer, and raise a toast.  Past Present and Future, we can be proud of our Army.  We've put our blood sweat and tears into making our organization top shelf.  You can deploy the Army to disasters, wars, construction sites, hell I'm sure there's a few missions the brass hasn't even thought up and I'm sure you'll be good at it.  Take a moment of pride and enjoy that.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Strange Priorities

Sometimes the way things should run, or the way things should be don't match the way things are.  Every once in a while I run across one of those incidents and I find myself unable to really get past that.  It seems little wonder that there is so much dysfunction in our society when the programs to help people get a leg up seem designed to fail.  

What am I talking about?  Well recently, after losing my job, my fiancé made a strong case for moving in with her at her parent's house.  This would of course be temporary, because I'd immediately start job hunting, and house hunting.  Jobs, well they're apparently not as easy to find as I thought.  I have yet to get a single call back despite an ungodly number of applications put in.  Housing. . . well I don't exactly have a security deposit and first and last month's rent just laying around do I?

Enter some of the Veteran specific programs.  At first I was blown away that some of these even existed, and I was also having a bit of an issue accepting all the various forms of help offered.  After all I wasn't really Audie Murphy, I topped out at E-4, and aside from a CMB don't really have any awards to speak of.  I'm not that special, but here were programs to help me get a degree, get a certification, get a house, get a job, hell one of the programs it almost sounded like the government would bribe the company to hire me.

One of the things that particularly pinged my spider sense was the Housing support.  Now for the record I think that we should do everything to help homeless people.  Period.  Unless a person really does want to live in the woods under a tent, every effort should be made to secure them a clean habitation that they can call their own.  However, the process of qualifying me for these programs struck me as. . . not right.  For one, I'm technically homeless.  I understand living in my fiancé's parents' basement is by no stretch of the imagination ideal, I do have a place to call home for the time being, but, according to the government I'm homeless. That. . . really doesn't sit well with me.  

Adding to the not rightness, if I were to add my fiancé's income to my own we would actually make too much to qualify for assistance.  This kind of bothers me, because my income alone would be nowhere near adequate to sustain a home.  Even if I got a semi decent paying job tomorrow, I probably wouldn't be able to sustain the home by myself.  The real screwy part is that her income isn't enough to move out either.  Based solely on her income she could not move out today.  This makes no sense.  I'll get help getting a place I may not be able to pay rent on?  In order to "work the system" I have to get the job after I get housing, and there's something about this that seems in a macrocosm to be a recipe for disaster.  

Yes I have no doubt once I get a place, and a job my fiancé and I could support it together no problem, but in order to get that place I need to be so bad off that I probably couldn't have supported the move.  At one point I was even given a story of a Veteran who needed help getting a place but didn't qualify because he wasn't screwed up enough.  As an added bonus I need to eventually get a letter from my fiancé's parents acting as an eviction notice.  I know that they'd let me stay till I was on my feet.  I know there's no animosity, but thats what the program requires.  It makes me uneasy.  My integrity is one of the few things I can claim, and this requirement makes me feel compromised.  Everyone else is shrugging and saying "that's the system" but to me there's more to it than that.  

It really makes you wonder, how many people need this program more than me, but can't use it because they make too much, or aren't hurt enough?  How many people served honorably but just never deployed, now can't get the help they need?  It made me feel positively like a crook.  I had an image of Hamburgler in my mind, sneaking away with a bag of money and keys to a place while some other poor sap was working a dead end job living in a crack house because that's all he could afford.  Now maybe that's a touch dramatic but the feeling stuck with me.  As if to add insult to injury it was strongly suggested that I get food stamps. 

I'd almost rather the State give me a loan.  Say "you don't have enough for your security deposit, ok, here is $XXX.XX, we'll give this to you now and repayment can be deferred for 1 year."  That makes tons of sense to me.  That way it's not a hand out it's a hand up.  I don't feel like I'm lying, and the income requirement could be way more flexible.  That way the Veterans that don't qualify for the emergency programs get some form of assistance, and don't feel like beggars in the process.  The State would have a vested interest in positive outcomes, and the individual would have a vested interest in earning more money.  Win, win.  Right?

In the end, perhaps the hardest part of this whole ordeal is asking for help.  Yes my job was a dead end job.  Yes, after losing it, I had zero plans.  But in my entire life, I've never been on food stamps.  I've never been on welfare, or unemployment.  I took that as a point of pride.  If I'd received a government benefit it was something that I'd earned, and because I had earned it I had no guilt or qualms.  Admitting that I failed, that I'd gone so long without a support system, and just could not go any further, that really stings.  Still does.  I'm glad these programs are here to help, but, as a person, that I need them at all feels like admitting defeat.  Still.  I may be down, but I'm not out yet.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What a Strange World We Live In

In the past few months I've had time to think about a lot of things.  One of the things I've thought most about is our society, and how it hardly resembles the one I grew up in.  Things I used to take for granted, or things that I never even bothered to worry about are now big issues.  I thought I'd share some of these observations.  

Fire Marshals wearing bullet proof vests: It happened during one of the various festivals that happen around WVU, but I ran into a Fire Marshal that I have known off and on for a number of years.  Talking to him about his job at one of these festivals I was shocked to notice that he was wearing a tactical vest underneath the outer garments of his office.  

I was rather shocked because this is the FIRE MARSHAL.  This is the guy that walks into a building and buzz kill though it might be prevents a major disaster from happening.  Too many people at the party could lead to a panic in the case of a fire.  I was absolutely shocked to learn that in the course of his duties people had actually tried to attack him.   Apparently in the state and around the country several people in his position have been killed in the course of doing their duty to prevent death by fire. 

What happened to the days when we recognized that indeed, getting into a fight with someone that was trying to save your life was a bad idea.  What happened to the respect we used to hold for the people whose job it is to save us from our own stupidity?  This isn't a police officer trying to bust up a drug ring.  The reality of this, that now even EMS are wearing stab proof vests leave me feeling that we've crossed some invisible line, and our edifices really are crumbling.  As a child I'd never even heard of a person attacking fire or EMS, now it seems like this is a common occurrence. 

Local courthouse is now a prison: I got the full on TSA treatment the other day when I went to pay my taxes on my car.  They stopped just short of feeling me up, but I went through the whole nine yards.  I couldn't understand this.  It's not like this court would heard weighty cases this is a minor (though growing) municipality, the majority of cases they see are DUI, and underage intoxication.  What was even more alarming was outside of the actual entrance checkpoint which had several officers and a camera system that would make big brother jealous, there were actually checkpoints in every hallway of desks with armed officers.  

After asking one why the increased security, wondering aloud if a specific threat had been made, he related to me that in fact this was a statewide program, because people were entering the building with guns, and apparently there had been. . . incidents.  I was flabbergasted at first but as he explained it, the situation made more sense.  Courthouses are places people are typically not happy.  The court is a target of ire, and anyone running around in high emotions with a loaded gun could be a recipe for a really bad day for all involved.  What I didn't understand is why people could have possibly thought that there would be any different outcome.  

Contracts about social media: recently, I was talking to a friend who had graduated from the law school here at WVU last year.  I was asking him about what it was like practicing law in the state of West Virginia, and he related to me something that I thought was absurd at first.  Apparently every new client that his firm takes has to sign a contract with the law firm basically saying they won't go on social media and talk about the case.  At first I thought this was absolutely laughable.  Do you seriously as a lawyer have to tell you're client to stay off Facebook?  

Unfortunately my friend related to me in the same details I would give about patient care that in fact it is very much a requirement.  Apparently at some point a case my friend was working on went belly up when his client got on social media and rather foolishly bragged that they were going to get a big paycheck from their employer.  Choice words were said to describe their boss, and in a rather spectacularly bad idea actually named names, and said very unpleasant things.  The case was going to settle out of court, but, well the short version is the case died a very spectacular death.  I thought this was a hilarious incident of indiscretion.  

This couldn't possibly be a common occurrence I said, but then he showed me posts from Reddit, and Facebook groups that went from hilarious to positively sad.  Apparently its a real thing.  Lawyers, have had to deal with both civil and criminal cases where their clients have let loose an epically stupid tirades on social media.  In one case a lawyer related that their client was bragging about how good they (the lawyer) was, then proceeded to admit to the very crime she was accused of.  I have to say that I have a new found level of respect for those that practice law.  Much like the medical profession, they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with the stupidity of the people their working for.  

I wish I could say that this is more than just random musings but it seems like our society really is stuck on stupid.  As we seem to drift ever closer to a precipice, I wonder what new insanity will emerge to show us how much we as a society are decaying.  What new mundane thing will suddenly need to be spelled out?  What new safety measure will become mandatory when even five years ago it would have been laughable.  I don't know, and I really don't want to find out.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The End of an Era

On May 1st, my last unit, 2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Regiment will case it's colors for the last time, and the Dragon Brigade (4th IBCT 1st Infantry Brigade) will be that much closer to inactivation.  It was perhaps inevitable once sequestration began that 4/1 would be one of the brigades targeted, after all the only reason 4/1 exists at all is that at the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom the Army was desperate for maneuver brigades, now that the war is over (for now) the brigade which was assembled and trained at break neck speed is quietly going away.

There's something bittersweet about my old unit casing it's colors and inactivating.  I know that units change all the time.  Units go from outstanding to piss poor in a heartbeat then right back to stellar all based on the movement of NCOs and officers in and out of a unit.  The 2-16 I knew probably doesn't resemble the 2-16 that exists now.  The names will be different, perhaps the traditions will as well, but there's a part of me that always felt that some small piece of me was with 2-16.  No matter what adventures the Army sent the "Rangers" on, I always followed closely, and felt trepidation and concern for "my" unit.

I feel rather like Im taking a favorite dog to the vet one final time.  Yeah, we had some great times didn't we?  But now your time has come and it's time to say goodbye.  There are no tears, at least not yet.  I'm sure that if I actually make it to the ceremony, there will be.  Perhaps the hardest thing for me to face is that, in my mind at least, as long as 2-16 was still around guys like PFC Craig, PFC Harrelson, SFC Doster, or even Holmes weren't truly dead.  The battalion carried a piece of them with it.  Now that the Battalion is soon to be a ghost itself, it makes me feel like maybe those guys truly are gone.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

When Pedestals Slip

A while ago, while I was still trying to get 2-16's side of the "collateral murder" fiasco out I had reached out to Joe Galloway, to ask his advise.  What truly amazed me is that the Joe Galloway, who went into Ia Drang with 1-7 Cavalry actually responded to me.  He made it clear that he was long since retired, so he didn't have contacts that I could use, but he did actually critique my work and provide useful insight.  I was star struck, and I tried hard not to pester him with questions (I was, and am still particularly interested in his view of Lam Son 719).

 Joe Galloway is one of the few reporters out there that just "get it," that understand the Soldier's mentality, on an intellectual as well as an emotional level.  There are precious few others I've seen that have this understanding.  Sebastian Junger, David Finkle, Jake Tapper, and a very select few others have been able to relay to the American people in words what being an American Soldier is all about.  This very select group of people don't just report the hard facts ("a roadside bomb went off today killing two soldiers and wounding four others") but are able to make people who have no emotional connection understand the mentality that takes boys from vastly different living circumstances and melds them into a unit that will literally die for each other without a second thought. 

Joe Galloway's work has in a large part helped heal the rift between the military and civilians that the Vietnam era caused.  The 2002 movie adaptation of his book "We were soldiers once. . . and young" helped bring to life the grit determination camaraderie and sorrow of the soldiers that went into the battle of LZ X-ray, as well as the families that were left behind.  In no small part this gave the country a very visceral reminder of the forgotten heroes of the Vietnam era.  Joe Galloway's work is right up there with Jan Scruggs' in helping bring peace to a group of service members who were often forgotten abused and mistreated by their country.  Reading about some of the homecomings that the 1-7 Cav troopers got is why I always go out of my way to welcome home any Vietnam Veteran. 

It's also important to say, that Joe Galloway really is in every sense of the word, a hero.  Very few civilians are awarded combat awards, and it's hard to say that he did not earn his Bronze Star with V device, and the fact that even after the Battle of Ia Drang left him with many emotional scars he still went back to Vietnam to cover the near disastrous Lam Son 719 after a friend and fellow UPI reporter was killed.  That took a lot of guts.  More than a few people would have sat down and said "I've had enough, count me out."  He didn't have to go back.  Nor did he have to ride with the 24th Infantry Division in Desert Storm. 

With all that said I had hoped that Joe Galloway's Facebook feed would be posting news articles of the day, and offering short incite.  I had hoped that there would be mentoring, encouragement and even positive feedback for young writers.  I had hoped that he would also share secrets of what he did to make peace with the demons war can give you.  I was taken aback to find that a lot of the tings he said were bitterly partisan.  Some of the articles he posted as well as some of the things he said about the articles left me feeling really uneasy.  This is JOE GALLOWAY.  I might be a smart ass with a penchant for sticking my foot in my mouth, but one does not simply walk up to a guy like that and say "no this isn't right." 

I do not hide the fact that I am generally Conservative/Libertarian.  I also believe that debate is important.  So eventually I started offering counterpoints to what was being said.  I offered opposing views as well as justifications.  I did my utmost to be respectful, and try to admonish the people commenting (some with truly horrid responses) that debate is essential to our Republic, and without respect debate is impossible.  This went on for a few weeks, before Joe himself banned and blocked me.  His description of me does not bare mentioning. 

So here I am.  I still greatly respect Joe.  His volume of work, nor the impact it has had can not be understated.   If he wants to be partisan, he has earned that right a lot more than most.  I am a little crestfallen that a personal hero thinks so little of me or what I have to say.  It still bothers me a little, but as always you have to pick yourself up and move on.  Despite the disagreements we had on various issues, and the way things ended I wish him peace, he really has earned it.  For my part I'm just going to walk away.  It's a little sad, but that's life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Huray for Dysfunction

You know what's funny?  What's absolutely hilarious?  The last Republican proposal before the Government shutdown was to delay the individual mandate by one year, and repeal the medical device tax.  Fast forward a few weeks and the Affordable Care Act roll out is not only a disaster but the subject of hilarity.  Seriously, watching people try to scramble to explain how a website that has more code than the latest version of Windows, has been hilarious.  So funny that the ACA which had ONE House Republican that signed on (and failed to get reelected) has a lot of Democrats worried.  They're so worried that they're trying to. . . delay the individual mandate by a year. 

Gee.  But let's not stop there.  At it's best Obamacare was supposed to help 30 million Americans, which is roughly 10%.  Because of that 6 million Americans who actually liked their coverage (roughly 2%) are going to outright lose their coverage.  But let's not stop there.  As many as 100 million Americans are going to have their coverage altered, or their premiums are going to skyrocket.  That's 33% (roughly).  So right there roughly 35% of Americans are going to be hurt by this law from the outset, the primary effects, that the law was actually designed for.  This does not account for the 7.3% of Americans that are unemployed. 

The secondary, and unintended consequences of the law may be even worse.  Doctors are fleeing the plans that are the center piece of Obamacare.  The why seems painfully obvious.  Doctors are a highly specialized position, that takes years and years of training.  The cost to get through the training and the years of devotion are compensated by the extremely nice pay.  Even breaking even with years worth of student debt can take years, but in the end most doctors don't mind it because they earn a very nice paycheck.  Government plans are very strict in exactly how much they pay for what.  If you had to spend six figures to get a job in the hop of making (close to) six figures wouldn't you flee a plan that cut that paycheck drastically?  The practical result is you'll have to wait for a long time to see a doctor, and travel far to see specialists (even though there might be several specialists nearby).

Everyone points to the things that Obamacare covers as a good thing, but why should a single male need maternity care?  Why should a relatively healthy family with no history of substance abuse need that covered in their plans?  Yes some people will need this in their plan, and feel they need it, they will pay for it, but why would you force someone who doesn't want or need these to have them on a plan?  The obvious result will be that everyone's plans will by necessity cost more.  In a time when the economy is barely recovering, why would you want to add more cost to people's lives.  The gas prices going up half a dollar a gallon immediately preceded the housing market crisis.  So what crisis could this bump in expense cause? 

Even if it could somehow be proven that the ACA might help 10% of Americans, is this really what we want our federal government to be doing?  We're already spending over a trillion dollars a year more than we take in.  Even if the ACA works properly there'll be a massive increase in the Medicaid rolls.  If we can't afford what we have now, why would we add to that? 

One of the best talents that America has displayed is our talent as a nation to compromise.  The Affordable Care Act, is a clear example of what happens when we don't compromise.  It is an idea born of ideology and good intentions but not grounded in reality.  The implementation has been a disaster.  Perhaps the dysfunction surrounding Obamacare might actually be a good thing.  Maybe its time for us as a nation to have an actual conversation about what we want our government to do.  What is the role in our lives.  Are we it's master or is it ours?  Whatever we decide, I'm pretty sure that America will be better off if we repeal the Affordable Care Act, and perhaps start over. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Some Thoughts About Veterans Day

Every Veterans Day I am often prone to wool gathering.  I can not help but think back to times that seem almost like another lifetime.  It seems especially strange to be thanked for my service.  It's like a jarring note introduced into the contemplation.  How am I supposed to respond?  More than that, it reminds me of what I did, what I saw, and how it has changed me.  Is a thank you, even well meaning really what I want?

The simplest answer is: no, I want more.  .45% of the US population are actively serving, and roughly 10% are Veterans.  Of that percentage a laughably small percentage are actual combat Veterans (For the purposes of simplification I mean have been shot at and returned fire to an actual enemy).  How can some random person coming up and saying thank you so unexpectedly, wash away the memory of a friend screaming in pain and begging for Morphine?  How can a parade erase returning to an empty room in the barracks?  It doesn't.  For as much pride, I had in wearing the uniform, I suffered terribly for it. 

Perhaps that is why it fills me with unease seeing parents dress their children as soldiers because it's "cute."  My mind fills in an image of that same child screaming for someone to lay down suppressive fire, and I think if their parents could see that image they would weep bitter tears.  Perhaps I'm bothered by the fact that people seem to forget that America is still at war and that some of the youngest dying in Afghanistan today are not old enough to remember 9/11.  Perhaps it's just the idea that the discord in the nation caused by political rhetoric seems like a slap in the face.

I can't say exactly what about Veterans Day bothers me so much.  I can tell you that I still to this day feel guilty that I went through two tours without a scratch.  Other, worthier men came home without limbs, to broken marriages, and kids that didn't recognize them.  I wish people would recognize my Combat Medical Badge, so that when they did thank me they could thank me for something specific.  "My service" could mean picking cigarette butts out of rocks in the motorpool, or it could mean shooting at someone from the roof of the Ranger JSS.  It could mean sweating to the point of dehydration in an OP, or it could mean standing in formation listening to endless safety briefings. 

People thank me on Memorial Day, when they should go to Arlington and thank those far worthier individuals.  People thank me on the 4th of July, when they haven't even read the document that gave birth to this nation.  I don't want you to display your patriotism, in short bursts of fevered flag waving, that doesn't make me feel better about going to war for this nation.  I want to believe that the American Spirit is not dead.  I want the citizens of this country to take the same pride in being an American that I took in serving in this nation's military. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

War and Resession

A recent article reported by the Blaze, the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Ray Odierno is not confidant that he can deploy any significant force for any type of major operations.  The long and the short of it is that sequestration hit the military a lot harder than is typically being reported in the media.  The reasons aren't as straight forward as "reduce your budget by 10% across the board, which is what the law said.  There's a couple problems here.  The first is that the President had already reduced the budget by $500 Billion over the decade.  Because of the tactical requirements in Afghanistan, while the Army and Marine Corps did tighten their belts, the ones who really took the hit was the Navy and the Air Force.  The second as it might be painfully obvious is that even though most of the country has forgotten about it, there's still this war thing going on in Afghanistan, and it's as brutal and harsh as ever.

There's one more problem, one which the military has absolutely no control over whatsoever.  The way appropriations bills are set up, the military is required by law to buy X of said weapons systems from said suppliers.  Sometimes these things are things the military desperately needs, or needed.  The C-27J Spartan was one of those airframes that was considered critical need for short take off and landing resupply of distant out of the way bases.  One problem, the Air Mobility Command felt they didn't need them so they came brand new right off the line and went directly to the Bone-yard in Davis-Monthan AFB.  One could also point to the troubled Littoral Combat Ships, which was meant to replace the aging Perry-class frigates.  I don't even want to talk about the F-35.  At this point it's pretty well documented we've just bought into a fighter that sucks at fighting. 

The complex budget calculations boil down to four simple things Systems, Training, Personnel, and Operations.  The Personnel, and Operations costs are pretty straight forward, though Personnel also includes base support, family support and healthcare.  The Systems budget is all about the various weapons systems, to include the actual hardware like ships planes and guns, it includes purchasing new weapons, and maintaining old ones.  As I said before this is not so straightforward as the Military leaders have little actual control over this budget.  Operations is also not entirely straightforward because combatant commanders tend to conduct operations based on tactical needs rather than budgetary requirements.  To get at the enemy you might have to forward deploy a company in difficult to supply areas which will raise the budget like a Saturn V going full bore.  For a lot of reasons you can't slash Systems and Operations budgets so all that's left is Personnel and Training.

In recent months we've seen anecdotal as well as full on news coverage of the Army getting rid of some of the most combat experienced troops like a hot grenade.  A lot of troops are not getting promoted because of minor infractions, or personality conflicts.  The end result is that a lot of enlisted troops aren't reenlisting, and a lot of officers are getting out rather than have to deal with more "chicken-shit." from "Big Army."  This brain drain was seen during the height of the Iraq War, as the deployment cycles became extreme, but you're seeing it more and more now that budget requirements are starting to pinch.  Who are left are some of the soldiers that perhaps you really wouldn't want in charge of combat formations. 

We're rapidly approaching the point that the Army was at in the late 70's.  While not the social pariahs that the military was until the early 80's, the issues of a draw down and the unpopularity of a war, are seriously effecting the force's ability to wage war.  We may rapidly approach the point where we simply won't be able to deploy large formations that are combat ready.  The abilities of combat troops has required the military to rely more and more on Special Operations troops.  

The emphasis on Special Operations has in the short time plugged the gap left by the flagging regular force, but that presents problems of its own.  Spec Ops are often very expensive, and the support requirements are a lot greater, and if they get into trouble, they can be isolated and slaughtered quickly.  The loss of Extortion 17 alone makes it painfully clear how vulnerable or Spec Ops troops are.  We will see more situations like this, and it will take an extreme toll on the SOCOM community, which is so small that each operator lost has a significant impact on the community as a whole.

The worst part about all of this is that there are no solutions the military can enact.  The entirety of this problem was caused and must be solved by the politicians.  That in and of itself is a terrifying reality.  The recent budget crisis showed that there is almost no functionality in Washington, in a time when the force readiness of the next decade is on the line.  We may reach a point where we simply can't go to war because our troops will get slaughtered.