Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Am Unapologetically American.

If one were to watch the news, or about 20 minuets of proceedings of the UN General Assembly, one thing you notice is there's a lot of snide comments about how bad America is.  Once upon a time when Europe finally united together, it was predicted that the Euro would utterly bury the Dollar, that the Old World will utterly crush the New with its unified economics.  I remember being told that the state of things in Africa was at least partially America's fault.  You know what?  I call bull. 

The UN, despite it's lofty aims has not been able to prevent a single war, and routinely puts nations into civil rights councils that are clear violators of even the most basic of civil rights.  Their relief efforts are somewhat laughable at first, until they turn horrific, like introducing cholera to Haiti after an massive earthquake that killed thousands of people.  That little slip up killed hundreds of thousands more.  In Syria, we have seen even the most basic mission has failed, and they're high tailing it out of there.  Yet despite this, people are still looking to America.  Say a massive natural disaster were to strike one of those second or third world countries that spend so much time bad mouthing us, who exactly do you think they would call to bring relief and aid?  America. 

The Euro which was this great idea, a symbol of unity and the economic "future" is about to go belly up.  It might seem like hindsight being 20/20, but uniting several disparate economies with several different political views, was doomed to fail.  There are just 4400 words in the US Constitution, do you even want to guess how many words are in the EU charter?  Well the "essential rights of man" are at least 26 pages.  Keep in mind that the American document that detailed the "inalienable" rights of men, and the goverened was one page.  The EU is barely a few decades old and in serious trouble.  While America is not doing so hot, we have weathered greater storms and I have complete faith that we will weather this one too.   

For all those snide comments made by those "in the know" more often than not is is found that they are reporting on the way they wish things were not the way they are.  Perhaps the most infuriating thing about America to those people is that we consistently prove them wrong.  What can a bunch of Yankee Doodles do against the mighty British Empire?  Hold our own, and be the only nation to gain freedom from the British Empire by rebellion.  Our birth was a revolution, truly.  But just 85 years later it was ripped apart by a truly brutal Civil War.  Looks like the American nation is done for.  Nope.  We came through the crucible as a nation, and "these united States" became the United States. 

We became a bicostal nation, with more land mass than several countries in Europe, and we turned that into opportunity.  From a man selling pocket watches from a railroad station, eventually founding Sears, and economic powerhouse, to Buffalo Bill, a showman who kept the Wild West alive in our imagination even long after it had ceased to be wild, if you can think it up, you can make it happen, regardless of your station in life.  Europe didn't pay much attention to America, until near the turn of the 20th century, when our "Great White Fleet" kicked the ever loving snot out of the Spanish armada. 

the 20th century was no less eventful.  From breaking the stalemate in the Western Front in WWI, to surviving the Dust Bowl, and the great crash, and the Great Depression that followed we have proved we were resilient, and the world started to give us respect, and listen to our thoughts on matters.  WWII proved that America could do what no other nation on Earth could, fighting both fronts in the war, and more importantly winning.  As brutal an enemy as Japan was, and as professional, and just plain good at war as Germany was we beat them.  Both.  Matter of fact, at one point we were fighting in three fronts (Italy, Germany, and Japan).

The Cold War was tense, but we won that too, without firing a shot at out main belligerent, the Soviets.  In fact just the simple words "Mr Gorbachev, tare down this wall" toppled one of the most brutal authoritarian dictatorships in human history. 

Yes we are hurting now.  As I write this I'm a month behind on my car payment, I'm late on my credit card bills and I'm having issues with the College I'm going to, who are threatening to delete my classes because they're not tracking that I have the GI Bill.  You know what?  I am actually not too stressed about all of that.  I have a place to stay, food to eat, and a job.  Could you honestly say someone in my position, a day late and a dollar short, could actually be hopeful about the future in any other nation in the world?  I'm an American.  I know for a fact that we have a hunger as a nation to succeed.  As I write this there are men and women across the nation chomping at the bit to try their hand and strike it big.  I know we have in our character the ability to reinvent ourselves and accomplish literally anything we put our minds to.  We put men on the Moon!

There are many things I will willfully admit I was wrong, and apologize for, but one thing I will NEVER apologize for is being an American!

Friday, August 24, 2012


Well there's been a hell of a stir about a video called "dishonorable disclosure" put out by a group of Spec Ops troops (SEALs Green Berets MARSOC, Force Recon and CIA spooks) that was predominately about two major points.  The first, and the most important is to cease the leaks to the media for "political" purposes.  The second part of the video is entirely about the POTUS taking too much credit for the actions that lead to the death of Osama Bin Laden. A lot of controversy has swirled around this video and it really calls into question the role of the military. 

The first thing that needs to be understood is that despite all the assertions of the anti-war crowd, Soldiers are not idiots.  It is often seen as a form of simple minds that the military mentality is very black and white, with little grey area, but people tend not to understand that Soldiers understand moral grey areas greater than most of the so called "philosophers" that think us so simple.  That we often tend to simplify things, makes people think that we're simple.  When I was at the pointy end of the spear I had a better view of what was going on in Iraq, so it was absolutely flabergasting to hear people back here telling us what was going on over there. 

Now, being a servant of your country, unable to choose where or when you go to war, does not mean that you don't have opinions about what is going on.  In fact you tend to have very strong opinions about how this campaign or that should be prosecuted.  Indeed you should hear what Privates will say about their superiors.  Just because these opinions are not voiced in every forum like members of society are opt to do now, does not mean that these opinions are any less vehement, or deeply held.  Indeed Service Members have one of the most unique views of America.  In a lot of ways they are on the inside, but they are also often in the outside looking in, and our view is one a lot of Americans would not like lest it shine a light on their own actions. 

So what about the actual video?  Well as I pointed out over at the Rhino Den, the Leaking has got to stop.  It happened a lot during the Bush and Clinton administrations as well, but this administration has released some truly jaw dropping things that really astound me.  While I am inclined to believe that some of the leaks in the Clinton administration were political, I think there are a lot of Woodward and Burnstien wannabes that got a little too chummy with people who really ought not say anything.  With the Bush administration I think that a lot of the leaks were more because of personal disagreements, or what not.  But this administration. . . I can't even begin to fathom why, why they would leak some of the things that have been leaked.  How the hell would I know the freaking dog's name that was on the raid?  One can guess the reasons for the leaks, but enough is enough. 

From releasing that we have committed active cyber warfare with Israel against Iran, to the Drone "kill list" it's pretty clear that this administration can not keep its yap shut about anything, and if I was exasperated about Bradley (sorry Brianna) Manning I'm purely disbelieving about the risk this admisnistration has put us in.  I believe in transperency, but it appears national security is the only place that this administration feels the same, and thats the one place you really don't want to be transparent.  Remember the old saying loose lips sink ships?  Well the Taliban are not a bunch of dumb yokels in a cave.  They have satellite TV, and phones, internet you name it.  If its in the news at all, they know about it, so on this point the group is absolutely right and saying what a lot of us all feel. 

Then there's the "I" statements.  This is one of those things that I can understand a lot of SMs and most especially operators bristling at.  The President did not do anything but sit in a chair while the raid happened, and there's even strong evidence that he might've delayed this raid two or even three times.  There is also anecdotal evidence that there was a political plan to make Admiral (sorry General) McRaven the fall guy.  This is entirely in keeping with the old saying "victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan".  This point is a little more tricky as, they're not putting anyone lives in danger by taking credit for the raid.  While I too bristle at how the POTUS treats the military, this is entirely his privilege as Article II of the Constitution we all swore to support and defend, states. 

Which leaves us with one last question.  Should they have mad this video.  I can only give my opinion here, but, yes.  I agree that it is coming at a time that people will take a lot more notice and is somewhat suspect because of the obvious partisan connection being made, however the point that the leaking has got to stop HAS TO BE MADE.  Where the metal meets the meat, a single word at the wrong time to the wrong ear will cause a lot of people to die.  I could cite actual operations where bad OpSec lead to higher than anticipated casualties (See the Ploesti Raid in WWII), and I could point to whole campaigns where bad OpSec doomed the people fighting it from the very beginning (the battle of the Atlantic after the Enigma code was broken).  Simply put, if these Operators and Secret Squirrels hadn't put out this video, who would? 

The divide between the military and the civilian population is unbelievable.  Twitter is perhaps the best example of how the public doesn't get security at all.  Every five seconds of someone's life (even if they're an annon) is there for anyone to see.  In war, that'll get you killed.  With WWII Veterans slipping into senility and dying at a rate of about 1,000 a day, and Korean War Veterans not far behind, all that is left for America to ask about the meaning and breadth of War are those Vietnam, Desert Storm and OIF/OEF Veterans, actually willing to speak about it. 

If Veterans, regardless of position rank or service, do not speak up about operational matters, Hollywood will go on making crappy movies that will misinform the public about what we actually do. This will lead to situations when actual honest to God wars happen, those that fight it will be improperly employed which will result in another sadly predictable disaster.  Showing their faces is a risk, and while it is breaking greatly with tradition, the divide has gotten so great that out of desperation they took drastic measures.  It is a shame, but this is what we've come to. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Explaining PTSD and TBI

There are a lot of myths out there about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, and a lot of this comes from the fact that the majority of Americans simply can't understand why these disorders are so debilitating.  I'll try to explain to you as much as possible both the physiological and psychological effects and symptoms of both and why they are both distinct and two separate disorders. 

lets talk about PTSD first, because that's the one that I know so well.  First off you need to understand the adrenal system, from which we get adrenalin (among other things).  Now when a person is faced with any serious danger the adrenal gland will flood your system with adrenalin.  The blood pressure will go up the Bronchioles will dilate, and the heart will start pumping faster among other thing (I won't go into 90% of the other symptoms but its actually pretty interesting.) .  Now why is this important?  Well its designed to help you Fight, your muscles are primed and your nerves will be firing on overdrive, or Flight, your airways are dilated and again your muscles are primed.  In a lot of laymen's terms its a lot like having a sports car and flooring the accelerator.  There's a small catch, this car doesn't have brakes.  so if you floor the accelerator, go to 120 MPH and wait for gravity to coast you to a slow down.  A lot of time though, every time there is a new threat presented the previous levels of adrenalin are not taken to account so you're basically flooring the accelerator of this metaphotical car. 

Go experience a roller coaster and you will feel some of this.  Notice how its a little difficult to stand afterwards and that your hands are shaking.  Well imagine that fear you felt on that roller coaster magnified several times over.  You also have to understand that memories while experiencing that kind of fear are extremely sharp, and clear.  It is clearer than when your first child is born , when you get married, or when you buy your first house.  Met a celebrity?  Make a presentation before hundreds of people?  The reason those memories are so powerful is a *small* amount of adrenalin.  Now imagine how powerful those memories would be if you had about ten times the adrenalin flooding through your system.  It can actually get to the point that you overload on Adrenalin and this is when you "freeze", you are simply unable to handle the physiological effects.

Now add in the natural grief that one would feel about the death of someone close to them with the fear one might feel for their own life and really ASR (Acute Stress Reaction) actually makes a lot of sense.  You tend to "shut down" as a way to cope with the extremes of the memories of what has happened.  PTSD comes when you don't successfully process the events that happened to you.  Despite the fact that PTSD does have a physiological cause it is a primarily psychological disorder and can be treated, but it typically will always stay with a person until the day they die.

TBI or Traumatic Brain Injury is a little bit more complicated to explain.  You need to know some things about the brain to really understand this injury.  First off blood is actually acidic, and despite the fact that the blood does go to the cranium, there is something called the blood to brain barrier, where the oxygen and nutrients are traded.  No actual blood touches the grey or white mater (the squishy stuff that makes up your brain) because if it did it would actually kill the nerves that make up the brain, so anytime there is blood in the cranium that is a very bad thing.

More than that, though, the brain is one of the few organs that is simply not designed to withstand any level of injury.  There's a reason your skull is so thick.  Even your heart, which is just as vital, is not nearly protected as well as the brain.  That should tell you all you need to know about how easily the brain is injured.

The next thing you need to know is physics.  Newton's Third Law means that the more extreme the action, the more extreme the reaction.  So if say, a 500 LB IED goes off a few meters away and I'm inside a vehicle, my brain is going to be thrown back (just like everything else in my body) and rebound off the back of my skull and back and forth till all the energy has dissipated.  But there's also another force at work here, cavitation.  The "waves" the blast sends out of compressed air,will translate their energy into everything they touch.  A bullet, fired into ballistics gel will give you an idea of what it looks like.  Go watch Mythbusters sometime they're shooting ballistics gel, then imagine something with several thousand times the energy of the bullet they fire, has gone off and that ballistics gel is your brain.  That you are able to think at all after an injury like that is something of a minor miracle. 

Here's the really hard part about TBI and PTSD, the symptoms are very similar.  It has actually happened that a person with mild or even severe TBI has been misdiagnosed, and thus received the wrong treatment.  In some cases the TBI is coupled with PTSD, which only makes the treatment more complicated.  Perhaps worst of all, we simply don't know enough about the brain to really know the long term effects such an injury will have.  We don't know how the brain copes, we don't know the repair rate or even if certain areas can be repaired, we simply don't know.  A lot of research is being done, and hopefully will progress apace, but for the time being there is a vast unknown on this. 

What I can tell you is that if you have a friend, or loved one that is suffering from either or both PTSD or TBI, you need to understand that you'll never understand what they went through.  If they tell you, it will be on their terms, not yours.  The healing process may be long, and above all you need to be patient, and encouraging.  Don't forget that you will need support as well.  The more sever the case the more support they (and in turn you) will need.  Don't be afraid to tap into the resources available.

Remember these illnesses are treatable.  They are not the death sentence a lot of people make them out to be.  A person can still live a full and complete life after receiving mTBI, or even sTBI, and PTSD is not the black plague, and should not be treated as such.  In these cases, sometimes the best medicine is compassion.  I might also point out that pity is absolutely the wrong thing to show these people. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sgt T has a Sh*tty Day

2nd Battalion 16th Infantry Regiment "Rangers" (no not those Rangers), part of 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Dragons), 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) was in a strange position in 2007.   4th Brigade was something of a test bed, to see how fast a light brigade could stand up if needed, but it was the only light brigade of a heavy division.  While the rest of the division would train with thanks and APCs 4th IBCT would. . . walk. . . a lot.  It often felt like no one was quite sure what to do with the brigade, still when the Surge happened, we were "ready" to go, so 4th IBCT was the second "Surge" unit in.  

2/16 had a CO that had been regimental XO of the Rangers (yes those Rangers), and had a bit of controversy surrounding him.  Despite that, or because of that, he was determined to be the best damn battalion in the brigade, and trained hard.  I, as part of 2nd Platoon "Loose Cannons" Bravo company "Bushmasters" came in almost as the unit was deploying so I didn't have to hear about the massive amount of ruck marches, or the many Marathon runs through tank trails, or really any of that.  All I got was the deployment, so when the first "Ranger Walk" came down, it was something of a shock to me.

"You want me to do a 12 mile tactical dismounted march into the middle of New Baghdad with just two vehicles to cover us if we have to do the Bugout Boogie?  ARE YOU NUCKING FUTS?!?!?!"

My trepidation about the whole thing got even worse, when the S-2 (intelligence) briefing came.  Areas in yellow are possible IED areas, watch out for trash, as it hides IEDs and the areas in red are possible sniper locations. . . well by the time he was done the entire route was a mish-mash of yellow and red.  Which lead to the moment I'm sure everyone had that went something like "oh fuck, we are all going to die."

Strangely enough the Ranger Walk (actually Operation Ranger Dominance) went off without a hitch.  I was amazed at how well it went, and perhaps because I wasn't carrying my heavy ass Aid Bag, I wasn't too much the worse for wear when we got back.  In fact there were no casualties at all aside from the odd heat casualty, but they were made right as rain by a few IV's.  So when it came time for Ranger Walk Part 2 I wasn't too scared or upset, I just kind of rolled my eyes.  Crap you want to do this again? This time however there would be specific targets and we would have Iraqi Army support.

We would also be targeting certain homes along this trip, and would be looking for bad guys.  Two companies would go out and walk, doing what they were going to do and two companies would be on hand to provide support.  It was one of those missions you knew was going to be long and suck hard.  But at oh-dark thirty (NOT zero-dark-thirty), with NODs on, off the Bushmasters went a walking from our new COP and out into the wilds of Iraq.

SSG Wheeler assists SGT Jubinville with his NVGs
The Walk started off pretty slow, a staggered column of 2 of Bravos platoons walking into Fedellayah, a stronghold of Muqtada al-Sadr.  When the dawn broke we all took a knee,back to back, and took our NODs off.  I stored mine in a canteen pouch on my back so I had to have help getting them put away.

The mission was probably an hour and a half old, and we were stopped. I mean we stopped and waited.  Now in a mission like this sitting still is not a good thing.  We weren't in Fedallayah proper yet, but we were pretty close, ready to get into this small slice of the cesspool.  For some reason all the vehicles were stopped at a T intersection, and seeing as I was at the tail end of the company at that point and without a radio at that point, had no idea what the hell is going on at this point.  Well the sun is up, it's still early (and I'm still groggy) I'm sure that we have something important to do here.

PFC Fernnete Pulls security over the corner that we were about to go into.  He could see the problem long before I could
Well it was time to get going again.  Ok well this is going well.  We stop again.  Ok well they know we're coming now seeing as people are starting to stir.  I'm not in the command loop, so at this point I know as much as the next Private (or Specialist in my case).  Finally I see our Iraqi Army support, and man what a bunch of Yahoos.  They weren't even really pointing their Dishka (Technically DShK) in the right direction  (see outward) they were actually pointing it down the street that out vehicles had turned down.

It seemed like there was a trafic Jam.  For some reason our vehicles weren't moving.  There seemed to be a real big pow-wow, trying to figure out what was going on.  What amazed me is the IA even had new vehicles we didn't even have (but soon would have) they had the new MRAPs.  Well I guess the new guys need every advantage they can get.  Doesn't seem to help that they don't really have a clue whats going on.

SSG Gutierrez takes a radio call about the situation up ahead.

Well it can't be too serious or they would have called me right.  As I passed my de facto squad leader SSG Gutierrez I asked what was going on, if someone was hurt or something like that.

"Don't worry about it Doc" he told me.

Then I turned the corner and saw it.  and OH.  MY.  GOD!  I bust out laughing, despite the fact that we were still in the middle of a serious mission.  Why?  well see for yourself.

SGT T and "Fish" had a little accident. 
One of our humvees fell into a very deep and very nasty shit trench.  To be a little more PC I suppose I could call it an open sewage trench.  The worst part is that was my vehicle.  I had some elbow pads and extra mags on the TC side dismount seat.  I couldn't help it, I still laughed, and I couldn't stop laughing.  Worse for the poor souls inside, the Gunner, the Driver and the TC, the truck in front of them trying to haul them out had actually gotten them more stuck.  and while the Humvee is supposed to be water proof, SGT T can attest to the fact that they most certainly are not.  

Poor SGT T was up to his elbows quite literally in shit.
 Now I got the story from both "Fish" (the driver) and SGT T later on.  Apparently Fish was following the truck in front and had gone a little wide to avoid a bongo truck.  SGT T had apparently seen the danger on his side too late and had started screaming that he had better cut the wheel to the left quick just as the truck which is quite heavy, slid into the long slit trench of foulness.  You can imagine a lot of screaming and cussing going on as the sewage seeped into SGT T's seat.  Fish actually was laughing about it which did not help SGT T's mood.  Neither did it help that he had already been feeling sick that day (but did anyone tell me?  NOOO)

Eventually it was figured out that pulling it forward wasn't going to work, they had to pull it back the way it came.  it took almost a half hour to get the damn thing out of that foul pit, and the crowd of locals that had gathered actually cheered laughing when we did.  I guess everyone cheers for guys in a shitty situation.

The mission went on to be a bit of a cluster *bleep* from trying to open a safe with an axe

to being asked to search the areas that a bunch of surly cows were occupying giving me the stink eye.

by the time we were around the corner from our COP I had seen enough shit to last me a life time.  I mean we're talking some heavy shit here.  I think I'm going to have to have a talk with some Vietnam Veterans, because I have to tell you "Getting in the shit" must've sucked as much for them as it did for me.  We didn't get back to "friendly" areas for a long time, but when we did we were all tired.

It was at this point that SGT T actually started to puke his guts out.  It was getting to the point that he couldn't even hold water down.  I was brought up to see if he was alright but seeing as we were less than 300 meters from out COP it was decided he could wait.  He wasn't really in a position to argue.  So we might've walked a little faster to get back, and get him looked at.  As soon as he got his shit (IBA K-pot etc, but after the day I wonder why we call it that)  off I was on him like a fly on stink.  Well he was tachycardic and his BP was low so he was obviously dehydrated.  Time for an IV.  Well here comes my Platoon Sergeant who loves giving IV's.

SGT T gets to be a pincushion subject for our PSG.  We hadn't even gotten the sweat off our uniforms and and there was SFC Mays jumping into give an IV.  There's a reason Medics call CLS (Combat Life Saver) people "Combat Life Takers".  There's something truly scary about an infantryman coming to give someone an IV.  Even more terrifying if they are excited about doing it! Well SGT T could say officially he had had a truly shitty day, and I can say that until the day I die I will have a reason to laugh. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Far from the Home I love.

I don't think I have the words to explain the love I hold for this country.  If I were to liken America to a Mother, a sister, a lover, all analogies would somehow miss the point, and seeing as I'm in West Virginia would probably open me up to some pretty bad jokes.  But the truth is that I have been all over this nation, and I've seen almost all it has to offer, from the "Mainland" or the "Lower 48" to those other two states that aren't connected to us.  I have seen so much in my short time on this Earth, and I can tell you that i am so in love with my country that any time away from it feels like a separation.

I had many and varied reasons to join the Army, but when I raised my right hand on the 29th of January 2003, I did it knowing regardless of what happened I would go to war.  I was actually upset when I got Hawaii because I thought I might miss the war.  Color me ignorant.  My attitude changed when I got to Hawaii.  To say I like it there would be an understatement.  I am grateful to the United States Army, and the 25th Infantry Division for giving me the opportunity to live there.  When the time came to deploy with 2nd BCT, I was scared, but I went anyway because I truly believed in my nation, that they would not send me to war for an unjust cause. 

Kuwait is a shock.  There are no terrain features at Camp Virginia.  The sky is grey, or a pale blue that is almost white.  Iraq, was a very different kind of Desert than the one I had come to know in the South West.  The people are also very different.  The Kurds are perhaps the most American-like group I have ever run into (I have not been to Israel yet) from the Middle East, but even there, there were so many differences that even simple ways of thinking were very difficult culturally for them to grasp.  There are times that they can't understand the reasons for haste, and other times they can't understand the methodical methodology required for most US Army tactics. 

When I got back to the Mainland on my mid tour leave, the first thing I did when I landed in Bangor Maine, was go outside and put my face right into the grass and take a deep breath.  It was such a beautiful smell.  The welcoming committee that waited for me was a bit surprising, and I liked talking to those old veterans.  At DFW, I was absolutely floored by throngs of cheering crowds, most of whome had no idea who I was, cheering me.  People in the airport would just stop me and thank me.  American Airlines opened up their Admirals Club to me, which I could never afford, and let me take one of the most amazing showers of my life!  United upgraded me to first class the second they saw my uniform (Desert Camouflage Uniform).  Even as I write this I feel tears welling up in my eyes, because of the welcome I got.  I love my country, and my welcome home reminded me that it loves me right back.

I saw Disneyland, I saw Sea World and the very best California has to offer, and it reminded me why I was fighting in Iraq.  I couldn't bare the thought of some of the insurgents running amok in my beloved Golden State.  Say what you will about the politics of California, it is an absolutely beautiful state, and I know it oh so well.  I went back to Iraq, knowing that my country was well, and I was ready to do my job. 

Many months later, right before my Birthday, I was angry at the MEDDAC at Fort Hood, because they had screwed up my West Point application (I was a shoe in according to the admissions Major) refused to let me go to a FORCECOM unit, and had putzed around with my re-enlistment options (I wanted Airborne or Flight Medic) and I was getting close to the point I was going to throw up my hands and be done with it.  I stopped, though because I knew that 1st Cav was going to need Medics, good ones.  I re-enlisted for 3 years, needs of the Army, which is one of the silliest re-up options for a first re-up.  I actually Re-upped on my Birthday.  I did it because I knew the Army needed me. 

I was right.  More than ever I missed my home.  Rustamayah was not a great place, but I had my battle buddies to keep me company, and keep my head up when times got tough.  I will never forget my time in Iraq, and I will never forget the men and women who went with me, even more so the ones that didn't make it back.  I still believe we did a good thing despite all the negativity. 

My nation is now in trouble.  The politics don't really matter the stress is plain and painful to see.  Kids are still going to the mall, and young couples are still getting married, so life is going on, but the strain is plain on everyone's face.  The thing that bothers me most is that I can't fight an enemy here, or I would.  It is heartbreaking to watch partisans divvy us up, and rip us apart, but even more heartbreaking to see our people look hopeless.  There is hope.  The home I came back to in 2007 was different than the one I left, I was different.  The future may not seem bright, but we still hold the flame alive.  The United States is not a place it's an idea.  As long as I hold that flame alive, and provide light in this dark time, I am never far from the home I love. 

In Hollywood If You're not a Secret Squirrel, a Marine, or you must not have served

So I watched the trailer for the new Red Dawn (2012) and I'm thinking Awesome, Sweet, Radical, what have you.  Then one small bit stuck out in my mind when I watched it again. 

"You're in the Air Force right?"
"The Marines" 

Of course he's all tatted up with prerequisite USMC, and wears a Marines shirt in a later clip.  Ok got it.  He's a Marine.  That's about the point I exclaimed a loud proud WHAT THE FUCK!?!  In the original Red Dawn, Jeb Eckhard was working in a garage.  He is not instantly Special Forces.  It appears that this movie is going to take HS Boys strait to Spec Ops.  All cuz one of them is a Marine. 

But really it wasn't just Red Dawn.  Battle LA, could have easily have been in Miami with the 82nd responding, or hey how about we don't freaking kill all the NG troopers the second they show up.  Matter of fact why is it always the Marines saving the day?  You don't think 11th ACR wouldn't have hauled ass out of NTC to reinforce 1st MarDiv, and 40th ID?  Matter of fact why is the only dude from the Army that has any lines a fat ass?

If you want to lend credibility to any character, oh well they were in the Marines or a SEALs.  Fringe, Broyles and Olivia both former Marines.  SWAT, a SEAL and Force Recon.  Magnum PI, SEALs.  Quantum Leap, SEAL.  Dead Presidents, Force Recon.  NCIS, JAG, Hawaii 5-0.  Really at this point its getting annoying to list them all.  I mean at some point I'm sure the Army did something somewhere.  Hell even John Wayne, my childhood hero only did two movies where he was in the *modern* army (I don't count when he was a Cav trooper because that is clearly a "Western") The Green Berets and the Longest Day.  Clint Eastwood did a movie as a Marine that was based on what RANGERS did.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

If I talk about WWI with any of my contemporaries, the only thing anyone seems to care about is that's where they got their nickname Devil Dogs.  Is it any wonder that the Army steadfastly refused to have literally any Marine involvement in Operation Overlord?  I'm not going to argue that they have some great commercials, and a lot of them are some hard mother fuckers, but what the hell is the Army, chopped liver? 

The only movie I've seen recently that featured the Army was Hurt Locker, and that bag of Mental Midgetry made the entire Army like pussies (WTF Bigillow, having the Big Red One troopers huddling like little bitches from an IED did NOT WIN POINTS WITH ME) or world class fuck ups (the entire EOD team?).  Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Redacted. . . the list goes on.  Why does Hollywood think the Army doesn't do anything but fuck up?

There are a few redeeming movies, We Were Soldiers, Blackhawk Down, Memorial day.  But for the most part I kind of feel like Hollywood just hates the Army.  The worst part is Marines eats this shit up.  I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but come on, dude you guys are already insufferable when you start talking about your history, can't we Soldiers get a little love too? 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Hard Choices a Medic Will Face

 He was laying face down on a backboard, soot all over him.  Most of his clothes were cut away except for his boots and t-shirt.  I told him, "hang on this is really going to hurt."  And then I started shoving kirlex in the halfdollar sized exit wound in the back of his leg.  A .50 cal round had "cooked off" and gone through his leg.  The second I did, he started squirming and screaming writhing in pain.  At first he just screamed then he started saying things.

"Oh God!  Stop!  Please!  Stop Doc!" he screamed.

I grit my teeth and tried to ignore his piteous pleas.  You have to plug this wounds.  A  tourniquet simply won't do it.   Plugging it will prevent infection, it will speed the healing, and is one of the quickest wats to start clotting in such a wound, but it will hurt so much.  And so on this day I put a man through unbelievable amounts of pain to save him.

"I can't man I've got to do this"

If you can imagine, an abrasion that's getting cleaned, but far worse because its inside your body.  I put half a roll into his leg which probably only took 15-30 seconds.  But its 15-30 seconds that are seared into my memory.  It wasn't the first or the last time I had done such things.

Once I had to help set a man who'd broken Radius and Ulna.  The Orthopedics doctors had given him locals, and he was on some pretty heavy Opoids, but he still cried out.  It was just a simple break or he would have been put under.  I'm here to tell you the sound of bone grinding on bone is something you'll never forget.  You have to put it out of your mind or you'll never get the job done.

The one of the worst things to treat are burns.  That stench of burnt hair is something you never forget, neither do you forget burned skin, or muscle.   The worst part is the pain.  You simply can't touch their pain.  Every touch gives them pain, and it is not a good option to simply put them under.  You have to bandage the wounds, you have to, their skin is compromised and if you don't clean and debreed the wounds quickly they will get infected.  But oh, the pain that causes them.  it is not something I would wish on anyone.  Three times in my life I've treated 3rd degree burns, experiences I would rather leave in the dust-bin of memory, but they, like most of the other cases are pretty vivid in my mind. 

But by far the worst thing every medic is trained for, but truly dreads can simply be labeled as The Choice.  There is no formal name for it, aside for a french name that somehow doesn't relay the horror of what is before you.  Who lives, and who dies.  One look from a trained Medic is usually all it takes to know that a man is far beyond help.  The burns will be too bad, or the wounds in the wrong place.  They will scream and holler, call for you beg and plead but you simply can not help them. 

The responsibility to a 19 year old that is crying piteously for his mother as he slowly bleeds to death from a wound to his leg that tore into his pelvis.  You simply can't plug a hole that big.  You can give some half measure to help, but there is usually never one casualty, so you can not "waste" your time on a man you simply can't save.  These decisions are made in a heartbeat, in the time it takes to look a person up and down.  Your platoon sergeant and leaders may call for a 9-line medivac, their battle buddies will stay with them try to tell them it'll be alright, but you know.  You know that it will not be alright.

I have heard men ask me "am I going to be ok?"

You never say no.  You never tell the truth.  Sometimes you don't speak, but more often than not you have to lie.  You can not tell a man whose scared to death that he has only a few minuets to live.  You have to force a smile and give them as much comfort as you can.  Later this moment will haunt you.  It will haunt you that you lied, and you will wish that you could somehow have made those words true.  You send him off to whatever lies after death, with a lie.  But it is better you tell this lie, than a poor young man spends his last minuets in abject terror.

Thankfully I have only had to lie to a person in this manner just once, though the person I told was not the one dying.  In every war where there is medical support, there will be moments like this.  Rare is the heart that is so hard that does not break at such moments.  you hold onto your composure as much as you can in those moments, you use your mind as much as possible to keep yourself rational, but you always feel for them.  Later, in the quiet moments, then it'll all come back, with a vengeance.  It is hard to show mercy in war.  But this job is vital.  You must have the will to overpower revulsion, and do what is your duty.

There will be times you must treat men and women that moments before were trying to kill you.  There will be children who have the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  You must somehow give the same dispassionate care to these as you would yo your own soldiers that you've lived with ate with slept with and generally suffered with.  The life of a Medic or Corpsman is not an easy one, indeed it is one of the most taxing, emotionally speaking, of any job in the military.  Only commanders have more responsibility, but their burden is lightened by the distance they keep from their troops.  Truth is, there is not a Soldier, Marine Airman or Sailor out there that isn't eternally grateful that their Medics and Corpsmen will risk their life and come running when they give the cry.

Before God, Before their Mothers, they call for me.  I am the Medic, and I will always come for you.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What can I say but Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

It seems we were just moving on from the shootings in Aura Colorado, when this latest incident happened.  My first reaction when told by word of mouth was disbelief.  As I found out more about it, I felt a massive internal groan.  It was bad enough when, following the Aura shooting, pointless speculation about gun laws, and who might have been the perpetrator, it seems almost every something like this happens it is strongly hinted that the perpetrator may have been a Veteran.  Or in the Tea Party.  Or they listened to Rush Limbaugh.  Of course the real reasons usually come out that the perpetrator is totally insane. 

But then I found out (From the Southern Poverty Law Center no less) that this guy was an Army Veteran, and was in fact a Neo-Nazi, Skinhead, and all that jazz.  Well, a broken watch is right twice a day isn't it?  But the meme is in the background that Veterans are all violent closeted white supremacists.  Never mind that this guy (whose name I shall not name out of pure spite) was a giant dirtbag, and never mind that he was neck deep in Clinton's Army and thus never saw any combat, they still tried to suggest that somehow his "special Army" training might have somehow lead to the methodology of the attack. 

I don't suppose the fact that he was demoted for drinking on duty (an almost unforgivable sin) will matter much.  Neither will it matter that he had no actual combat experience.  He was at Fort Bragg and thus must have had some kind of "Special" training.  I can't imagine that he would have made it through SFAS, nor does he look like anything more than a piece of scum that somehow managed to survive one hitch in the Army.  But that is not the meme that people are going to hear.  How many US Army soldiers died to defeat the Nazis?  You don't think that we don't still as an institution view all references to the Nazis in anything more than reenactments as inherently wrong? 

We will no doubt hear over the next several weeks bits and pieces as to why he did this.  No doubt some idiot will make a "call for civility" which he will then promptly break calling their political opponents all sorts of names.  The simple fact is that this kind of thing never used to happen, and it leaves us perplexed.  We can't really fathom the kind of mindset that makes a person target innocent civilians.  I saw Jaysh al-Mehdi intentionally target civilians, and it always sickened me.  I've never understood True Believers, that see nothing wrong with their actions.  The man that shot up the Sikh temple was probably a True Believer, and the fact that he caused a majority of his problems was probably lost on him.

I have no doubt that there are some that will gleefully point to this man as proof that America is still a racist nation.  SPLC is somewhat infamous for that.  I also know that this is a distraction.  We as a society are taring ourselves apart.  We are not paying attention to the people who are probably unbalanced, and unhinged.  Had this been decades ago we could have counted on the family to keep an eye on them, before they go loony and start shooting up this place or that.  The family is no longer the glue that holds our society together, so we must rely on civil servants. 

I can not help but shake my head at this whole thing.  I don't doubt that this fool will be held up with Timothy McVeigh, and that now it will be suggested that Fort Bragg is the hotbed of white supremacists.  The Media already viewing Veterans as a potential threat will only fan the flames.  Personally I'm just plain disgusted with the whole mess.  

Some uncomfortable facts about sequestration

Lets face it, its coming.  Congress has failed in its duty, according to Article I it is the congress not the President that is responsible for the power of the purse.  That the Congress has failed totally to pass a budget for years is at this point moot.  We are about to face some of the most ill considered cuts in the history of the Union.  At no point did anyone seriously talk about fixing the actual structural issues, no the budget cuts proposed didn't even touch those issues.  It was a dollars and cents cuts while, impressive on paper, when you actually look at what they will do in compared to the debt. . . hardly anything.  It will barely be a drop in the bucket compared to what we owe, which is why its so painful to think about. 

The idea was simple.  The Congress is divided.  There's a strong Conservative movement in the House, that the Senate with its more Liberal leaning would never allow to pass any serious reform.  Of course the President is kind of in the background on this part, because really when the super-committee was proposed the Legislature had to get its *ehem* House in order.  Much like so many times since the Cold War began, the Legislature looked to someone else to save them.  Some respected people who would "work together" and find savings that would make everybody happy, or at least that everyone could live with.  The consequences were to be if the whole thing failed, appalling to everyone.

To no one's real surprise the Super-Committee failed.  Now we have to face the realities of these cuts, which disproportionately come from the Military.  With all the waste in the GSA being uncovered almost every day, with the FDA making truly (excuse the pun) boneheaded moves to improve "health", and with the entitlement programs about to go completly bust anyway. . . it seems the Military was the one place we might have held off on cutting off at the knees. 

I didn't even mention the whole "we're still in the middle of a War" thing.  Lets look at the facts.  The Navy would be the smallest since pre-WWI.  You remember when the British Germans and French were the ones controlling the High Seas.  Given this day in age that would mean the Chinese, and piracy in the Littoral regions.  The Air Force will be the smallest in its history.  Now if you intend to keep the skies clear above the troops, keep them supplied, and get them out when their wounded, that is not a good thing.  The Army will be slashed to the point it was in 1940.  You know right before we got our asses kicked in Bataan?  The Marines. . . well they've always been the red-headed step children, but the near future you may see a Marine Corps that slowly strangles to death on budget cuts.

There are some that are already looking to spend the "war savings" on one thing or another, and everyone's forgotten that the Military is in desperate need of new equipment to replace the stuff we've been using and abusing.  The Army, has suffered the brunt of the ground combat for the past decade, and our vehicles show it.  The Hum-vees have been built rebuilt.  The Armored vehicles are blown to pieces, cannibalized, rebuilt then destroyed again, each time losing effectiveness.  Those MRAPs have no planned purpose once the war ends.  The Stryker which was supposed to bridge the gap between what we had in 1999 and what we were to have circa 2005-07, has become the destination.  The Bradley and Abrams tanks are almost 30 years old.  On top of all that, the soldiers are just plain tired.

The Navy has just as many problems.  The LCS ships which were supposed to somewhat fill the role of the Perry class Frigates going offline have been plagued by problems.  The Virginia Class submarine the latest and greatest, with all the bells and whistles has constantly been shedding its noise dampening coating a potentially fatal weakness, and they have been electrocuting their sailors.  That says nothing of the fact that when the Enterprise retires, there won't be a replacement (the USS Ford CVN-78) will not be ready for almost 2 years.  Did I mention that there is only one strike aircraft being used?  the F-18 Hornet and Super Hornet variants while great suck gas like nobody's business, and F-18's actually make terrible tankers, which has reduced the Carrier Battle group strike range by almost 100 miles from when they were using the S-3 and A-6.   Oh don't forget that the Ticonderoga class Cruisers really have nothing to replace them. 

In the Air Force, the JSF was supposed to be a stop gap to make up for the F-22 cuts.  Now the JSF is getting cut.  The C-17 Globemasters which have been running non-stop are not going to be replaced.  A lot of air frames, are old, and their structures which have been strained by years of high stress (being a plane is not easy) some of the structural supports are breaking and these planes are simply falling out of the sky.  It would be hard to ask if there is worse news, and really I don't have the heart. 

The Marines. . . well the only bit of new tech they've gotten their hands on of any real note is the OV-22 Osprey.  Their new landing craft to replace their AAVs and other vehicles. . . cut.  It's not really worth mentioning at this point that they still have to maintain MEUs, which increasingly look to be forlorn hopes, rather than first waves.  To say that the new JSF will somehow give a boost to the MC warfighters is a bit too much to hope for. 

The wars will not stop.  They will not go away.  When the President is focusing on China, I begin to wonder "with what?"  If you forget the multi-million man PLA, and all the nifty new gear they're getting to include a plane to rival the F-22 (the last of which rolled off the assembly line months ago), it still leaves the fact that you would need to throw a majority of what's left of the military at the Chinese in any initial battles, and there is no certainty that will do anymore than slow them down.  And so here we sit again.  Bataan.  Casarine Pass.  Task Force Smith.  Chosin.  LZ Albany.  Operation Anaconda.  All operations that are, and should remain infamous.  Unprepared often ill trained, equipped, and improperly deployed troops paid a steep price in blood for "peace dividends".  Congress has failed to act in a manner for which they took an oath for.  They have betrayed the constitution with the super committee scheme, and it will be the Service Member who actually takes their Oaths seriously that will pay the price in blood.   

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why Veterans (Most Espicially Combat Veterans) Hate the "Middle Ground"

Name a decision in your life.  The more difficult the better.  Should you break up with this person and pursue another?  What college should I go to?  What career should I take?  A lot of the decisions that weigh heavily on most civilians, tend not to weigh too heavily on Veterans.  Indeed, most Veterans have a manner which is almost what one might call brusk when it comes to people that are indecisive.  I can tell you as a Veteran, we can't stand such people.  Again there's no magic powder that it put in the water that makes our patients stretch thin when Joe Civilian waffles, rather it is a certain knowledge that right or wrong, good politics or wrong, indecisiveness will get you hurt. 

It is not that there is a disrespect for the risk adverse.  Many good NCOs would tell you they have a healthy respect for risks and like to avoid them as much as possible.  Many Officers, will take what they consider a safe course, to avoid dangers they might perceive as unnecessary.  But one thing every NCO and Officer, absolutely despises is when Higher can't make up their mind about what they want to do.  Do we cross this road here, or 100 meters south or north?  In the battle of LZ Albany, just following the Battle for LZ X-ray made famous in the movie "We Were Soldiers" (Based off the book We Were Soldiers Once. . . and Young by Joe Galloway) The commander of 2/7 Cav did just that, he was uncertain and called for a leaders huddle, right when they walked into an ambush.  Many very good Soldiers died in one of the most brutal battles of the entire Vietnam War (on par with Hill 875).  You see Private or Colonel, indecisiveness gets you killed. 

But it isn't just combat, that sets up the attitude of "Just make up your damned mind already!"  One of the things no one seems to remember about the military life are all the happy little details that must be done, and right now.  Of course most of these details are an emergency because someone wasn't quite sure what the tasking was and wanted to get clarification from higher, and when said clarification came back they had a grand total of half an hour to put together a detail.  You can't believe the kind of things that will come down.  "Area Beautification".  Pick cigarette butts out of rocks (or paint said rocks), you have a half hour to accomplish your mission.  Go.  Of course it always comes out eventually that someone knew about this tasking and waited till Close of Business to tell someone of actual authority at which point it becomes an emergency.  

Privates always gripe about how, if they had the power, oh, things would be so much different.  Then those Privates become Sergeants, and they are given unclear directives, or missions.  The LT doesn't know what to do, so the Sergeant has to make it happen . . . somehow.  But then you say if I were an LT, but then if you ever do  become an LT you face the same thing.  At some point you begin to realize there is no rank in the military where the uncertainty of Higher won't have you pinching the bride of your nose wishing they'd just make up their damned mind!  I think any civilian that heard some of the conversations Generals had in private about some of the political leaders might have their head turned.  Of course you can never ever say such things.  A military man or woman must always keep their bearing about them.  So inside their own thoughts they seethe with indignation at the indescisiveness that wastes precious time (their time!) and can potentially lead to more headaches to fix, and more danger.

When a Veteran tells you simple facts, they expect simple answers.  No we didn't just read you War and Peace and ask you what happened on pave 875.  We asked you a simple question.  Try imagining the black and white of a battlefield.  More often than not you have little more time than a simple yes or no.  Both choices could get you killed.  Doing nothing will get you killed.  You tend to make a decision and like the Nike slogan, Just Do It!  

Unfortunately for us, this black and white approach to decision making doesn't always translate well to the civilian sector.  Sometimes the answer may just be a provisional one.  A lot of the time Customers simply don't know what they want.  More often than not people do not understand why they do not have a choice.  I have had the experience of trying to explain that Tires simply could not be fixed.  Usually at that point the tires are junk but people don't want to hear me.  Even when I tell them that the tire can and will blow, and potentially hurt them, they want it done their way, and don't seem to understand reality.  No matter how I explain the dangers they will do what they want to do.  It frustrates me to the point of wanting desperately to bang my head against a wall. 

It is often hard for civilians to understand why our patients wear so thin at you're actions.  We are not angry all the time, nor are we particularly disturbed by you.  We have enough sayings in our repertoire that hint, with varying levels of vulgarity, that you can go left you can go right, just make a damn choice.  There are times I wonder, if perhaps we as a society would be better served by not vasilating, and simply make a choice based on the information at hand.  Sometimes the debates need to end and actions are required.  Veterans are after all men and women of actions. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

War is not all terror and death

There are many things about war that people can lament, that there is so much cruelty that there is so much death, but I have seen a lot of things that are more than that.  There are moments that no camera will capture and that few people would understand unless they were there.  Unfortunately, trying to explain these moments are very difficult.  How can I explain the kind of kindness shown by one of my NCOs offering to wash the blood off my IBA for me?  How can I explain "corrective training"  (see smoking the crap out of me) despite being strenuous and harsh in a way, it was friendly, a way of making me feel better. 

There is humor that a lot of people wouldn't get.  You might hear laughter from the barracks that makes one expect that Laurel and Hardy had risen from the grave to do a routine with the three stooges, followed by an en core of the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin.  But the men laughing are no professional comedians.  They are still nonetheless hilarious.  They can tell a joke that will have you laughing so hard your sides split and you are sure you ruptured something.  I've seen jokers and pranksters, pull the silliest stunts, and I've seen a strait arrow, completely deadpan, cause a whole platoon to lose military baring and literally roll on the floor laughing. 

There were so many stray dogs that seemed somehow to attach themselves to the soldiers there.  We love them as if they were our own, and the puppies, and full blown dogs.  They can be a ray of sunshine, and we try hard not to take it into account that they might be riddled with fleas and potentially diseases.  The Dogs were our friends, if only temporarily. 

Even the sunrises and sunsets can be so beautiful as to render one speechless.  Even in war.  Perhaps it is because of the war that such sights can have greater significance. 

Zarrah, a small Iraqi girl (8 in this photo) who lived in the clinic next to FOB Dibbis

Hannan, Zarrah's sister, who was a year younger than her sister.  She is now married.

Hannan wearing my Kevlar helmet. 

Soldiers of C 2/11 FA handing out cleats to the Baseball team they set up

During the baseball game the forcepro was swamped with kids

Spc Azarius of C 2/11 FA handing out candy

Cpl Emerson and SFC Mays with the Iraqi children of Kamalayah.

For my part, the thing that kept me going, that kept me believing in what I was doing that we were doing a good thing.  I think that there are a lot of men and women out there that have seen that Iraq had a ton of people and more importantly children that are worthy of saving. 

War is not all death and destruction.  We should remember that, when we write the histories of the past decade.