Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Story

My Christmas Card home near Kirkuk Iraq 2004.

On December 25th 2004 I found myself near Kirkuk Iraq, on a lonely FOB Called Gaines-Mills.  It used to be one of Chemical Ali's summer retreats, and was set up as a fire base to support anothe FOB by the name of McHenry near a ticklish little town called Haweeja, the only Sunni Arab town in Kurdistan.  Gains-Mills had a couple of main buildings on a hill, that included the main TOC, the Aid Station, and SF Compound, and the "motor pool", and a battery of 105mm Howitzers.  The central are had a few "shops" really just a few trailers, the DFAC, which was just a GP large with aircraft pallets as the "floor".  Finally there was "Cold Steel Base" where Charlie Co 1/27 infantry was based.

For two companies it was a very spread out base, that was almost 1.3 miles around.  It was very spread out and somewhat desolate, but as it guarded the main supply MSR to FOB McHenry it was considered a vital outpost, and as all such vital outposts had to have medical support.  To that end Charlie Company 225th Forward Support Battlion provided one (sometimes two) ambulance team and a treatment "Jump team" made up of a Doc (in this case a doctor) an NCO and two Junior Enlisted Medics, and all the medical equipment and support they came with.  This was in addition to the Medics that Bravo Battery 2/11 Field Artillery and Charlie Company 1/27 already had on had.

Like many such stories on many such FOBs throughout the whole theater, there was a lot of boredom, punctuated by sheer terror.  We responded to IEDs, provided support for LOGPACs (logistical supply convoys) had IDF (Indirect Fire), snipers, and more flies than you can shake a stick at (seriously they could form a cloud if you had food around).  In short Gains-Mills was a truly miserable place. 
Just to give you an idea of the"muddy" season.

Now to add to this picture of misery I need to explain something about Iraq.  It has only two seasons.  Hot (and dusty) and the muddy season.  It doesn't really rain, just kind of stays over cast, and there's mud everywhere.  Its kind of like living in a swamp, and even walking takes effort.  Worse, it gets mighty cold, with a pretty nasty wind that does its best to sap the warmth right out of your bones.  In short, it is a miserable country year round.

By this point 2nd Brigade 25th ID has been covering this area of Kurdistan for almost a year.  For a brigade out of Hawaii, we're pretty well sick of this place.  This was really before 15 month tours became the norm so when we were told that the brigade would be extended by a month possibly two to cover the elections we were to say the least, not thrilled.  Christmas came and a lot of us were really missing being home.  The brass knew this, and did everything they could to raise our morale

One of the first and, perhaps most cheesy things that was done, was that our replacement unit from the 187th Cavalry Brigade (Idaho National Guard) put on an extremely corny Christmas play, with their only female attachment playing the role of Mary.  The brigade being heavy with LDS presence valued Christmas a lot and really went out of their way to make it special for US despite the fact that they too had been away from their homes and families for nearly 6 months at this point.  The play was a hit.  All the soldiers cheered, and laughed at the truly awful stage craft.  No one cared.  It really was the thought that counted.  

Mary. . . well you kind of had to use your imagination on this one.
 Afterwards they put on a DVD of the Mormon Tabernacle choir, and they lead us in Christmas Carols.  Now I remember the singing was truly atrocious.  There being a few people intentionally singing off key, it didn't even seem like we were all singing the same songs.  It didn't matter.  There was an unspoken bond between everyone there that night. It really was the thought that counted. 

Officers and Senior Enlisted serve the troops for special days like this
The first thing, that's actually tradition in the Army, is that the Officers and Senior NCOs Serve the men (and women) not the other way around.  The second is that this is one of the few meal of the year that cooks, go out of their way to get right.  There aren't many times that you can say you've had good Army chow, but on Christmas, they do everything they can to make sure you can say that. 

1LT Maxwell of B Battery 2/11 FA serves Mashed Potatoes, Corn, and Gravy.
The Officers all put on goofy hats, Hawaiian shirts, or smiles.  Jokes were told, and generally everybody did their level best not to notice that the aircraft pallets were covered in mud, and it was really cold and miserable outside.  Everyone was sure to say Merry Christmas as often as possible.  Despite the misery, there were smiles all around.  It was almost over, we were almost home, and if we could not be with our families, then at least the Army family has here for us. 

The troops of B 2/11 FA, C 1/27 Inf and C 225 FSB enjoy their meal.  For desert Pumpkin Pie and REAL ACTUAL ICE CREAM! Notice the toppings WERE included.
The real surprise was the desert.  Not just the Pumpkin Pie, but real, actual Ice Cream!  I know it makes no sense to have Ice Cram when its freezing outside, but in Iraq, you take your pleasures where you can get them.  You better believe I had Ice Cream.  You better believe I was shivering for hours.  I loved every second of it. 

That night, the Bravo Battery FDC (Fire Directional Control) decided to show off, and had the entire battery fire off three salvos of parachute flares in the shape of a Christmas tree.  Sure it was lopsided.  Sure it was cheesy.  Sure it was probably a waste of money.  At that moment anyone that could see it didn't really care.  They were away from home, in a warzone, on Christmas.  Every little thing mattered.  I can say, that that was certainly one of the best Christmas' I ever had in the Army.

One of my NCOs told me something when I remarked how this made me feel, and I never forgot it.  He said; "when you learn to embrace the Suck, little things make a big difference."  This Christmas I hope you spend it with your loved ones.  I hope that you remember that it's a time of family, and that you should enjoy these moments, despite the hassle, the insanity of family, and maybe not getting the exact gift you want.  Trust me, moments like that are a gem, and should be treasured.  Wherever you are, wherever you find yourself I hope you take a few moments to remember the troops overseas, and perhaps appreciate a little bit more the things you do have.  

And to all of you regardless of your situation, I want to wish you all:


Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Toilet Seat (Capitalism vs. Socialism)

I want you to conduct an experiment.  Go into your bathroom and look at your toilet seat.  As a matter fact take a look at your whole bathroom.  Chances are if you’re not a complete slob you actually care about how it looks.   I know you probably don’t clean under the toilet seat as often as you should and chances are if you’re a guy there’s more than a few things in there that shouldn’t be but for the most part it doesn’t look like somebody had a “food fight” with excrement.  In fact I’d go so far as to say that if you make a mess when you’re puking your guts out from one too many shots of Jack, you’re probably going to clean it up the next day.  Take a picture of your bathroom; you’re going to need that later.  

Now I want you to take a little road trip.  Drive on any of our wonderful interstate freeways and keep going till you feel like you’re going to have and accident of the bowel kind.  Pull into one of the many rest stops, trucker stations, or hell, even a 7-eleven anywhere along the road.  You really gotta go at this point right?  Now, tell me do you just drop trow and go?  Of course not.  Chances are you’ll get a number to call “for a good time” more than a few idiots have completely missed the bowl and pissed all over the seat, the floor has God knows what kind of liquid on the floor, and chances are high there’s a stink that only a burn-out shitter can top.  While you’re doing the pee pee dance desperately trying to clean off the seat (or hovering) I want you to pull out your camera or phone that you took the picture of YOUR bathroom on.  Compare and contrast.  

You see the first bathroom, where you don’t hesitate for a second to proudly sit on your thrown and do God knows what (you dirty bastard), is a great example of Capitalism.  That second bathroom, that makes you want to jump into a vat of bleach, that’s Socialism.  I know what you’re thinking, that doesn’t make any sense.  After all Socialism is all fluffy clouds and sunshine right?  Well no.  Actually it’s not.  See the whole point to Socialism is that EVERYBODY pisses into the same pot so to speak.  Its like if you invited your whole neighborhood (or everybody in the Barracks) into your room to use your toilet.  They DON’T have a vested interest to keep it clean, prevent it from getting stopped up, or hell, even using the toilet at all.  

You see in a Capitalistic system everybody does what’s in their best interest and the system as a whole weaves the varied multitude of interests together for the common good.  I have an interest in keeping my bathroom clean, and to keep a clean bathroom I go and get air fresheners, soaps, you name it.  This money spent is sent to the companies that make said products, and they thusly have money to keep THEIR bathrooms clean.  It’s a nice grand circle of clean bottoms and good smells after dropping a deuce.  Most of all, because we all have clean bathrooms we don’t have a shitty disposition when dealing with other people. 

Now that second bathroom, that Socialist bathroom, EVERYBODY gets to use it, so why would it be bad?  It’s not in an emergency.  Remember you’re about to suffer the Baghdad Blowout.  It’s you need somewhere to go, and hopefully something to wipe with.  But that’s just the thing EVERYBODY uses it, and most likely nobody besides the small staff manning wherever you happen to be, have a vested interest in making sure that the bathroom is in any way clean.  Indeed, they probably hate you all for the foul shit you do in there.  In Socialism, everybody submits to the collective good, that will *hopefully* work to satisfy you’re individual interests.  The Bathrooms are everywhere you get to shit, everybody’s happy. . . Right? 

Well, be honest, after dropping trow in even the cleanest public bathrooms, you’re typically not all sunshine and flowers are you?  Therein lies the whole problem with Socialism.  When your bathroom breaks, and the plumber says he can’t be there to fix it for a week, you get pretty pissed.  You sit there and bitch and gripe about how you can’t even use your toilet without reenacting a scene from the Titanic, and you wish that there was someone that was someone, ANYONE really whose vested interest it was to make sure your bathroom was clean for you.  Well. . . unless you’re going to pay someone based solely on how good your bathroom looks, why should anyone ELSE care how nasty foul or disgusting your bathroom gets?  

You can apply this principle to anything you use, any place you go, any service to are given.  Waiters are nice to you because you tip them.  They have a vested interest in making sure that you like the service you’ve been given.  The Cafeteria lady doesn’t care that her giant mole with three really coarse hairs sticking out makes you sick to your stomach.  She gets paid the same if you blow chunks after you eat as she does if you eat like they put crack in that food.  FedEx really does care if your presents get there on time and undamaged, they have a vested interest in being quick.  You pay extra for that.  The USPS, well it got there didn’t it?  

Every time the system “fails” we are tempted to turn to that system that’s always there for emergencies, the one that  has everyone pissing in the same pot so everyone has a vested interest in making it work, but the practical example I just gave you explains exactly why that system DOESN’T work.  In Socialistic societies there are always personal interests that are sacrificed for the common good, because in the end everybody’s happy right?  The problem is that as time goes on, more and more interests must be sacrificed.  It always starts out little, but sooner or later the high cost of maintaining that system has people cheating every which way.  Eventually people just up and leave.  The Makers become Takers, and everybody is looking for someone who screwed up worse then they did so they look blameless.  

What we need to understand is that *most* of the time Capitalism is cyclic in nature.  It goes in cycles of expansion and contraction, but as long as there are needs, no matter how strange, there will be somebody out there willing to fill it, for the right price.  When the system seems to totally fail, chances are there’s something other than the system itself at fault.  Chances are someone is tweaking the system to make it “friendlier” for everybody.  Much like being on a ruck march where every 1/3 mile someone adds a pound to your ruck, by the time you get to your destination you’re sucking serious wind, that is if you get there.  So remember kiddies, the next time the “system fails” instead of advocating we all have public bathrooms forced upon us, why don’t we look for the REAL reason, and simply fix the problem.  Trust me, it’ll make everything seem less. . . shitty. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


as news of Sandy Hook came in, I was feeling a sense of horror that most people could share, then I had my own memories added into what I imagined, and that made the whole incident. worse.  Memories of doing CPR on a baby while his mother was looking at me with desperate pleading eyes, and knowing that there was no hope.  The 7 year old that was malnourished and abused, when we cut away her clothing she looked like a Somali stick figure, and the bruises were painfully evident.  At first we couldn't get her to respond, then after we pushed pure dextros (sugar) into her blood she responded to painful stimuli by doing what's called flexation, where you flex all your limbs away from the pain.  This sign is one step away from brain death.  She died on the flight to Scott and White hospital.

And then there were the memories of Iraq.  By order of degree more painful, because they were both more brutal, and at the time I'd had less support.  Memories of an Apache strike that destroyed a family, and left a little girl holding her intestines.  Memories of a child's terror at my visage, covered in the blood of her countrymen that I had tried to save, and trying desperately to comfort her to, to say without words, that she was going to be ok.  Memories of bodies torn apart. 

The frantic mother who desperately wanted me to treat her son who was beyond my help.  His fingertips had been burned off, and his whole body covered in barely healed blisters, scaring from a fire that was caused by militias that poured him in gasoline and set him on fire.  The story itself left me feeling almost as bad as knowing all I could do was put kirlex on his wounds and send him to the hospital, which his mother could not afford. 

I remembered the boy who hand been taken by Sadam's men and was beaten so badly he was effectively retarded.  He would walk around barefoot on asphalt even when the temperature was 120 degrees out.  He was constantly drooling, and if he ever changed clothes I never saw it.  This boy bad made the simple mistake of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and now he was effectively unable to ever function as a human being ever again. 

I have a lot of memories.  A lot of good ones a lot of bad ones.  There's power in those memories, and I need to be wary of anything that will bring them back in full force.  If I do not talk about the shooting in Connecticut in any more than the basest ineffectual terms, it is because I can not afford personally or emotionally the horror associated with those events. I hope you all understand.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Chosin Few.

If there is one thing that touches be deep to my core, it is when young men, especially American men show uncommon bravery, and do feats that truly stagger the imagination.  The Battle of Chosin is one of those battles that will go down in history as one of the most extreme, and heroic tales in America's history.  That no one knows about it is a tragedy, and I would be remiss if I didn't try to get you to help get the recognition out there.

This is one of the most worthy efforts I have thus far seen to bring recognition to the men who fought this horrendously bad battle.  From that all but forgotten decimation of RCT 31, to the 41st Commando, Royal Marines, there is not enough that can be said of the heroism of the men who fought there.  There are thousands of America's sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers still missing somewhere north of the 38th.  I ask only that you remember them. 

PFC Max Leon Bailey, CO M 31st Infantry.  Missing presumed dead 30 November 1950.  He was 19, and had only been in the army 7 months.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Look in the Mirror.

There are so many things I'd like to say about what happened in Newton today, but the whole thing is so emotionally taxing, and we say the same things again and again when "these things happen".  We see these senseless tragedies again and again with a frightening rapidity.  Ft Hood TX, Tuscon Az, Aurora CO, Happy Valley OR, and now Newton CT.  All of these places saw senseless tragedy in the last four years, and have left us with a growing sense of doom and gloom.  The worst part of it all is that nearly all of these incidents had clear warning signs that were clearly not heeded.  Rather than run around and talk about how "Workplace Violence" is a bad thing, or we need to cultivate an "air of civility" or try to ban ammunition sales on the internet, let's turn and face the real problem.  Us.

We see the warning signs, but never bring them up.  Major Hassan gave a whole powerpoint briefing about how the US could not possibly win in Afghanistan, because Islam is a culture that embraces death.  Right there most of us would hit the breaks and say "Woah!  Is this a joke?"  At the very least they should have put a closer watch on him.  That he had absolutely horrible OERs and still got promoted should make a lot of people stop and ask what the hell happened. 

Jarred Lee Loughner. . . you have only to look into this wacko's smiling face to know he's just not right in the head.  He made a lot of people squirm, with things he said.  It wasn't the "I'm awkward, but I'm trying" kind of off, its the "reach into your pocket for some mace" kind of creepy.  People knew that he wasn't right.  They even banned him from classes because he made people so uncomfortable.  You mean to tell me no one thought that they should take this guy in?  Hell just do a 4140 (72 hour forcible in-patient mental evaluation), if he's sane, they let him out, and there's no long term consequences.  If he just so happens to be fruity as a nut-cake you DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

We should know by now that James Eagan Holmes, was a freaking nut case.  If the orange hair and blank stare doesn't give him away, perhaps the fact that he told his shrink that he was  going to kill someone should have had this guy in a strait jacket.  I don't care if he was using a drum magazine (which only idiots use), or what firearms he was using, the simple fact that his shrink let him walk out of his office after he said that, should have us locking her up right beside him.  There was not only the right to break patient confidentiality, but the moral duty to do so.  Everything that transpired in Aurora could have been avoided with just ONE phone call. 

I have no doubt that as details emerge on this latest shooting, we'll learn that yes in fact there were warning signs and someone probably had the right and the duty to act but did not.  We'll probably find that at some point, some common sense measure could have been taken that would have prevented this, and at some point we will no doubt learn that there is a law already on the books which if it had actually been enforced, might have prevented yet another mass shooting.  No doubt we as a nation will nod sagely at the things we should have done, then totally fail to take these things to heart, leading to yet one more asshole to commit another crime like this.

I am forced to admit that perhaps Bob Costas was right, after a fashion.  The problem is cultural.  We have so many people promoting the thug life, or this run and gun nonsense coming out of Hollywood, that people don't respect guns at all.  They're not the deadly serious tool one uses for self protection, they are power incarnate.  Our constant fear-mongering about guns has lead the weak and the maniacal to assume that a gun will give them the power and respect they so rightly deserve.  People see guns as a quick way to instantly elevate themselves.  In short it is the Nuclear Option without the restraint that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) forces on one. 

But more than that, American culture as a whole is in a state of slow decay.  The Family, once the bedrock of America, is an afterthought, if that.  People laugh and scoff at the idea that raising children can be one of the most noble endeavors one can set upon.  We chase our pleasures at the expense of all else, heedless of the broken people we leave behind.  We hold up shallow vapid celebrities as the exemplar when real heroes who fight and die "so others may live" are all but ignored.  We watch the train wreck that is 16 & Pregnant, and never stop to wonder that that child's life is probably going to be horrible because his/her parents don't even know how to be adults.  Had anyone of these shooter's families actually talked to their loved ones, and kept themselves apprised of their well being as families should, then perhaps the temptation to go postal might have been checked. 

My greatest fear is that these mass shootings will occur with more and more frequency, as the hard data seems to suggest.  Even if we were to outlaw guns tomorrow, I'm sure someone would make a homemade bomb, or run around with a knife or some other such insanity.  The only reasonable, viable solution I can see is for America as a whole to take a good hard look in the mirror.  We are strung out.  We have forgotten what makes us great, or hell even a good nation.  We need to teach our children how to love (not the free love variety) and how to form a bed rock in their lives.  We can do some simple things, together as a nation, and things might start to get better, or we can keep doing what we're doing, and see where that gets us.  In the end the choice is ours.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Please allow me to elaborate.

I read this article by the Huffington Post Religious section, and Tweeted that it was the most bullshit I have seen in one article.  But, Twitter being what it is, is not effective or proper for giving such a response, and as a writer I realize that such comments are often not well received.  I have come to realize that criticism is not as easy to dish out once you become subject to it.  So let me take the article apart. 

First the idea that the Republicans lost based mostly on Abortion is absolutely silly.  With unemployment hovering at right around 9%, $16 Trillion in debt, and $1 Trillion+ a year in spending deficits it is pretty clear that Abortion was or should have ranked pretty low on the list of issues important to voters.  I'd also like to point out that a grand total of two republicans made truly boneheaded comments, but somehow this was used by media outlets in Print, Cable, and Internet to bash the entire Republican party.  Despite this, and despite the fact that Abortion was never really in question for most Conservatives, who wanted to make the election about the economy, Liberals kept up this "War on Women" drumbeat that made little if any sense to Conservatives.  In a post election analysis, despite the win it makes even less sense, for the reasons previously stated, unless the effort was to distract from the poor handling of the economy, and most foreign and domestic policies.

The actual issue of Abortion is one of the few issues where the usually cerebral arguments Conservatives favor over the visceral arguments the Liberals favor actually reverse. . . sort of.  You see a Conservative can sit here and explain the law of unintended consequences, and cite factoid after factoid about how the Affordable Care Act might actually increase the price of healthcare, and a Liberal will usually take about a tenth of the time by citing some horrific exception as the norm, not the exception it really is (IE: Little Jimmy had cancer and I couldn't get insurance).  There are usually deeper reasons as to why this exception is so horrific, and why it's the exception, but when presented as the norm, people tend to react in a knee jerk fashion. 

With Abortion, it is Conservatives that react in such a fashion. Yes, often religious justification is cited over legal, and for most Conservatives, that is enough.  The idea that a child could be killed, is abhorrent, to most human beings.  On a purely personal not, having seen death, and dismemberment in a warzone, there are very few arguments for abortion that overcome the sheer revulsion I feel at the idea.  The religious argument, minus the actual scripture quoting, is pretty simple.  Life is sacred.  A Human being is formed at conception.

Now in Jesus' time there were ways to chemically abort a child, there were even surgical procedures, though any surgery in that age was always seen as an extreme measure.  The concoctions that would induce a woman prematurely, or cause a spontaneous miscarriage were not the sort of thing that just anybody could get their hands on, they were expensive, and thus usually open only to nobility.  That being said, a person admitting that they had had an abortion was so rare that they were just never spoken of, indeed in an age when having a large household was a boon, and infant mortality hovered right around 30% it would be hard to justify almost any abortion.  The exception would be for a pregnancy caused by adultery (Israelites were not tolerant of perpetrators of rape, and had more societal protection of a raped woman than say Arab, and by extension Muslim women, but that is a whole other debate).  In cases of adultery a woman would literally be stoned to death.  This was stopped by Jesus, in the "let he who is without sin" passage. 

I am not a religious scholar, but there are ample times in the new testament that Jesus refers to the sanctity of life and how children are a blessing.  It is easy to see why Christians use religion when defending their positon on Abortion.  The simplest truth is that there is there are abundant numbers of passages that could refer to abortion, even in the case of incest or rape, and most major central figures in the various Christian denominations essentially agree that Abortion is not a good thing.  But the article is right there rarely are legal arguments against abortion. 

Allow me to make a few.  First.  NO ONE VOTED ON ROE V. WADE.  Say what you will but that right there shoudl bring everything to a screeching halt.  Article III makes clear that the SCOTUS can not make law, and Roe, is effectively, if not technically the law of the land.  Think about the reaction you would get if the Patriot Act were to suddenly come into being, just from a ruling (and a rather flimsy one) from the SCOTUS.

Now, before Roe V. Wade, the states had the right to outlaw abortions if the people felt it was an important enough issue.  Despite dramatic depictions of back alley abortions or coat hangers, there were no laws on the books that said a person could not go to a state where abortions were perfectly legal and have one.  Again the ruling or Roe even seems to suggest that a state had every right to outlaw late term abortions, and many of the restrictions Conservatives have tried over the years to place on Abortions are also perfectly acceptable (like have the parents notified in the case of a minor.)  On a side note Jane Roe has recently come out and spoken publicly expressing extreme remorse for what has transpired post Roe V Wade. 

Again from a purely legal standpoint, there is also the matter that if I were to murder a woman who is pregnant, even in her first trimester (and thus I might not even know she was) I can and most likely would, be charged with two murders.  If I were to kill a paramecium, no one would charge me with murder.  If I remove a cyst, which is just a "clump of cells" no one charges me with murder.  But if I end the life of a mother before the fetus is viable, then there is precedent to charge me with the murder of said child.  The law can not function if it recognizes person-hood in one circumstance but not another.  It must be always a person, or not a person until [insert metric here].

From a purely medical standpoint there is actually a very good reason that Abortions are never completely "safe".  Its the same reason that any woman whose had a C-section is at greater risk during follow on pregnancies.  Scar tissue compromises any organ.  The muscular structure of the Uterus is such that scar tissue can cause labor to be even more dangerous, essentially meaning, have a C-section once, you'll have to have them again.  That is if you can get pregnant again. 

There is also the minor mater of hemorrhage.  The Uterus during even the first trimester has the blood supply increased my an order of magnitude.  It takes weeks for it to go back to normal.  Postnatal bleeding is common, and despite the fact that there can be a lot of postnatal bleeding that is considered "normal" a woman can go into shock and die quickly if said bleeding is not monitored by trained healthcare professionals.  Even a first trimester chemically induced spontaneous miscarriage carries with it extreme risks.  The medical risks associated with abortions are somewhat glossed over when the politicians are talking about it, but they're there and its not something that any woman should take lightly.

While I could go on I want to point out something.  Liberals keep on touting the "even in cases of rape and incest".  The only major exception I personally (because I don't speak for everyone) will grant is rape.  I don't like it, and I think the punishments for rape should be made more extreme so as to do a better job deterring this.  But incest?  I need to ask in all seriousness just how many cases of incest were actually reported in the United States in the last decade.  Nationwide with a population of over 300 million, you would be lucky to find a few hundred actual cases of incest.  This particular sticking point goes back to what I said at the beginning of the article this is using the exception as the norm.  It's not an "extreme" to treat exceptions as just that. 

Abortion is not going anywhere.  Sadly.  This is something we're going to have to live with.  I think if Liberals ever stopped to wonder why Conservatives feel such horror, they might actually start to share that horror.  Actually I think Liberals need to stop demonizing Conservatives as a whole, because this tact has from 2000 till now, absolutely polarized the nation, and destroyed any chance for civility on any issue.  Our system depends on compromise.  Go look at the Virginia and New Jersey plans.  We took the better parts of both plans and framed a 4 page document that has lead this country for over 200 years.  Look at Adams and Jefferson.  Madison and Hamilton.  If we do not work together we will all suffer.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A little Faith Goes a Long Way

Every year around this time a lot of atheists try really hard to take the Christ out of Christmas.  For me Christmas has always been special.  From Santa Claus to The Presents under the tree, to, when I could understand it the true meaning of Christmas, a new hope born to us, that all may be forgiven. In the age of commercialism its easy to forget these things, which is why I'd like to restore your faith for just one second 

my it's dusty in here all of the sudden.

About those WMDs. . .

For years the military has said that Saddam had WMDs, but they were not the "sexy" variety of Biological or Radiological (if you discount Anthrax and the most basic dirty bomb tech).  That's right Chemical weapons.  Chlorine is easy to produce, but Blister agents like Mustard gas, or Nerve agents like Sarin are not.  He had tons of the stuff, and what's more he used them against the Kurds.  So we know it was there.  But the stockpiles that we had expected to find had disappeared. 

You may not know it, but al Qaeda actually had brief flirtations with chemical warfare in Iraq. The very real danger of a few loose chemical rounds that might have been picked up and lobbed in on the insurgent's daily shoot 'n scoot, had the Brass at the time freaking out.  I was given some truly terrifying set of orders, and with the strong realization that we simply did not have the equipment to decon the FOB, realized that if there were chemical weapons lobbed at us, I was probably going to die horribly.  Thankfully that never happened.  But where did all those weapons go?

Most went to . . . Syria.  They went through the same "pipeline" that al Qaeda in Iraq funneled insurgents back into Iraq. You see the problem now?  See one of the things Saddam was always sure to do, was hide the evidence.  It didn't matter that his regime was sure to fall, when it looked like the US was actually going to go through with it he was sure to send as much of anything that could give the US validation, as far away from Iraq as possible.  Politically speaking I think he was hoping that international pressure would force America to end the war and still leave him in power, though I am not certain what he had in mind.

So now the Assad regime is close to falling.  He really doesn't have anywhere to go, and with the Death of Qaddafi, and Saddam, he is probably certain that he would not make it out alive.  This is of course assuming his own government wouldn't kill him for trying to desert.  Dictatorships do not usually end well.  So what to do?  Well all those weapons are just sitting there.  It's a scary thought.  

Will Assad actually use them?  Well look at it this way, his troops are losing.  Slowly but surely he's losing.  He can't retreat, he really doesn't have anywhere to go.  He has used the superior tech at his disposal, and he's losing.  He's laid landmines.  He's bombed whole villages out of existence (people and all) and that's still not stopping the tide against him.  The international community really consists of a few blocs, the Russians, the EU, the Americans, The Chinese, and regionally Israel, several Arab states, and Iran.  Now of all of those Blocs who will object to the actual use of Chemical Weapons.  The US, EU, and Israel.  The problem; Both the US and EU are in the middle of serious financial turmoil and may not be abble to afford action, and Israel. . . well you saw how well it went for them when they got involved in Lebanon.  So he may be taking a not unreasonable calculation that he can use them and get away with it.

So in short, yes I think Assad will use them.  I think President Obama is bluffing.  It would take a hell of a lot more than 75,000 troops to secure Syria, and it would mean yet another round of nation building, something he has actively campaigned against.  His emphasis on counter terrorism (filling body bags with pieces left over by drone strikes) over Counter Insurgency (boots on the ground, winning hearts and minds through civil works and such) means that he will be loathe to get involved in a fight that could very well turn into another Iraq if not done properly. 

The solution?  Sorry I don't have one here.  There are no good solutions.  The best possible outcome is that the rebels just back off and starve Assad out.  I do not thing that they have the stomach for that kind of fight, nor do I think they have the tactical imagination or proficiency to carry out a campaign like that.  If this goes on much longer its entirely possible that it will spill over into other countries, and you have to wonder where it will end.

The Middle East has never really been stable.  I suppose that's what you get when you build a house on sand.  No matter how this plays out you can bet that it will leave a lot of deep, long lasting scars in the region.  We will have to be ready to pick up the pieces. React Adapt and Overcome.  

Writting Blues

I have been trying for the mast few months to write something.  I'm not pretentious enough to call it a book, just something, that should be roughly novel length.  The problem, aside from finding time to actually work on it, and this, and posts for the Rhino Den, and School and work. . . Is that I have to be careful what I write.  See a lot of the things I would write would be truthful, but if viewed in the wrong context could get some people in trouble.  For instance, messing with the detainees. 

No most everything we did with the detainees was tame, we would mess with their heads, and it would be kind of a stress reliever for us, but if you were to talk about a very real Officers and NCOs who turned a blind eye to it, then those very real Officers and NCOs would have their careers affected.  Now I'll be honest, I absolutely despised some of the people we brought in.  If the Joes fucked with the detainees, as long as they didn't do anything serious, I was fine with it.  You almost needed that kind of relief or you'd go crazy, but our current culture is not at all understanding of that.  If I explain the way that War really is, even when it's tamed down, people go into a flying tizzy. 

Another thing I have to be mindful of is, well I start talking like I'm back in.  I keep using all the acronyms all the terminology, and things that if you didn't live the life you just wouldn't understand.  Let's face it, if I try to explain everything it'll be choked with exposition.  If I try to water it down it sounds fake or canned.  It's a classic catch 22.  I mean i could explain what a POG or FOBbit is but really I would think after a while those things would be self evident. 

There are also operational details.  How do I write without giving anything away.  There were one or two mission where we had special Navy and Air Force teams assigned to us.  They used what was called the "Asset".  Now by now people know what it is and what it does, but you still want to keep OpSec in mind.  How do I tralk about some of the abilities we had, and used without compromising, even in a small way, OpSec, or national defense in general.

Lastly I have to be mindful of the effect it's having on me.  Reliving my memories so that I can write them out on this computer is effective and i have a talent for writting, but I also have to be wary of delving too far into those memories.  They're full of pain, and while its a lot less than what it used to be, its entirely possible that I could get pulled back into that feedback loop that I was before.

Lastly, well to put it bluntly I want to get published.  I don't want this thing hanging around in my computer forgotten forever.  The problem: I have no idea the things I should know, about getting published, editing or a ton of things like that.  Its actually really kind of scary.  I'll be putting my life out there for people to judge.  What if I am a total flop?  It's scary!

Lastly I want my story to be cathartic, in some way.  I want to veer off course a bit from my real life (fiction lets you do that) but I also want there to be some form of healing involved.  We'll see what happens.  Anyway stay tuned I'll let you know how it goes. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Douche of the week: Bob Costas

I wrote up a piece for the Rhino Den about Bob Costas' douchy behavior.  I thought it was pretty eloquent in why he totally utterly fell flat on his face on this particular issue.  Check it out 

On Behalf of a Grateful Nation.

Three men got up and gave speeches about him, they talked about how they knew him, and what he had meant to them.  No one mentioned how he died.  No one mentioned how little was left of him when the recovery team got to him.  Some words were said about his sense of humor and I tried not to cry thinking about the trouble he got in just a few short days before he died when his Zune went missing and he thought someone stole it.  Turns out it was in his laundry.  The Zune and that laundry were ashes now. 

Once he had tossed me like a rag doll when we were wrestling around.  When I helped carry his remains he didn't weigh much more than the litter.  There would be no uniform to put on his body at Dover.  There was no body, just a few bones.  That thought bothered me more than anything.  Would the images that go through the family's mind somehow match what happened.

As we sat in the chapel and I looked at the display, the picture propped against a clean set of boots, a rifle upturned with a K-pot on top, a set of fresh, clean dog tags hanging from the pistol grip, with the battalion flags on display in the background, Bravo company's guide-on right directly behind the display.  All that he was or did, now an empty set of boots, and empty helmet, and a clean weapon that wasn't even his own.

In a weird way the fact that all of these items were so clean just seemed wrong.  There ought to be blood, dirt, oil, or sewage on those boots.  The helmet should be covered in sweat stains, and the rifle should have dust all over it.  This sanitation of the life of this gentle hero, seemed to add to the unreality of it all for me.  Not him.  He had so much to live for.  War can be cruel and random, but it is not until it takes someone that you are truly friends with that you realize just how cruel it can be.

I didn't see him die.  Didn't try to save him.  Couldn't.  Now there was a small pitiful pile of charred bones heading back to America, that is all that remains of one of the best human beings I have ever met.  The Air Conditioning kept the chapel at room temperature, robbing it of the misery you should feel for the middle of the day in the middle of July in Iraq.  The FOBbits that turned out to fill the pews, didn't know him, but they came anyway, all of it adding to the surreality of the scene.  It wasn't until my friend, and fellow Medic PFC White was done speaking that reality was starting to sink in.

And then they called roll.

"Sergeant Jubinville"

Jubi Stood and said clearly "Here First Sergeant"

"PFC Devine"

"Here First Sergeant"

"PFC Harrelson."


"PFC James Harrelson"

A deafening silence fills the chapel

"PFC James Jacob Harrelson"

For a second there was silence.

Bang. I jump a little

Bang. I grab my legs and ball my fists

Bang. I know what's coming next.

And then the most horribly haunting notes any soldier has ever devised slowly slipped out of a bugle.  Even the pace was sad.  Loss.  Regret.  Young men never to grow old.  Taps says all these things in less than thirty seconds.  It speaks somehow to the very deep scars and broken hearts that every battlefield loss causes in their comrades.  A lament.  Would but I could trade places with you.

Fat tears spilled out of my eyes and I began to tremble with the effort to maintain my composure.  There is a lump in my throat that threatens to choke me completely, and even taking a simple breath is difficult over the utter despair I feel.

Once the Bugler is done, the chain of command gets up one by one and slowly salutes.  Our parent brigade commander Col Gibbs was there, as were the battalion commanders of every battalion on Rustamayah.   they would stand in front of the display make a slow salute, then the higher ups would leave a coin, then they would leave.

When it finally got to our platoon's turn we got up four at a time.  Each man would leave something.  A dog tag, a CIB, a namtape.  I had a CMB with a dog tag.  When it came to be my turn the three I was with marched up, as if practiced, then in unison all saluted, held it for a heart beat, then dropped it.  one by one we reached into our pockets and deliver the items.  Some grab the dog tags and close their eyes and say a silent prayer, say good bye, then they step back in line.  When it was my turn, third in line, I came forward reached into my right pocket and deposited my token, then reluctantly Grabbed his dog tags, and held them in my hand.

"forgive me" i whispered so low no one could hear it.

When everyone in my row finished their moment with the monument, we walked down the right side fo the church, where our Battalion Commander LTC Kauzralich, our Command Sergeant Major, CSM McCoy, the Company Commander, the First Sergeant, the Platoon Leader, and the Platoon Sergeant were all in line.  We went down the line hugging each man, and some would say a few words of encouragement to the men who looked like they needed it, really we all looked that way.

I have often wondered about what the family experienced.  I know it is tradition that once the cofin is laid in the ground the flag is removed and folded by the color guard.  The ranking officer of the detachment that conducts the funeral will hand the flag to the loved ones and say "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Secretary of the Army, I would like to present you with this flag in honor of your son's faithful service."

I have often wished, as I see people going about their life, and complaining about mundane things, that people knew how grateful they should be.  I have often wished that they could all have known a gentle hero like Private First Class James Jacob Harrelson.