Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Training Like You're Fighting a War

At some point it came out near certain military bases that the military used live animals to train their Medics and Corpsmen.  The resulting response was immediate and visceral.   Animal cruelty, was tossed around and the military quietly stopped training Medics and Corpsman in this fashion.  That would have been the end of this story until the causalities in Iraq and Afghanistan reached an unparalleled high and the military just as quietly re-instituted the program.  The official title was TC3 Trauma/Critical Casualty Care, and it was initially a two week course with a day long live tissue lab.  Live tissue, in this case was Goats, thus the course was euphemistically dubbed the Goat Lab.   

I went through this course when I was training up for the Surge, and at the time it was considered absolutely vital I know how to do things that in the civilian world only MDs are allowed to do.  Chest tubes, Chrics, Trachs, we even did the "Black Hawk Down" bleed, replicating the injury to the femoral artery that killed Cpl Jamie Smith.  All of this training was considered vital.  It was considered so vital, that knowing the sensitivity of what we were doing, we were not allowed to speak of it.  We were told that if we told anyone, wives girlfriends sweet hearts, even the Infantry we supported, word of the program might get out and it would be shut down. 

I am here to tell you I learned things there that did in fact save at least two lives.  Despite my year working in the Carl R Darnall Army Medical Center ER, and the many, many, cases I worked on, and despite a previous deployment to Iraq, I learned things that I simply did not know.  Things which had I been cut off for any reason might have become even more vital.  I learned the importance of plugging the wound, and not being gentle when someone is hemorrhaging.  I learned how to manage a casualty that had multiple issues, and I learned just how quickly medications act.  The problem is that the Goat Lab came if you ask me too late in my career.  I think there is perhaps one life that I might have saved on my first tour if I had known what I knew after I went to the Goat Lab.

There in lies the problem with training for war.  You see the Goat Lab makes people squirm, but it will save lives.  There are other forms of training, such as SERE (Survival Evade Resist Escape) school where they literally put the candidates through hell, and yet the lessons learned there have saved lives.  Case in point Captain Scott O'Grady, who survived for nearly 6 days, sometimes with the enemy just feet away from him.  Had he not gone through the course it is not only possible, but almost a certainty that Captain O'Grady would have received a swift execution, and his body might never have been recovered.   

When I was in Basic Training, I remember going to the Rodger Young range where I would literally have live ammunition fired over my head.  The event took place at night, and a Drill Sergeant was accompanying each platoon to ensure that they were preforming the proper crawl, and that no idiot stuck their head up.  You were lead along a WWI style trench which bordered a swamp, then a the Drill Sergeant would say "Ready?  GO!  GO!  GO!" and just like that you went up and over and started high crawling towards where the towers were that were shooting at you.  You want to talk about scary?  The dead of night, it's pitch black and LIVE tracers are whizzing over your head.  To make things more interesting they also had a series of "no mans land" like obstacles you had to navigate around. 

Why did I need this training?  Most civilians would argue that the training was not even remotely safe, so why did I need it?  For one very simple reason; How would you react under real fire, if you've never seen anything remotely like it?  There are "shoot houses" were soldiers will clear a room with live rounds.  There are even training evolutions where Navy SEALs will use live ammo to clear a room with one of their comrades playing "hostage".  Why would this be necessary?  Because you have to trust the men you go into combat with.  If you watch Act of Valor, there are a few scenes where they use live, honest to God, REAL bullets, with the SEALs and camera crew just feet away.  They do this because they train on it like they're fighting an actual war. 

Unfortunately one of the greatest divides in how the military is viewed by the civilian world has to do with just these sorts of training.  It is not understood by most why you will do a gazillion pushups with a Drill Sergeant screaming in your ear if you "flag" you buddy.  People don't get why NCOs will absolutely lose it if one of their soldiers falls asleep on guard.  People will not understand why things like the Goat Lab, and SERE School, just to name a few are so necessary.  When you look at the things you have to go through to get a Ranger tab, a lot of people ask why all this pain for one dinky little piece of cloth, and utterly miss the point of why this training is the way it is. 

In war, when the bullets start flying, it's too late to learn those lessons you should have learned.  Not knowing something like how to stop a femoral artery from bleeding out, will cost someone their life.  Not knowing what live ammo coming at you feels like will cause someone to panic at exactly the wrong moment.  The training evolutions that American service members go through are often harder than the actual combat they face, and the results are one of the most lethally effective fighting forces in the world.  Unfortunately, you simply can not express this in any meaningful way to those who do not understand warfare, thus a lot of really important training opportunities are missed out on by the troops that really should have it, namely that private fresh out of Boot. 

With the looming sequestration, each service will have to ask themselves what training programs are vital and which can go by the wayside.  You can bet that TC3 will probably be one of those programs that is scaled back.  The Rodger Young range is probably another that will go, more out of political pressure, when some dumb kid stands up (and it has happened) someone will question the necessity, and just like that it will go away.  Live fire will be scaled back because there isn't enough money for ammo, so a lot of really good training troops might need won't be had.  My greatest fear is that the training budget may be cut back so much that the Airborne are doing "jumps" out of a deuce and a half.  That the Infantry are saying "bang bang" and attacking trees outside their motor pool because there isn't enough money in the budget for an FTX (Field Training Exercise).   Perhaps worst of all I fear we will go to war thinking our military is as capable as it is today, only to see our troops get slaughtered live on national TV because they have no idea how to fight an actual war. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

The First Time

I was sitting in OP South, a small bunker on top of the COP, pulling yet another in a series of endless 6 hour guard shifts.  Sitting on a metal chair, sweating my brains out, occasionally reporting to the SOG (Sergeant of the Guard) that nothing was happening and we were still awake.  It was night, and the guy next to me had run out of things to say a long time ago, so we took turns, alternately standing and sitting in the chair, a pair of NODs was sitting on the north face, with the 240 Bravo machine gun.  It was perhaps one of the most boring things an individual can do, but it's also the only thing that will  keep theses small 30-60 man outposts from being overrun.  Suddenly the drone of generators was broken with a soft *thump* *thump* *thump*

"What was that." ask Island.  Being on my second tour, I knew what that sound meant, as a second the slight whistle, soft and hard to hear over the generators.  This was the sound of incoming mortar rounds.  The sound you don't hear until they're upon you.

"INCOMING!" I yelled as the first one hit. 

BOOM  BOOM BOOM.  the explosions were creating bright flashes in the pitch black night.

I was at the "windows" of the bunker, hugging the wall so only me head stuck out, looking for the source of the indirect fire.  

"Incoming fire. . . " the small radio said, I knew there was more but I couldn't hear it over the sound of the rounds hitting. 

"where's it coming from" I screamed at Island.


"I think over there" he said as another one hit close and he ducked. He pointed North towards a large open field which we had perfect line of sight on.

"CALL IT IN!" I screamed


My ears were ringing.  I didn't bother grabbing the NODs, I just got behind the 240.  I hadn't fired one since basic.

"SOG!  OP SOUTH! WE THINK WE SEE WHERE ITS COMING FROM!" Island shouted into the radio. 


The shelling had stopped.  My ears were ringing.  I looked at Island, who was looking a little shaken.  Experiencing incoming fire in an open air bunker is an experience that can rattle the best of men.  That's when I saw tail lights in the field.  They went to the road, and were headed north. 

"Hey I got something!" I shouted "White truck headed north.  Ask them if I can engage."  At this point I knew I was probably going to fire a 240 in combat which was breaking some big no-no's where medics were concerned, but I couldn't help it the incoming had shot my adrenalin level through the roof. 

"SOG, OP South, We've got a white truck headed north on the road next to the block.  Can we engage?"

"OP South, Light em up."

That's all I needed to hear.  I took aim on the tail lights squeezed the trigger, and it didn't fire.  I was perplexed for a minuet until I realized the safety was on.  I pushed the little button.  The gun was hot.  My finger squeezed around the trigger again but this time I stopped myself

"what if I'm wrong"  A stab of uncertainty filled me

"SHOOT!" the SOG was at the door of the bunker.  His glasses slightly askew, he was only wearing a T-shirt and PT shorts with boots.  

I shook myself and fired a quick burst.

BRRRRAAAAT Then the gun simply stopped firing.  It was jammed.

"F**K!  It's Jammed!"

"Move."  The SOG said simply.  He got behind the Gun, and I grabbed my own weapon and aimed. 


I fired at where the tail lights were rapidly disappearing.  The SOG pulled the Gun back, the ejection port was sitting right on the sand bags and that's why it had jammed.  He fired three more bursts as the truck disappeared from sight. The three of us sat there for a moment.  I realized I was holding my breath and started breathing again.  Island and the SOG were breathing heavily. 

"You guys OK?" asked the SOG

"Yeah, sure" said Island

"I'm-I'm good." I said.  Whether it was firing the 240, firing my own weapon, or the incoming I was a little shaky.  I set my weapon down on the sandbags, leaned back and let out a deep breath.  As I took off my K-pot, to scratch my head, the SOG nodded at both of us.

"good work.  I've got to do a BDA (Battle Damage Assessment), If you guys need anything let me know."

"Rodger Sergeant" Island said.

The SOG walked away calmly, and down the ladder to the rest of the COP.  Island sat in the metal chair, and we looked at each other for a second.

"That was my first time"  

"Doc, we've been hit before," he said

"No, man that was my first time firing my weapon at someone."

he looked at me intensely for a moment, before giving my a toothy grin "Congratulations Doc, you just popped your cherry!"

I laughed, a short burst of nervous laughter.  The rest of the shift was uneventful, and just two short hours later we were relieved.  I went down to where my cot was, and laid on it for hours, stating at the ceiling.  Questions filled my head, questions I probably wouldn't get answers to.  Something had changed though.  I just didn't know what yet, besides the fact that finally on my second tour in Iraq, I had fired my weapon in combat, such as it was.  Whatever else I might be, no one could argue I was not a Soldier now. 

Eventually I went to sleep, knowing I would, sadly get more opportunities to fire my weapon.  And I did. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Difference Does It Make?

Before I begin I want to thank the Senate and the House for all the hard work they did wasting five hours of my life.  Their accomplishments are truly inspiring to idiots everywhere in how to sound dopey on national TV.   I know I personally didn’t mind wasting five hours of my life, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me the amount of fellacio performed on national TV is quite frankly Jaw Dropping (get it).  I’m sure I could waste five minutes making a completely pointless statement about stoves, or how these idiots all want see Hillary 2016, in fact for the first part of the hearing I thought it was a campaign event.  
There were only three senators that I thought actually asked any serious questions, or made any serious statements, and Dick Durbin wins the cake for being a complete cake eater, by bringing up the Iraq war as somehow excusing the failures of the State department ignoring the very real concerns of the Ambassador Stevens.  The house side was all over the place too.  From constant mentions of Columbia (Look!  A Latin Paradise now.  It only took a decade and an half), to funding (Hey, we need more money and you guys are dicks for cutting our budget) it ranged all over the place.  Hearing the Rep from Texas was pretty humorous; I thought he might blow a blood vessel.

By far though, I thought Senators Johnson, McCain, and Paul.  Senator Paul, probably had the most memorable line.  He said: “Had I been president at the time, and I found that you had not read the cables... I would have relieved you of your post”.  Apparently that got Senator Boxer butt hurt, and most of America started saying Paul 2016, kind of tells you a lot there.  He was also asking about weapons moving to Turkey, and other nations which clearly caught Secretary Clinton off guard.  I think he was alluding to arming Syrian rebels, but to be honest even if he had info she couldn’t have responded in five minutes.

Senator McCain was also pretty harsh, saying “Here we are, four months later, and we still don't have the basic information.”  While I appreciate his direct statements, it’s clear that he missed a golden opportunity, because he’s been going on for months about the fact the Administration had been going on about the video (innocence of Islam, which supposedly set off this whole thing), but you really ought to take the time to watch the whole back and forth.  Secretary Clinton’s response to Senator Johnson was perhaps the most memorable of the whole affair. 
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans…Was it because of a protest or was it because a guy goes out for a walk one night and decided to go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Wow.  Please take a moment to appreciate that.  Go ahead.  Done?  Read it again.  Yeah.  WOW.  First off it makes a huge damn difference.  Aside from the fact that Hashmish didn’t just decide “hey its nice out lets go kill Americans,” that this was a coordinated assault, THIS IS WHAT THE OFFICIAL LINE WAS.  That it was at least *partially* our fault for allowing a poorly made privately funded B film about how bad Islam is to be released incensing Muslims the world around.  If we were a little more tolerant in our attitudes this wouldn’t have happened.  As Joe Biden kept saying “Osama’s dead and Al Qaeda is on the run”.  Right.  Well actually this proves that’s not even close to true.  I get that there was an election going on, but it took till the second presidential debate for the President or the administration to really acknowledge that it WASN’T the video that sparked this attack.  You don’t think the American people might need to know this?  All they had to do was say “we don’t know exactly what happened, but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know.”  I don’t care about Ambassador Rice, or who told her to say things that were clearly not true.  This is what the President, through a spokesperson, and even in official speeches told the American people.

Next, it also makes a huge difference because this WILL happen again, unless we’re clear on what the hell we’re doing with our people, why, and how.  We also need to be damn clear that in this Republic, we don’t hide the truth.  It doesn’t matter it the errors are of omission, innocent or intentional, if you tell the American people something about their sons and daughters in harm’s way you had better damn well tell the truth.  Why do you think the backlash about the Iraq War was so bad?  Because people felt they were lied to (they weren’t, the CIA was still recovering from getting their HUMINT slashed in the Clinton administration, and saw intel that made them shit their pants).  Let me be clear a US AMBASSADOR WAS KILLED.  The Administration owes it to the American people to explain how this happened.     

There’s actually a lot that came out in the House hearing that raised my ire.  For one when Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida asked WHY people hadn’t been fired over their poor leadership, the Secretary said that bad leadership is NOT a reason you can fire someone.  This kind of explains a lot which anyone that has dealing with State will explain why they always seem to have their head up their 4th point of contact, preferring form over function.  Really they ought to have been thrown out on the street.  Those people cited in the official review board, ARE STILL GETTING PAID. . . yeah.
Rep Jim Duncan put it best “Madame Secretary, you let the consulate become a death trap, and that's diplomatic malpractice... you're still in your job. At what point in time can our government... fire someone!”  Good question.  You’d think heads would have rolled.  They didn’t. 

There is one other Representative I want to highlight, Rep Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a US Air Force Pilot, who asked why there was no military assets scrambled.  He questioned how well this lead from behind approach was working (it’s not IMO) but he said something that really struck me, to the effect of if you’re in trouble your country will move heaven and earth to rescue you.  When I was in Iraq, there were a few times I was sure I’d get killed, but I knew that if I got in trouble my Platoon, Company, Battalion and Brigade would literally tare our sector apart to come to my aid.  We do this for the lowest private to the highest general.  We ought to do it for every American Citizen.  The thought that Americans may have been left to fight off such an attack without hope for back up, ought to trouble you.

Now I want you to think about something.  7 hours.  I want you to think about that.  7 whole hours, from the initial attack that killed the ambassador to the final action at the CIA annex, and from at least one report, that was not sporadic, that was pretty well constant, though heaviest right at the beginning and the end.  I don’t care what Secretaries Panetta, or Clinton say, if your Ambassador is killed, you punch out Marines, Rangers, Specters, whatever’s in the area, you get them on station, as soon as you get word.  They’re not called QUICK Reaction Forces because QRF sounds sexy.  Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith were already dead, but Woods and Doherty might have been saved.

If we are “leading from behind” now, it’s obvious that there need to be more Airborne Officers punched out to the Government.  As Mel Gibson said in We Were Soldiers, in the Airborne, the Officer is always the first out of the plane, because “to follow your instincts and to inspire your men, by your example you have to be with them.  Where the metal meets the meat.”  It’s becoming ever more clear we don’t have a freaking clue what’s going on in the Middle East, and Africa.  I get that we’ve stuck our noses and other body parts into places they don’t belong in the past.  There is a fine line between being reticent to get involved in every little brushfire, and being completely clueless as to what’s going on.  So yes, Secretary Clinton, it DOES matter, it DOES make a difference.  Lead, Follow or get out of the way!  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Second Amendment and the Wiemar Republic.

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
- II Amendment to the US Constitution

There isn't a lot of ambiguity to my eyes in this statement, but in this day in age where there are a lot of "grey" areas,  I can see where some might get it confused.  Its actually rather black and white, the idea that a Government derives its powers from the governed, was still a very new idea when it was written.  The idea of a populist uprising against a tyrannical government was spreading, but the idea was still somewhat unproven.  Almost every case that involved and armed uprising of individuals of lower station up to that point, usually ended with the words "mass slaughter".   Indeed France proved that even when populations rise up, they can create tyrannies equal or even greater to the tyrannies they rose up to defeat. 

The word hunting, or deer, or magazine is not mentioned anywhere in this statement.  The Founders left some ambiguity in the Constitution deliberately because they knew things would change, but both the First and Second Amendments are devoid of such ambiguity.  The Militia is not the National Guard, or even any State run armed force.  It is a group of civilians, from a population or community that come together and train.  Believe it or not you can actually classify the Boy Scouts of America as a Militia.  These Militias, may be supportive of the Government, or even openly hostile, but in both capacities they serve as both a check, and a support structure for, the powers of the Government. 

If there were a major disaster the BSA could roundly be counted on to help maintain community integrity, and assist in disaster relief efforts.  They do not do this relief effort armed, but if the situation were truly dire enough they could.  Sadly the more important function of these random (and sometimes not so random) associations, that become what we recognize as a Militia, is as a potential check against the day that the United States Government becomes too corrupt, or tyrannical to be called a Republic.  Republics go bad.  We have seen this with Rome.  We've seen this with France.  We've seen this with Germany.   To think America is somehow immune to the trappings of power is foolhardy in the extreme. 

I don't need to go too far to show how easily Republics fall.  See if this sounds familiar.  Large economic crisis, stock market crash, high unemployment, hostile foreign landscape, suddenly a popular figure emerges to show people that there is a reason that they're suffering, and it's not their fault.  He leads calls for new government works programs, and his message of change spread throughout the country, giving the people new hope.  It was the greedy capitalists who had betrayed them, but there was a way to make things right again.  You might think I am referring to Barrack Obama.  I'm not, that would be Adolf Hitler and the Wiemar Republic.  It should fill you with a moment of pause to know that the exact same patterns we now face have been faced before, and others, no less human than us have made terrible mistakes in the name of security and economic prosperity.  It should give you reason to guard jealously any power you have, lest the State feel that you somehow don't really need all those freedoms. 

Imagine if Adolf Hitler had at his fingertips the sheer power and raw martial might of the United States in its current form.  What would stop whole races from ceasing to exists?  Once he had total power, nothing.  It would be almost impossible to stop a tyrant once they had full power, so it would be important to block any potential power grabs as early as possible.  It would not even need to progress to full flung insurgency if steps were taken early enough.  Simply saying "no" when the tax collector comes for his share, and backing up those words with the ability to fight him off, would prevent a dictator from ever gaining control no matter how much they might desire it.  Any nation's military when so vastly outnumbered and potentially firing on their own people would not be able to function very long. 

See, it's not about President Obama being Hitler part II (though some people like to believe so).  Its about what the US President could do if he or she were so inclined.  The important question is "What If?"  President Obama may want to restrict guns for truly noble reasons, he may believe in his heart that he is doing what is best for the country.  But what if he, or someone else is not?  What if someone elected after him has less scruples?  Hand any man ultimate power, and they'll be tempted to fix just one thing, but it never stops there.  It's never just one thing.  There's never a silver bullet that cures everything, and often the "cures" come with problems of their own.  President Obama is human.  I'm human.  I make mistakes, I often overlook the means because the goal is so important.  If you examine your own life you'd probably find that you do the same thing.  What's to stop you from doing something truly terrible?  Only certain knowledge that if you cross some invisible line, people will stop you, be that other governments, your own people, or even your own family.

Like it or not we do need AR-15's and AK-47's.  Like it or not, we do need "high capacity" magazines.  Like it or not we do need nearly unlimited supplies of ammunition (as much to train as to actually fight).  When they say "Freedom isn't free" it's not some trite phrase, to make you remember soldiers in some far flung battlefield, its as much to remind you that Freedoms always carry with them a price.  That Freedom devoid of Responsibility is anarchy.  That not paying attention to your Freedoms, and not minding your Responsibilities, or confusing Freedoms with Privileges has a cost.  Sandy Hook, sadly is the cost when we are negligent in our responsibility, but what we have now is far preferable to what we could have should we so divorce ourselves from our freedoms.    

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top Talk

Top Talk, an online pod cast of two E-8's (one retired, one AD) giving advise.  I called in and we talked about suicides.  I highly recomend you listen.

Listen to internet radio with Top Talk Radio on Blog Talk Radio

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Catch 22 that is PTSD

Not a day goes by that my Twitter or Facebook feed is not bombarded by news related to PTSD.  I have heard a lot of people from Navy SEALs to Infantry privates committing suicide, and the rate somehow seems to be getting worse than ever before.  Despite the fact that everyone is trying to say there is no stigma around seeking treatment there still is.  Even admitting I was diagnosed with PTSD at one point, to anyone and the looks I'm given are different.  I've seen PTSD used as an excuse for crime, and for bad behavior, I have seen it used as an excuse to ostracize veterans. 

Even mentioning you are a veteran it is assumed that you have PTSD.  It's a stigma that hangs over you.  If you didn't feel isolated before, letting people see that you have PTSD will make you even more so.  You're either a victim, or a savage who was a willing participant.  Any mention of the War will bring up debates that you just don't want to have, always invariably leading to the question of how many people you killed.  I am asked to tell my tales, then when they are either more gruesome than they had been lead to believe, or don't match the political narrative, I am interrupted, or the person asking just wants to change the subject, not understanding the personal toll that even recounting the price recounting the story cost. 

My treatment options are also the classic Catch 22.  I can either sit there and talk about how watching young men turned into hamburger makes me feel (bad) or how I feel being about the ignorance of the "Call of Duty" crowd (pissed off).  Or I could sit there and take a ton of medications that make me feel like I'm living my life in a weird purgatory like dream.  Even the "alternative" method of Yoga and meditation does me no good, because I do not have the patients for such things.  I'd like to say that I've found my own way, and it has a lot to do with how I use social networks to keep in touch with fellow veterans, but even that has its limits.  You can not go and have a beer with facebook when the world makes no sense.

It doesn't help that on rare occasions crimes are committed and the national media outlets laser in on the fact that the perpetrator was a veteran.  Three times in mass shooting incidents, the media reported prematurely that the shooter was a veteran, or in the military.  Turns out that in only one of those cases they were correct, doesn't matter, the idea that veterans might be the ones to do these things, is embedded.  Even the words "military-style" when describing the actions, clothes etc. is erroneous, and lays the seeds of the idea that all veterans are a danger. 

PTSD is a Damned if you Do Damned if you Don't, a classic circular argument that is impossible to deal with when all the options and talk about it are bad.  People only care so long as They don't have to get involved directly.  I could tell them what I feel, and it might tug at their heart strings for a time, but could they really manage to care?  If I told you that there are nights I wake up sweating because I heard something that sounded like an RPG wizing through the night, would you really care if you didn't know the same feeling?  Would you really care about me if you knew how petty you seem when you complain about trivial things?  When you gossip, when you talk about celebrities who are hallow and vapid, I try hard not to think of young men and women who have lived a life of consequence that are far more deserving of adoration. 

So I keep my mouth shut.  I don't seek treatment.  I find my own way.  I don't like talking about my issues with the uninformed or the unknowing because I know they'll treat me exactly how I don't want to be treated.  I keep silent as much as possible because I know that no one will care, no one that is but my fellow veterans.  This is my Catch 22.  I'm damned to suffer no matter what I do, and there's no real way to avoid that.  This is one of the hidden costs American freedoms have.