Thursday, March 28, 2013

School of Pansies.

do you want to create a nation totally unable to succeed?  Remove all adversity from the formative years of its youth.  Seriously, how do you expect to get ahead in life if you never learn how to stand up for yourself, how to compete, or how to have a good time while doing both.  Enter this school in New Hampshire that apparently thinks the time honored tradition of Dodge Ball is going to somehow cripple the youth of the nation.  Are you serious? 

the whole point of Dodge Ball is that you don't hurt anyone.  The point is to learn strategy how to compete despite stronger faster, or more talented opponents.  Seriously I was picked all over the spectrum, from dead last to first, and I've been pummeled so many times as a kid that I lost count.  But Dodge Ball was always fun.  The strange twists and gyrations one would go through to avoid said balls would often lead to fits of hysterical laughing.  Kind of hard to see this as a negative. 

More to the point, if your psyche can't take Dodge Ball how in the hell will you be able to take on project deadlines?  If you can't take a little potential "bullying" in the form of a red rubber ball that does no permanent damage, how are you going to deal with an irate boss?  If you can not take a massively lopsided team selection and not go into it with at least a sense you want to win (if for no other reason than bragging rights) what hope do you have of being even remotely competitive in a marketplace? 

The problem with this is it's part of a larger pattern that is beyond disturbing.  A Principle canceled an awards program for honors students because it might hurt the feelings of the under preforming. In another incident a student was suspended after fighting to remove a loaded .22 pistol from another student.  Even though the kid did the right thing he was suspended, for even being involved.  There was a case where a little boy was suspended for throwing a pretend grenade.  I seem to recall throwing a real grenade once, and they're nothing compared to a little kid with a Mk. 2 imagination.  Seriously this crap has to stop. 

Our kids can't skin their knees because they might get infected and die.  They can't learn to stand up for themselves because that would require that they suffer adversity.  We go on endless campaigns to stop bullying by in essence bullying the bullies but never once think maybe we ought to enable our children to do more than run to teacher.  We don't even hand out F's any more or use red ink because it might somehow cripple their self esteem.  Look I've earned a lot of F's in my time.  It didn't kill me, but it did make me realize I had damn well work harder or any hope of a future was gone. 

Have I given enough examples yet to show that our public school system is totally and utterly inundated by people that have no clue about basic childhood development?  Our children are not ticking time bombs, nor are they as fragile as we seem to think.  All throughout the 50's kids across the country would actually compete in rifle shoots, bringing their guns to school.  No one died.  We keep lowering the standards, and are somehow mystified that our country can't seem to preform anymore. 

The worst part is that any of the alternatives to the madness of our current public school system are so ridiculed that getting broad based public support is next to impossible.  Home Schoolers are treated like freaks or borderline paranoid nuts.  The worst part is that there is almost no accreditation process so the best that these kids can get is a GED which sadly is still looked down on by a majority of jobs, and higher education.  Charter schools, are treated like some sort of dangerous radicals.  To be honest to hear public school teachers talk about charter schools it's like watching Doctor Zhivago and all the insanity of the Russian Civil war.  You're either a Red or a White, but more often than not you're caught in a crossfire.  The idea really does deserve a hearing seeing that a lot of charter schools are having results that blow their public rivals out of the water.

Sadly the only other option, private school, is really the best option.  With a caveat.  It's too damn expensive for a majority of Americans.  I have personally been enrolled in Public, private, charter and a form of home schooling.  I've seen and done it all, and you know which school prepared me for life the most?  Private school.  the teachers actually cared about their students and could actually relate to them.  More than that they had the time and resources to make the lessons actually meaningful.  I have severe dyslexia, ADHD, and about a million other LD issues, to help me my parents sent me to Landmark School in Prides Crossing Mass.  A lot of the lessons I learned there helped me get by, when up to that point I'd been bouncing around with no real strategies in how to cope. 

The question that we really have to answer is how do we bring the success of Private, Charter and Home Schooling to the Public School?  For a lot of good reasons the alternatives are not open to some parents, so how do we deliver the results without the price?  For one we need to actually look at what we're spending money on, not simply assume we're not spending enough.  We're spending ungodly amounts on education yet they system is failing more and more.  Clearly how much we're spending isn't the issue, how we're spending it is.

We need to stop excusing failure.  Rather than worrying about esteem issues if someone fails we need to prepare children for the cold hard truth of the world, you either succeed (to varying degrees) or you fail (to varying degrees).  You can make allowances for the level of success or failure but at the end of the day it's one or the other.  The second thing you need to do is stop having people running the system that have a view of children as Fabergé eggs.  Children need to be encouraged to tussle, run around, and yes actually scrape their knees.  It didn't kill their parents it won't kill them, and might actually help avoid a lot of the issues with bullying (as in not making them so easy to target).  If needs be, we might actually need to teach our kids to defend themselves.  I did Taekwondo, Tonssuedo, and Karate.  I didn't kill anyone, and believe it or not it actually helped build confidence.  Why not make that an actual school activity?  Most of all we need to learn to treat adults like adults and remember that "you tried really hard" stops working at age 4. 

I'm sick and tired of the stupidity in the education system.  I have stated that if ever I have children (at this point that seems like it will require a minor miracle) I will not allow them to go to public school.  I don't care what the alternative is, but I will not subject any child of mine to a system that seems to promote being a pansy, and rewards failure.  I'd rather teach them myself than watch them become the completely useless inept tools i see graduating High Schools today.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wow people, just WOW

Ok let's start of with the bare facts of this.  A guy gets hit in Afghanistan, in the process losing both his legs.  In case you were unaware, that's pretty painful.  The medic, a female, gives him a shot of morphine, and he's still in pain, so he asks her to flash him.  She laughs and refuses, continues to treat him then sends him on his merry way up the chain.  

Ok, look first off I'm pretty sure he was joking at the time, but even if he wasn't, so what?  The comment's section is the most telling, and it shows people neither understand combat, the people that fight in it, nor the world in general.  Even the fact that this story was somehow worthy of the news at all rather than something somebody laughs about in a bar years later shows how truly messed up people have become.

I don't know what idiot spread the "wife and mother" thing.  I never saw that.  I only saw young men scared out of their mind screaming in pain.  The ones that died didn't have time to say anything, and the reality was too horrible to tell their families.  So we tell them that they said something about loving their loved ones before slipping away.  In truth you'd do anything for just one more second of life if you have the presence of mind to think about it.

The life of the military can often be vulgar.  Saying the "F" word may be common place now a days, but in the military you say it about almost everything and anything.  The jokes made about wives and girlfriends are not fit for those wives and girlfriends ears.  I really don't want to talk about the things that get you by in terms of the opposite sex.  So yes it's probably not the most valorous image imaginable.  One of the Greats once said "Single men in barracks don't go into plaster saints".  

Further to that, there are a TON of things that happen in combat that you would do anything to keep your mind off of.  You get rattled, shaken to your core.  One of the only ways to cope is humor.  Pranks are played, jokes (often very unkind) are told and stupid stunts are pulled.  Stating the obvious in a deadpan way, even a sense of extreme fatalism is common.  Death is everywhere and anywhere, fear will cripple you, so you do anything you can to stave it off.

Was he serious?  Probably not.  He was in pain, and possibly thought he was going to die.  Even if he was serious, given that he had both his legs blown off could you really blame him for wanting to see something to take his mind off things?  If a woman had both her legs blown off and Channing Tatum were treating her, would you really blame her if she asked to see him shirtless?  We all know that it was a totally impractical thing to ask for, she'd have to have taken off her armor and uniform when she'd waste valuable time when she could have (and did) save his life.

 Here's the thing, it was totally harmless.  Nothing came of it.  She laughed it off, and he lived.  This should have been a story told over beers many years down the road.   Somehow this story ended up on the web.  Somehow this story was seen as an actual "story" worthy of the "news".  It really strains things to the point of incredulity to think in a big giant war, and a world going to hell in a hand basket, that somehow this is news worthy.  Maybe it's a sign of how messed up relations are between men and women that something that should have been flattering and even a little funny is now the subject of hair pulling hysterical rage.

Ladies, we're hard wired to like your assets.  You know this, hell you wear clothes with words on your butt so we're forced to look.  The whole species is dependent on males and females looking at each other's physical characteristics and liking what they see.  A woman can tell a guy he as a cute butt, but he can't tell her the same in kind?  Seriously if we're putting 2 and 2 together, this whole thing is just plain silly.  The worst part of all the Sexism that is perceived in our society today is that it has made interactions between the sexes an absolute minefield.  Jokes are ok, as long as they're only going one way.  Perhaps this story is a greater symptom of the massive dysfunction between the sexes that has nothing to do with the parts of the anatomy we enjoy looking at.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Kim Jong Number UN

The Kim dynasty has been going strong since September 1948 (that’s 65 years for anyone that’s counting) and every iteration from Kim Il-sung to our most recent Kim Jong Un, have done everything possible to piss off the world.  What’s truly amazing is despite the fact that in any other nation we’d probably call these guys royal fuck ups, they somehow still get called 위대한 수령 or “Great Leader”.  How have they pissed off the world?  Let me count the ways.

Kim Il-sung, thinking Russia and Stalin, not to mention Mao Zedong totally had his back, he invaded the lightly defended southern part of Korea, that everyone thought would certainly never become a separate country (the 38th parallel being only important in 1945 as to who the Japanese troops would surrender to somehow the commies turned that into a freaking war).  The US freaked the fuck out and sent troops from the 24th 25th infantry divisions as well as 1st Cav to stop them, and amazingly these poorly trained and ill-equipped troops . . . didn’t manage to stop them at all.  They pushed them all the way back to the fabled Pusan perimeter, which was a bit like the Korean version of Bastogne.  MacArthur arrives on the scene and pulling a rabbit out of his corn cob pipe decides to invade the Commie’s rear.  Realizing there were a bunch of Marines at their rear the North Koreans hauled ass (no pun intended) out of there and were captured in record numbers.

Seems like the war’s won right?  Nah, let’s go North and liberate the shit out of these commie bastards.  It’s at this point that MacArthur, showing yet again that his balls were too big for the army he actually had at his disposal, completely discounts the idea that the freaking Chinese will get involved.  The result is one of the worst retreats/defeats in US history (but of course the Marines somehow spin thins into a “we won while running for our lives” and really won’t shut up about how freaking awesome they did.  Actually that’s Marines in general).  The Chinese and the North Koreans manage to push UN forces past Seoul, and the damn city has to be fought for a third time (by this point it was more “collection of building frames” than a “city”) and everybody sets in for a long and bloody stalemate that lasts 2 years and manages to fire off more artillery shells than all of WWII.  In the end everybody agreed to stop shooting, and that was the end of the Korean War. . . Sort of. 

See the Korean War never actually ended.  The Great Leader spun it as a victory, the US spun it as a not-defeat, and everybody but the poor souls that actually had to be stationed along the DMZ forgot about it.  That was until January 23rd 1968 (for anyone looking at the dates that’s one week before Tet ’68) when the spy ship USS Pueblo was shot at and captured.  The crew was held and treated pretty severely for over 11 months, seeing as the US was involved in killing commies somewhere else, Americas couldn’t really afford to wipe the floor with these buggers.  It fell to State and the diplomats to settle everything while the Republic of Korea (ROK) and US forces continued to glare pointedly across the DMZ at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  I mentioned that the crew was held for 11 months right?  Did I forget to mention the USS Pueblo which is still technically a US Navy ship is still in Pyongyang? Those Kim’s love reminding the world of that. 

Thankfully they’re a dynasty, not immortal (despite having titles to that effect) and in 1994 we got a new Kim, Kim Jong Il.  Despite some rousing renditions of “I’m so ronry” he was even more bat shit crazy than his dad.  He developed submarines that would routinely try to sneak into ROK and steal stuff (in the process get caught on reefs and sink) launch artillery in the general direction of ROK, and generally starve the shit out of the DPRK so he could maintain his million man army.  Realizing that his people were getting shorter than their southern cousins, he wondered “how can I get food for my army without actually growing it?”  Why develop nukes of course!  We’re not sure if he got help from Pakistan, stole the technology from America or just downloaded plans off the internet, but it’s pretty clear that despite assurances that he wasn’t developing Nukes, he really did.  

 I’m not going to go into all of Kim Jong Il’s eccentricities, but if even half the shit that is rumored is true, the guy was pure bug house crazy.   A fetish for Swedish Models, fast cars, musicals featuring him to name a few . . . it was all pretty nutty.  He loved starting trouble every couple of years, just to remind people that in fact DPRK was still there, and still a “threat”.  The boldest thing he did (once he had nukes) and once he was declared part of the “axis of evil” was to actually help one of the other countries in said axis with their nuke program in exchange for some decent rockets that might actually make an ICBM.  Most people at this point would be shitting themselves because they hate us almost as much as Iran does, they have nukes, and they really want the world to take them seriously. 
Then another Glorious Leader dies and we’re left with his third son, Kim Jong Un running things (apparently the eldest son was disgraced after trying to go to Disney land on a fake passport). Kim Jong Un apparently went to school in the West, his classmates completely unaware that “Lee” was destined to become the tyrannical dictator of a country, and head of the fourth largest standing army in the world.  He’s only been in office since December 2011, but in that time he’s managed to, in no particular order; piss off ROK by firing artillery shells at one of their islands, knock up his wife, given a rousing speech about “final victory”, managed to “disappear” all the leaders close to his father that were supposed to groom him for leadership, meet Denis Rodman, and tell Obama to call him (or piss off we’re not sure which). 

Oh, did I mention the student film quality propaganda films showing the White House being Nuked?  Apparently they have an ICBM that can reach Washington.  Now Kim Jong Un is pissed off at the United States, because of the UN sanctions.  He’s launched cyber-attacks on ROK, and has threatened to launch attacks on Guam and Okinawa.  He’s really sure that the DPRK can take on the world, and some policy makers are sweating a little bit.  It probably doesn’t help that the new movie Olympus has Fallen seems to show a successful attack on the White House forcing America to withdraw all troops from the DMZ.  Knowing our luck he’ll think that it really happened, or worse try to pull it off in real life.  

So here’s what we all need to do.  Calm Down.  DPRK can’t keep up the rhetoric, and keep up the “super army” it thinks it has, because they literally can’t feed their people.  Yes they do have a million man army.  The Korean DMZ has ten times that many land mines.  They may be able to cause a lot of damage to Seoul with their tens of thousands of artillery tubes, but they would just as quickly find very accurate and lethal counter-battery fire from ROK and US forces.  Sure they have an impressive Air Force, but all their Jets are from the 70’s. The ROK Air Force has the latest and greatest America has to offer, and they know how to use it.  Their “Navy” amounts to a bunch of patrol boats that use old WWII tank turrets as their main gun.  ROK had all sorts of neat toys we helped them develop.   

Kim Jong Un can’t launch a war without potentially losing all of his power, and he can’t fight anyone without support from China, which they won’t give because they stand to lose a lot more than DPRK does. He will try (comically) to goad America and its allies into launching a war, so he can rally his people to the glorious victory, but we all know starving people aren’t going to be up for a serious war.  Kim DPRK’s whole economic plan was to leech off the world while threatening war.  If we’re not giving them anything they’re literally screwed because they have nothing to fall back on.  Let him spin in his hamster wheel.  If he tries anything we will wipe the floor with him.  He may be Kim Jong number Un in his book, but to us he’s just another fat kid who wants to play with the big boys.     

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Completely Missing the Point of Robin Hood

We all know the general outline of Robin Hood; Nobleman returns from the Crusades to find his family lands taken, his father murdered and himself branded a traitor.  Eventually he forms a band of "merry men" in Sherwood Forrest and they go out raiding the rich to give to the poor.  It's a feel good, but the generalization completely misses the point of Robin Hood, and also sets up a "Hero" that can't possibly translate to today.  Worse the "Hero" of Robin Hood as translated to today sets us with a dangerous cynicism about economics, and people in general. 

First off, the economics of today and the economics of 12 century England are very different from the economics of 21st century America.  Leaving aside John Smith and the Wealth of Nations, at the time of the Third Crusade, which is when the epic is set, cities in England were essentially City-States, most people would not stray more than 25 miles from where they were born for their whole lives.  Trade was at best barely above the barter system.  Further to that the economies were all centrally planned, a Lord would direct that whatever industry (blacksmiths mostly) existed would produce X, and would plan the agriculture, always making sure to save excess in the event that the cities (essentially castles) would be laid siege to.

Keep in mind the Black Death was not yet upon them, and the only source of education was from the church.  Most forms of healthcare, record keeping and even in some cases governmental bureaucracy was offered by the church.  Books had to be written by hand (Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450 which is almost 300 years away), so literacy was only through certain orders of monks, priests and nobility.  To picture the inversion of today's economy you'd need to understand that a person could chop down a few trees and make a house by himself in a month (less if he had help) but could work and scrape his whole life and not be able to afford ONE book (the book most in circulation then as now was the Bible).  Today I can literally buy thousands of books for the price of one house.  Indeed they don't even need to be printed anymore.

Prince John the character is a greatly exaggerated depiction of King John who had the misfortune to be born into a royal family of greater men and also to be totally inept.  Indeed the Prince tried to rebel against Richard while he was off fighting in the Crusades but failed miserably.  Eventually Richard died, John became King and managed to screw up so badly the nobles rebelled and the Magna Carta was signed at the end of his reign.  See the problem here?  It wasn't the "rich" that were the problem, it was the centralization of authority.

Unfortunately for any real people in the 12th century, "Justice" was whatever the Lords said it was.  Some were fair, some were just, and some abused the power.  Who could stop them?  To actually oppose a Lord took an army (or at least a well trained force), and even being a "man at arms" took years of training, and the only thing lower than that was to be a pike-man whose job it was to literally stand in the way of charging cavalry with a giant spear braced in the ground.  Enter Robin Hood.  What he actually was has been altered in the retelling sometimes he's a Noble, sometimes he was just a common soldier, what all the folklore agrees with is that he took umbrage with John's rule in Richard's absence. The Taxes are too high, and he has no way to make a living so he becomes a thief or highwayman.

In the more popular versions of the story he fights for the hand of the Maid Marian, sometimes with an archery contest that was actually a trap, sometimes he just storms the castle to end the reign of John and his evil sheriff.  The problem with this is if you take the "outlaw rebelling against opression" view he's not rebelling against the rich at all.  In one version he was rich, why would he choose to steal from the very people and class that he had grown up with?  Even more important to ask, as a very practical matter, if he stole the gold and jewels of the nobles, how exactly would he use say a string of pearls to pay for anything?  There was only one marked for the jewelry that came with nobility.  Silk couldn't feed a farmer.  The coins could, but for rather obvious reasons when people traveled they didn't carry that much in coinage with them.  Giving the riches from a caravan of noblemen to serfs and paupers would have been self defeating because the only people they could in turn sell those items to were the very people they were stolen from.

The oppression of the centralized economy in feudal Europe meant that if a Lord thought that you weren't being productive enough, you were kicked from your lands, and someone else would come in.  Before industrialized farming, the output of a field could vary wildly from year to year, and since they were only growing wheat (corn being an American crop not yet discovered).  If the Lord demanded X bushels of wheat, but you couldn't deliver that you were out on your ass.  It didn't help that there was a mini ice age on, which reduced crop growth, thus increasing famines (one of the reasons the Black Death was SO bad) no excuses were tolerated, and you were out on your ass.  This was oppression pure and simple, and not a matter of economics at all.

Robin Hood is so poorly understoond and misread that its almost as if Karl Marx went back in time to write it.  It's a tragic comedy of misunderstanding that has been used to promote the very idea of centralized planning that was the sole focus of his rebellion.  Indeed the right to alter or abolish the government-and the economics it was encouraging-is what Robin Hood was all about.   That John's reign ended with the Magna Carta, which our own Constitution is a direct descendant shows that if he did exist he had some limited effect.

Unfortunately, centralized planning was the only form of economics known to the feudal Europeans.  The Industrial Revolution, the Renaissance, the printing press, even simple firearms, were a long ways off, so if Robin Hood really did exist his actual impact would have been extremely limited.  We like the story in America because if we tweak the details just a bit, it's almost as if he's an American in our own revolution.  Take care to remember what the times were, and what he was actually doing as opposed to the cliff notes version that is a total betrayal of the actual saga.  If Robin of Locksley was rich, and Maid Marian was rich, and the ending saw him with all his lands and titles restored then demonizing the rich because they are rich, and canonizing the poor because they are not rich is the exact opposite of what a person should take away from Robin Hood. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

10 Years later. . .

Iraq.  It wasn't a great war, it wasn't a "loved" war, and when they write the final history of this country, I think it will be nothing more than a foot note.  It was contentious.  It was painful.  It was long.  It still haunts me, the heat, the fear, and the death.  For all the things the Iraq War was it is in the end my war.  I own my own little slice of it, and that will be mine until I draw my last breath.  Every day I walk the streets of America, a part of me is walking in Baghdad.  Every drive I take through the mountains, hills and lowlands of West Virginia, a part of me drives through Kurdistan.

For me the war began in Basic.  The whole company was called out on the CTA (company training area) and a big screen tv was rolled out from the day room.  The entire company of basic trainees watched our Commander in Chief deliver the address on the eve of war.  It was the first time I truly paid attention to what a President had to say, and the first time I realized that the words being spoken then would have an effect on my life.  Even now 10 years later, the words spoken that day still ring in my ears.  The echo of the concrete, and the solemn looks of citizens that weren't quite soldiers yet.

I never saw any of the news footage leading up to the fall of Baghdad, I was too busy training.  But there was a new seriousness to the training.  Everything from bayonets to basic life saving, before each class we were admonished to take it seriously because our lives would depend on it.  10 years later I can honestly say that indeed some of that training did save my life.  When I went to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Ft Sam Houston, despite the irrepressible nature of the men and women who chose to be Combat Medics, the grim seriousness of our profession was driven home when we were shown a picture of a traumatic amputation above the knee that was survivable except that the tourniquet was tied improperly.  The deceased was a medic.  There was another series of pictures where a Corpsman went to help a wounded Marine, and was himself shot and killed by the sniper.  He bled out while the Marines secured the position, the safety of cover only 20 feet away. 

I remember the lead up to my first deployment.  25th ID may have set a record for longest sustained combat time in WWII, it might have had the most Medals of Honor in Korea and Vietnam, but when I got there it was assumed that the 25th would never see combat.  Hawaii was that post you went to if you were very lucky, and most of the Army treated the division as a pariah.  If a real war were to be fought you'd see 1st ID, 1st Cav of the famous 82nd or 101st go.  Not those cushy, lazy guys in Hawaii.  Then we got orders to go to war.  A division that had forgotten how to fight any war but Vietnam was preparing to literally go around the world to fight in an environment as diametrically opposed to Hawaii as is possible on Earth.  The Training I got in Hawaii did not instil confidence, but at the end of the day the American Soldier's greatest ability is to adapt and overcome.  I can take away a certain pride in knowing that I was one of the first ones to earn an "electric strawberry" combat patch since the Vietnam War. 

How do I explain Kurdistan?  The Iraq America doesn't know about.  The other Iraq.  It was an area that ranged from horrendously deadly in Haweeja, that saw several days long battles, that took a whole battalion to secure, to the the sedate, even safe Ibril where a soldier could walk around in a soft cap without armor needing only fear the mobs of children trying to sell "bebsi".  My 2,500 man brigade was given an area the size of West Virginia and told to make do.  It was all very "seat of the pants" back then.  Weld some plate steel on a cargo humvee, bolt a pole to the center of a bed and call it a "gun truck".  I drove an LMTV that had plastic doors from Kuwait to Kirkuk with only sandbags under my ass for protection.  Then I drove a humvee with no door.  Then I drove an Ambulance that could barely get above 45 with coaxing, and threatened to shake apart at 50.  I went on foot patrols.  I trained Iraqis.  It was a long year, and when I left I felt it had been left better than I had found it.  The elections in 2005 seemed to prove that.

My experience in the Surge was a lot more traumatic.  More fear.  More death.  Disgusting all around.  I've talked at length about the Surge.  We paid a high price for the small victories we achieved.  2007 was a crucible.  We wrenched victory from the jaws of defeat, through our toil, through the very literal shedding of blood sweat and tears.  We paid dearly for the small modicum of victory, and as soon as it seemed that Iraq wasn't the giant clusterf**k that it had been hyped up to be, the country seemed to forget.  It was over almost as soon as General Petraeus testified before congress.  Just as suddenly, the war for me was over.

But that's the thing, the war didn't quite end for me It still goes on.  Every night I fight the same battles.  The war didn't end with a bang, and many great parades.  It ended with a speech by a different president, that I saw in the comfort of my own home.  It ended with heartfelt reunions, and it ended with many of those that fought there going on to keep on fighting somewhere else.   A lot of things have changed in 10 years.  Iraq was my war.  It changed me and in a small way I changed it.  What I have done will be forgotten, doubtless in a few years school children will go back to being unable to find it on a map, but I know where it is.  I know what it meant.  Why the war started, or the question of "worth" will never diminish myself or anyone who fought there. 

The American Army Knive

There is one question in the post 9/11 world that we still haven't effectively answered, and that is simply put; What kind of military do we want?  It's not as simple to answer as you might think.  Currently the Army is the be all do all, and is much like the Swiss Army Knife in organizational form.  Many functions are available and while the Army can go pretty much anywhere and do pretty much anything, with sufficient support. 

'Take Afghanistan.  That is a landlocked country, that theoretically no army should be able to sustain operations in.  Let alone for a full decade (and counting).  The missions there range everything from standard infantry assaults, to civil affairs, counter insurgency, even the new mission "nation building" which is a nebulous task that might range from civil engineering to actual politics.  The Army as an organization can do some of everything. Most Americans do not know or even understand the capacity of its military, or even what the elected leaders are ordering them to do.

For instance who do you think has the largest small boat navy in the world?  Iran?  China?  Some corporate entity?  Try the United States Army.  That fact is so surprising (most people are surprised that the Army even HAS ships) that most people are baffled and at a loss to explain it.  Would it surprise you that the Army still maintains the ability (if in a limited fashion) to conduct seaborne assaults?  To prevent inter-service rivalry, this fact is not often touted, but the ability is still there. It's not just equipment though.

The American Soldier and Marine is expected to be able to adapt and overcome no matter what climate, environment, or situation they are dropped in.  How does one train for the mountains of Afghanistan? We have very few peaks that can match their rugged terrain, and even so it would be impractical to run more than a few companies at a time through such training.  We can train in Jungle, Desert, and certain winter environments, we can simulate many environments for tactical purposes, but the problem is that each require different tactics.  How many tank battalions were there in Vietnam as opposed to say Desert Storm?  You can run whole divisions across the desert, whereas, in the jungle you might have one or two tanks supporting light infantry battalions.

The problem is in this post-cold war world, war hasn't gone away.  The Soviets aren't going to attack the Fulda Gap anytime soon, but that does not mean that we must not be prepared for a similar scenario.  The Airborne hasn't made a true combat drop since Korea (Operation Junction City, was not a true combat jump, and the assault on Bashur Airbase hardly seems like a "combat drop" when there were Spec Ops teams sitting in lawn chairs on the DZ) but that does not mean that all six Airborne Brigades do not train as though they might. 

The problem is that policy makers and bean counters alike don't like the budget it takes to have "the best trained fighting force in the world".  For the military to prepare for a war they are often given direction by congress as to what enemy they should prepare to fight.  More often than not the policy makers are wrong and the military has to figure it out after the war's already begun.  Getting elected leaders to sit and talk about the threats they face is much like pulling teeth from an alligator.  Even accepting that there might be a war will send certain politicians into a tizzy.

Our military is functioning on the inertia.  As the decade changes with a massive debt on our back, we're going to have to ask what kind of military we want.  The tanks and APCs of the Cold war are ill suited to the mountains of Afghanistan, and the insurgency warfare that has become a worldwide problem, but the light infantry does not have the same tactical maneuverability that those tanks would.   You can specialize your tactics once you're actually fighting an enemy, but until you are you must be a generalist, and that costs money.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Certainly one way to gut the military.

When I joined, one of the main selling points was: education.  I was going to be trained in my job, get career experience, and I would get free college.  Really to any 18-20 year old that is almost too good to pass up.  rather than work at McDonalds, or be stuck at home praying I one day might by some miracle go to college I could get a career and college.  I actually took the Army up on this, and took a few courses between my (admittedly frequent) Deployments and PCS's.  Even if I didn't stay in one place longer than a semester, I still had the opportunity, and the GI Bill should I ever need it.

Tuition Assistance is not just for the troops.  May of the wives would wish to better themselves.  Imagine being stuck on a post in the middle of nowhere (which is where most Army bases are now a days) and having nothing but your husband's paycheck.  You'd probably want to better yourself too.  You could get everything from an AA, BA/BS all the way up to a Masters if you were so inclined.  I say could, because now that the Army has suspended Tuition Assistance, along with the Marine Corps that is very much in doubt.

This move is just plain strange, if not ought right stupid.  What's to prevent a mid level NCO from getting out and trying his hand with the GI Bill?  The Army and Marine Corps need good NCO's even more than they need good officers.  Having an excess of officers, even excellent ones, and a dearth of even marginal NCOs is a recipe for disaster.  The over simplified version is "too many Chiefs not enough Indians" but the reality is more complex than that.  An officer's job is to decide What must be done, the NCO's job is to figure out How.  It's not a simple or easy job and the rewards are not that great.  TA is the one benefit that most affects the Enlisted side of the house, the movers, the muscle the backbone.  

It's also interesting to note that no similar move has come from the Navy and Air Force, just the Army and Marine Corps.  This means that this move is targeted and purely political, since the Army and Marine Corps are currently the most visible of services.  While the Army and Marines are actively engaged in a ground war, they are the two services that receive most media attention, and the Army being the largest service, is the one that bares most of the brunt of fighting this war.  The Air Force and the Navy, while both playing their pare are largely only in a supporting role. 

This is at every level involved in this decision a failure of leadership, and a very dangerous political calculation.  I'm sure the President had some hand in this decision, and if so, he should know that there are dangerous consequences to our national readiness.  We are fighting a war, and the world is becoming increasingly unstable, an army without its backbone would be a very dangerous thing.

The Services are all volunteer.  No one is drafted, no one is forced to join.  The only think keeping the most experienced NCOs are some of the benefits which have begun to erode over the last decade.  When an E-6 can make double what he's making now, AND be able to see his family every night, what makes him stay?    Duty only takes you so far.  Its hard to talk about your duty when your looking at yet another deployment, yet more missed birthdays or worse actual births.  The Comraderie is sometime the only thing that keeps you going when you're in the middle of a war zone, but when your not, when you're in the rear with the gear, that's not enough. 

Every time a re-enlistment window comes up every soldier must look deep down in themselves.  Their retention NCO will pester them if they're considered vital, but at the end of the day it comes down to a simple question "what is best for me and my family?"  Benefits like TA, like Tricare, like base housing, like MWR, might tip the equation more in favor of staying.  Take away those benifits, and the choice is clear.  Even if you love your job.  Even if you truly love the Army, you have to take care of your family first. 

Suspending TA will gut the largest and perhaps the most important side of the Army and Marine Corps.  This is clearly a political move, and it is calculated to put pressure on the Legislature to let the Executive Branch have its way.  Regardless of whose idea it was or how high up it went, it was a bad idea that has ramifications for the future.  We can not keep using the troops as political pawns in a game between waring branches of Government.  People will die, not in some theoretical calculation, of what might happen, there is a certainty in war, that people will die, and the only real question is how many.  The better your military is the fewer that will be. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Don't piss off the Medics

Medics are an odd bunch.  We’re that strange mix of brains and Braun that is required to work on the Line but also to reasonably diagnose and treat a wide range of injuries and illnesses from food poisoning to traumatic amputations.  We’re trained to look for the signs of combat stress and the good medics are always watching their companies (batteries and troops) for anything that might affect them.  It’s a very stressful job, and we tend to blow steam off in very odd ways.  We’re also odd in that most of the things that make you say “aw sick dude” we tend to say; “DUDE!  That’s so freaking sweet!”  We get a damn good laugh at some of the insanely stupid stories you come up with to explain the bizarre gambit of injuries you somehow inflict upon yourselves (I have pictures so don’t try to deny it). 

We love our guys to death.  Ask a good medic what he wouldn’t do for their guys and you’d be hard pressed to find a limit to how far they’d go for you.   Usually this love is mutual.  A good medic is worth his weight in gold to a line company, and we pride ourselves on earning that title you bestow on us, “Doc”.   There is just one thing you all should know when dealing with those good medics, that I ought to give you fair warning.  Don’t EVER piss them off.  To explain exactly what I mean I will tell you two little tales to explain just why it’s such a bad idea to piss off your medic. 

First comes from one of the NCOs that instructed me way back when real men wore green and Iraq was just won (the first time).  You see my instructors hated how terribly dull the Death by Powerpoint slides were and it would often piss them off that some of the privates would fall asleep.  So they would tell stories.  So one day we’re going through a series of slides describing some of the treatments of ingestion of poison, and one of the slides mentions that you should never give syrup of ipecac to a person who’s ingested an alkaline solution.  This seems to be a great time for an aside so he stops the slide show and proceeds with his story.

“You’re probably never going to see ipecac anymore, but it used to be something we carried all the time.  It was supposed to be given in the event of poisoning and certain other emergencies and would cause a person to vomit.”  At this point I’m pretty sure some of us sniggered about the possibilities to prank one another.  At this point one of the trainees asked if he had ever used it. He smiled and said “once”

He proceeded to explain that a few duty stations ago, he had been a medic tasked to cover  the pre-Ranger training his brigade did.   While he never went through Ranger School himself he pulled coverage on the candidates all the time.  He didn’t have to stick to only two MREs a day or less, but it was frowned on if he had a ton of POGie bait sitting around so he would always have an orange and an apple in his FLA, and would eat one or the other while following road marches or waiting for the candidates to move from one area to another.

Well once he noticed a few days in that both the apple and the orange would keep disappearing.  He was getting annoyed, and knew it wasn’t the other medic because he preferred bananas (which he’d have in a cargo pocket).  After a week of his oranges and apples going MIA he decided he’d had just about enough of this shit.  He took the syrup of ipecac, drew up 30 CCs in a syringe, and injected both the apple and orange with this miracle drug of super pranks.

Word of advice if you bite into something and it tastes like it has maple syrup in it but it shouldn’t, spit it out and do not swallow it.  Turns out there were two would be Rangers that suddenly came down with a violent case of vomiting, and the FLA was called out to treat them.  There were two sad sorry sacks who were on their hands and knees vomiting their brains out and their squad hovering around them completely clueless as to what might have caused them to up chuck till they had no chuck left then keep going.  IVs were started, and as soon as they were in the back of the FLA away from the cadre my instructor tapped the two on the shoulder.

“Now I know that you stole my fruit,” he says.  “I put something in it to make you vomit, so I know it was you guys that did it.  You’ll keep dry heaving for the next half hour or so and will be pretty weak for the rest of the day but you’ll be fine by dinner.  I won’t say anything to anyone, so long as you never ever steal my fruit again.”

Unfortunately for all those intrepid pranksters out there, you really can’t find this wonder anymore.  Apparently people would ingest it and the vomiting would be so violent that it would cause other problems, among other things dehydration, and apparently some people would do Family Guyesque moments where idiots would chug it and see who vomited last. 

The other situation was actually something I did.  This happened on my first tour when I worked in the battalion aid station for the support battalion.  Well I happened to be OpCon’d out to an infantry unit in my brigade.  Out at this Podunk little FOB, there was this guy who would always hang out at the aid station, and always try to bum food off us (we had a little back door deal with the cooks).  He would sit there watch our movies and complain about things we did.  Really we couldn’t get rid of the SOB.  Worst of all we did actually need him to upload commo, and keep us apprised of MEDEVACs in our AO, so we couldn’t just whack him upside the head.  But slipping him something in his food. . . that’s a whole other story. 

So one day said offender just left the aid station after cutting loose a truly atrocious fart, and I say something to the effect of “What I wouldn’t give to get him back.”  At which point my very big brained socially awkward neurologist Doctor pipes up “well, you could always turn his urine blue”.  Say what now?  Turn his urine BLUE?  Yes in fact there is a pill that is sued to turn one’s urine blue to aid in the diagnostic of kidney functions (side note, eating a lot of beats will turn it red, and a lot of asparagus will make your urine REALLY stink).   The malicious grin that sprang to two young specialist’s faces were enough to make him realize he probably shouldn’t have said that.  After two hours of pestering him he told us the name, and told us that only the Aid Station back on the main FOB would have it.  

A week later, said pills came on a LOGPAC, along with a few choice DVDs, and a month’s worth of mail.  Needless to say we took the liberty of consulting the Nurses Desk Reference to make sure we got the proper dosing.  Sure enough Sgt [name removed] comes to the aid station intent on watching our Stargate SG-1 marathon all the while complaining about the lack of good food, and consequently raiding our food.  When he got up to piss I delivered the crushed up pills to his drink, a pop top coke then pretend nothing has happened.  Said coke was chugged, and I began grinning like an idiot.  

The aid station didn’t have to wait long.  Perhaps an hour and a half and two episodes later we hear a scream from the bathroom.  The high pitched girlish scream you expect out of your little sister when she sees a spider.  He comes tarring into the treatment room and screams


Most people would have bust up laughing at this point.  I managed to keep my cool, but I couldn’t help a grin.

“Blue you say?”

“Did I F**KING STUTTER?  MY PISS WAS F**KING BLUE!!!” he screams at me.

“Gosh, that doesn’t sound good, let me get the Doc.”

I didn’t have to go far.  The screaming in conjunction with the trampling in the aid station had alerted the NCOIC and the Doctor that something’s up.  My partner was off doing something with our ambulance so he was a no-show.  I intercepted my Doc in the hallway, while the NCOIC went in to figure out what the hell all the screaming was about.  I asked my Doc to play along. 

I couldn’t stay in the treatment room because I was laughing so hard, and my Doctor who had given me the idea, and now had the responsibility for carrying the prank just a little bit further was absolutely brilliant, in one stroke suggesting the hapless Sgt wasn’t getting enough PT and was probably eating too much food.  I’m not sure what he gave him but that Sgt left the aid station with wide eyes, and he never broke wind in our aid station again.  I might have been literally rolling on the floor laughing.  I might also have had to do a LOT of push-ups, and would have gotten an Article 15 if my NCOIC at the time didn’t want that Sgt gone just as much as I did, and she thought (after a day or so) that it WAS pretty funny.  

The moral of the story is this boys and girls; Medics are an odd bunch.  We love you to death, but that does not mean that we won’t embarrass the hell out of you if you try to act up with us.  Laugh along with us, and don’t give us a reason to dislike you.  Also it kind of helps to have us on your side because we tend to have connections.  Love us or hate us, you can’t live without us.