Monday, March 30, 2015

Bitching About Fitness-Optional Soldiers

Recently I was on the phone for about a half hour with a reporter from Deseret News.  The topic was soldiers and fitness.  She is writing about how soldiers and sailors pork up after they leave active duty.  Here's the article.

Well that is their right and privilege as Americans.

We were talking because I sent her an email about how going on active duty for training causes me to work out LESS, not more.  She said I was the only soldier she spoke to with that experience.

If there is one vast difference between the military in the Viet Nam Era and now, it is the fat, out-of-shape soldiers.  There was the occasional fat supply sergeant or cook in the 1970s Army, but when our Brigade did 4-mile runs in Germany, the vast majority of the soldiers, including us smokers, stayed in formation.

The information the reporter had said that half of the men in women in Guard and Reserve units could not pass the fitness test for their branch of the military.  And every active duty unit has soldiers hanging on by a thread trying to pass the fitness test or just giving up because they are too short (of time left on their enlistment) to worry about their lack of fitness.

Currently the Army is forcing out soldiers who are out of shape.  At least they are forcing out younger soldiers who are out of shape.  The Guard still has master sergeants and warrant officers who are 50 pounds past meeting the height and weight standards, but are untouchable because they know their jobs so well and know how to get around the fitness standards.

And, of course, the vast majority of soldiers who are out of shape have as their first excuse, "I am good at my job."  Great.  Work for Boeing or Ford then.  Soldiers should be able to Move, Shoot and Communicate.  A soldier who is out-of-breath after running a mile in shorts and sneakers will never shoot straight after running three miles with full battle gear.

And because we are in the Guard, the high-ranking fat guys make of the PT Test.  I have gone to official functions with fat guys performing a skit making fun of the PT Test.  During the same month I saw the fat guys yuck it up about the PT Test, I talked to a sergeant I knew.  He was getting out because he could not pass the PT Test the next month.  He was a good armorer and supply sergeant, had 15 years in and will not be able to retire.  He did not want to stay in the Army enough to lose the weight and he was not blaming anyone.

But the porcine performers making fun of the PT Test will retire with huge pensions and a Meritorious Service Medal.

And that is sad.

Here is the Duffel blog view.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Screwtape in Iraq

This post is a repost from Iraq.  I haven't seen this post in years.  It was fun to write and mimic Screwtape.  But if you want to hear Screwtape at his best, the Audiobook is read by John Cleese!!!  No one could be a better mid-level bureaucrat in Hell than John Cleese.  The book is no longer available with Cleese as the narrator, but the letters are collected at the link above.

CLICK here for Screwtape in Iraq.

CLICK here for the book.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Who Writes About Our Wars: Matt Jones

28th CAB PAO at Camp Adder:
Me, SGT Matt Jones, SFC Dale Shade, SGT Andy Mehler

In September of 2009, I moved from the Echo Company motor pool at Camp Adder, Iraq, to Battalion Headquarters of Task Force Diablo.  I took the job of writing, laying out and shooting the pictures for a monthly newsletter for the remainder of the deployment.  But I knew that a monthly for four of five months would not get any attention.

So I asked to produce a weekly 8-12-page newsletter.  The commander and my supervisor agreed.  I had a job—and a half.  But I got it done.

One big reason I could write that newsletter and shoot the pictures was SGT Matt Jones at 28th Combat Aviation Brigade with an office just 100 meters from mine.  Over the next several months I spent a lot of time with Matt.  I had not shot pictures since the late 1970s.  I got a Nikon digital camera and Matt showed me how to use.  And gave me feedback on the photos I took.  He also edited my stories—quickly and accurately. 

Matt had his own weekly newsletter to produce.  And he worked in a much different environment than I did.  Everyone in my office worked together really well.  Better than most places I have ever worked. 

To say that Matt worked in a hostile environment is like the temperature in Hell, if you have to ask. . .

So in between writing stories, shooting photos and producing a weekly newsletter, had to deal with more shit than a dairy farmer from a brigade command staff that did not understand or care to understand how public affairs worked. 

But he kept going, quietly producing a great newsletter every week and shooting some award-winning photos along the way.  Clearly, some of my best photos were the ones I shot just after Matt showed me something else I could do with shutter speed, ISO, lighting, or angle. 

After we returned from Iraq, I worked with Matt while he was with 28th CAB and I still see him on drill weekends sometimes.  And he still helps me shoot better pictures. 

Most people I know in public affairs, military or civilian, are loud people that laugh, make jokes and are irrepressible gossips.  Matt has the flattest affect of anyone I know in public affairs.  After a few weeks of working with him he said, “Nice!” about a story I wrote.  That was it.  He went back to work.  If I got that from Matt, I knew the Nobel in Literature was a possibility in the future. 

Last summer, in what might be my last summer camp, I got to spend several days writing and editing in the Public Affairs Office at Fort Indiantown Gap.  I wrote about how much I enjoyed that time last summer.  I did not use any names in that post, but I can now say that part of the fun of the week was Matt laughing when I retold some of the same jokes I told in Iraq for a new group of people.  And I am pretty sure Matt said “Nice!” about one of my photos.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Baby Killers, Climate Change and Conspiracy Theories

In the past week, I spoke with people who remember the Viet Nam War and what many Americans thought of soldiers back then.  Many soldiers serving now don't like being thanked for their service.  They think of it as insincere or shallow.  They take for granted that the public loves us.  That just shows how fast public opinion can change.  When the young men in the photo below came home, they might have been greeted with "Baby Killer" instead of "Thank you for your service."  I have heard both.  I like the Thank You.

I enlisted in 1972, during Viet Nam, but never got closer to Viet Nam than Nevada.  Even though I never went to Viet Nam, I was part of the military, so I was a "Baby Killer" in the eyes of many.  It is certainly true that Lt. Cali and some others killed civilians, but the people who thought of the military as "Baby Killers" had to believe that more than two million Americans enlisted and suddenly became murderers of children.  And they had to accept the word of Jane Fonda and others who were not soldiers about the character of soldiers.  

In retrospect, it seems crazy that millions of Americans could have believed that about soldiers from their own towns and neighborhoods and that anyone could have accepted the word of Jane Fonda on military matters.  But they did.  Could anything be more ridiculous than thinking the children of World War 2 veterans were suddenly transformed to monsters?

As a matter of fact, yes.  

People who deny man-made climate change must believe that more than a million people with advanced degrees in science are involved in a conspiracy to defraud America and the world.  And on top of that, they have to accept the word of Senator James Inhofe, who knows as much about science as Jane Fonda knows about the military, on the science of climate change.   

The other expert climate science deniers on Fox News are lawyers, not scientists.  Like Inhofe they receive millions from oil-industry-backed groups, most notably Koch-brothers-sponored organizations.

I know many Americans accept the most idiotic conspiracies.  They believe that the same government that lost the Iraq War by saying we "Would be greeted as liberators" and the war would "Pay for itself" is somehow involved in staging 9-11.  Some Americans think fluoride is a Soviet Plot and have not noticed the fall of the Soviet Union.  Others fight vaccination.  

And in the late 60s and early 70s they accepted Jane Fonda's evaluation of our military.  

James Inhofe believes he is smarter than all those striving, high achieving people who earn doctorate degrees in chemistry, physics, math, geology and related sciences.  

Many members of my family have advanced degrees in physics, math and other fields.  They all accept the work of people who work in climate science.  

In the Army, I serve with many people who think Fox News is credible.  

When Jane Fonda called American Soldiers Baby Killers, I was in High School and my Uncle Jack was on his second of three tours flying close air support in Viet Nam.  Anyone who believed her was talking shit about a man I admired more than anyone else in the world except my Dad.

When someone says sincerely that all scientists are involved in a conspiracy, they are talking about my wife, my in-laws, one of my daughters and many of my friends.  

I despise conspiracy theories for that reason.  They are an excuse to dismiss or hate an entire groups.  And like prejudice, they are an excuse to lump people together instead of dealing with them as they are.   

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Movie Review: "Burnt by the Sun"

Tonight my sons and I went to see the 1994 Russian movie "Burnt by the Sun" on campus.  Like a Greek Tragedy all the action happens during one fateful day.  The movie is based on the real lives of a hero of the Russian Revolution, a colonel, who was betrayed and murdered.  The movie is set in the Colonel Kotov's country house (Dacha in Russian).  

From beginning to its very sad end, the movie simmers with menace, but most of the time is a story of a happy family at their summer home.  

At the beginning, tanks on maneuvers line up for an assault along the tree line next to a wheat field just abut ready to harvest.  I knew this scene from the time I spent in Germany moving tanks across fields and farms.  Sometimes, the tactics we were ordered to use required us to tear up a farm field.  We had a German-American team following us who paid farmers for the damage, but the farmers were still upset when we tore up their land.

At the opening the movie, ten tanks line up side-by-side to attack a hill through a wheat field.  The farmers yell and bang on the tanks with pitchforks.  Colonel Kotov convinces the tank unit to move around the field.  

Kotov is a hero.  As the day progresses, Kotov becomes more and more vulnerable until a black car takes him away to his death.  

As Nigel and I walked home from the movie I asked why he liked it.  First we talked about the tanks.  They were actually BMP Armored Personnel Carriers with turrets stuck on them.  

But then he said he liked the family doing things together.  We adopted Nigel several weeks after he was born.  From the first day in our home, he had three doting sisters who were 9 to 11 years older.   Until Nigel was seven he was surrounded by a big family a dog named Lucky and two cats:  Athos and Porthos.  

Then when he was almost eight, his two older sisters went off to college.  A few months after his ninth birthday, I went to Iraq for a year.  Then that fall, his third sister went to college.  During the year I was in Iraq, it was just Nigel, his Mom and Porthos--by this time Athos and Lucky had died.

Nigel clearly misses the big family that he spent his first seven years in.  Since then we adopted another son about Nigel's age, had another woman move in for a few year's who was about the age of Nigel's sisters, and we have another big dog.  

It was clear when I got back that Nigel was very proud of me for going to Iraq, but not very happy that I left.  This movie which I saw as wrenching tragedy he saw as a really nice family.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Photos of 28th Combat Aviation Brigade for Fort Rucker

During the February drill weekend, our Command Sergeant Major asked for a disc of 200 or so phots to send to the Army Aviation Training Facility at Fort Rucker, Alabama.  We regularly send pilots and other aircrew there for training and the flight school asked for photos of 28th CAB.

Here are some I picked out of the 10,000 or so photos I have taken over the last six years.  Now that I have actually looked through then, a large percentage are of ceremonies, mostly changes of command.  None of those photos are included:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gun Trucks in Viet Nam and Iraq: Why Lessons Aren't Learned

Yesterday I went to a presentation at Franklin and Marshall College about Gun Trucks in Viet Nam and in Iraq.  I knew about the many variations of gun trucks assembled by soldiers in the Iraq War, especially before up-armor kits were available for Humvees and other vehicles.

But I had no idea of the extent of the Gun Truck culture during the Viet Nam War.  Nina Kollars, Assistant Professor of Government at F&M, talked for about 40 minutes about the origin of the gun trucks in Viet Nam and how they grew and spread among transport units until there were hundred of 5-ton and "Deuce-and-a-Half" trucks rolling on the roads in Viet Nam with various kinds of armor plate and heavy machine guns.

In Iraq, the chaos after Saddam was defeated left American soldiers vulnerable to IEDs and snipers--just like their brothers from the Viet Nam war 40 years earlier.  Like the Viet Nam soldiers, they welded armor on the vehicles they and mounted heavy machine guns.

One of my favorite images from the presentation was the truck above with a palletized gun platform made from a Conex box.  It has shade, armor and if the M1074 PLS truck breaks down, the gun platform can be dropped and picked up on another PLS.

One big difference between the two wars was that during Iraq, the Army centralized training and upgrading vehicles with armor.  In that way, the lessons learned in Iraq were not lost as in Viet Nam, but passed along to soldiers as they arrived.  I never got to see the Skunk Werks at Camp Anaconda, but I went through convoy training at Camp Udairi in Kuwait before going to Iraq.  By the time I went, the lessons learned had become a curriculum with classes and manuals and a lot of on-the-road training.

Nina will be presenting her research at a meeting of military historians in the UK in a couple of weeks.

One question that came up in the research was why the lessons learned in Viet Nam had to be re-learned in Iraq.  that question I had an answer for.  The U.S. Army was only too happy to turn its back on everything Viet Nam after that war ended.  We trained to fight the big war in Europe against the Soviets.  No more un-winnable wars for us!!

So when we got in another un-winnable war, we had to learn the up-armor lessons all over again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Who Fights Our Wars: Carrie Davis Jackson

When we went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 2009, I was reluctant to use soldiers names in my blog.  So the unnamed soldier in the post below is the soldier in the photos above: SGT Carrie Davis Jackson.  While me and most of the other soldiers struggled to Zero our weapons,  Carrie walked off the range after firing the minimum 12 rounds.  Then she went to the qualification range and fired expert.

That's what a soldier looks like.
Today I had the biggest anxiety attack since this whole deployment started. It was first of two days of live fire with the M-16. Although I spent 11 years in the military back in the 70s and 80s, I have not fired an M-16 on a qualification range since Air Force basic training in February in 1972. Worse, in AF basic we did not go through the whole qualification process: zeroing the weapons, pop-up targets, night fire, firing in gas masks. In the Air Force, they handed us a weapon, we shot at some targets, they took the weapons and that was the one and only day in my Air Force career I handled a personal weapon.

When I joined the Army, I went straight to tank training. For the next eight years my personal weapon was a 45 cal. pistol. So this morning we boarded a bus to go to the range wearing our new bulletproof vests and helmets.

On the first range we zeroed the weapon. To zero, you shoot three rounds at a paper target at 25 meters. To zero the weapon, you must put 5 rounds in a 4 cm square. Since the M16A4 we use has both traditional iron sights and the new close quarters optical device, we have to zero the weapon twice, once with each sight.

So to zero the weapon with both sights, you have to shoot at least 12 rounds--six with each sight--and hit at least five out of six. Most of the 25 of us who were shooting fired 36 to 48 rounds. I fired 60. A few soldiers fired more. One soldier, a female sergeant, fired 12 rounds and was done.

We fire side by side in 8-foot-wide "lanes" with very prominent numbers. When the safety NCO told the tower the woman in Lane 6 zeroed with 12 rounds, the tower told her to walk down the embankment we shoot from and clear her weapon. As she walked toward the ammo point to turn in her unused ammunition, the tower told all the rest of us to turn around and look at the female sergeant walking to the ammo point.

The sergeant in the tower said on the PA system, "Take a look ladies and gentlemen, that's what a soldier looks like. Now turn around." 

Congratulations again Carrie!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Trading a Guitar for a Gun--Who Fights Our Wars

With more American troops headed for the Middle East and with many of my friends in NATO countries that surround Ukraine and border Russia, I thought I would repost some of my favorite stories about the men and women who risked their lives in Iraq and may be going back.

By the way, this photo is used at the Army Sergeant's Major Academy as an example of BAD SAFETY PRACTICES!

The story is here: Trading a Guitar for a Gun

Or here:

Seven years ago, then 18-year-old Nicholas Raia of Altoona, Pa., brought his trumpet to an audition for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard band. He aced the audition and until last summer was member of several performance groups within the band. Over those seven years he performed more and more with the band and ensembles playing the guitar for recruiting events and celebrations. For more formal military ceremonies he now plays the baritone—a small tuba.

After seven years in the band, Raia, now a sergeant, decided to take a year away from performing and volunteer for a combat tour. Since mobilization in January, Raia has served as a door gunner on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment.

“I felt that after 7 years in the Guard, it was my turn to do my part overseas,” said Raia.
To get ready for the transition from full-time student and weekend band member, Raia volunteered for additional training in weapons. In June 2008, Raia attended the Small Arms Master Gunner course at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. To prepare for hand-to-hand combat he completed the week-long Level One Combatives Course in July. At the end of September, he was one of 10 Soldiers in the first class trained in the new Live-Fire Shoot House also at Fort Indiantown Gap.

His transition from band member and college student to door gunner had difficulties training could not help.

“It was a decision that I struggled with for a while,” Raia said. “It’s one thing to tell your loved ones you are being ordered to leave and a totally different animal entirely when you are trying to explain to them that you are voluntarily leaving.”

Over the years he was in the band, Raia came to believe he should deploy with a combat unit.

“Our job (in the band) is unique in that we are in the public eye often, and we often get thanked for our service by people in our audiences,” Raia said. “I would find myself conflicted, because while it is true that we, as a unit, were serving our country in the way in which we were meant to serve, I also felt as if I should be doing more.”

Raia had several friends in the Guard who deployed overseas at least once in their careers. He said he felt those were the Soldiers who truly deserved to be thanked.

“I felt that after seven years in the guard, it was my turn to do my part overseas,” he said.
His final decision to deploy was met with mixed emotions.

“My unit could not have been more supportive of my decision,” Raia recalled. “They helped me get everything on the military side of the house in order prior to my deployment and have made it a point to ensure it would not affect me negatively upon my return.”

His friends, on the other hand, were confused by Raia’s decision.

“Many of my friends are not in the military and I think that makes a big difference,” he said. “People in the military think a little differently than those who are not and most of the Soldiers in the military today could probably easily understand the feeling of responsibility that compelled me to deploy.”
“My family worried about me and they were not real thrilled that I would volunteer to leave them for a year to go to a combat zone. Raia continued. “My family has been super supportive of my decision. Any previous uncertainty or worries has given way to pride in what I am doing.”

Before deployment, Raia completed all the requirements for a bachelor’s degree at Penn State with a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology. He plans to bring together all of his training, experience and education by becoming a police officer after deployment—except on National Guard weekends when he will be back on stage or in formation at ceremonies in the 28th Infantry Division Band

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentines Day and Retirement

On Valentine's Day my fellow veterans, you might think America loves Veterans and that could never change.  But don't bet your future on it.  I enlisted during the Viet Nam War when soldiers were scum to much of the nation.  Many soldiers I know cheer for the politicians who are taking cutting retirement money for police, for firefights, for teachers and other government workers.  You may have noticed recent news reports that talk about the how military retirement costs almost as much as paying the current force.  Only 20% of soldiers who enlist stay in till retirement.

I am not writing to protect my own retirement.  I can't stay in the Army long enough to retire.  I won't get any retirement.  But I know a lot of soldiers who are staying in just to get their 20 years and retire.

Since the 80s big business has figured out many ways to drop retirees from fixed-benefit pensions.
In the past decade, local and state governments have figured out how to take retirement benefits away.
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, including all retirees are barely one percent of the population of America.  The men and women who deployed to our recent wars three, four, five, ten times or more should be ready for another fight to keep their retirements.