Monday, July 27, 2015

Trump Leads Chickenhawk Nation

Recently soldiers I serve with have become public fans of The Donald for Commander in Chief.  At first I thought they must not know how much Chickenhawks like him despised soldiers in the 1960s.  Then I realized they don't care.  They were born after Viet Nam ended and have no idea what it was like to live through that war.

During the Viet Nam War, our nation had a military draft.  If it worked, which it did not, anyone between 18 and 26 years old could be called to serve his country for two years.

Unlike World War 2 when many young men clamored to join the ranks, during Viet Nam most middle-class and rich kids from the northeast and the west coast avoided the draft through deferments.  The Donald had five such deferments.  Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and many other Conservative leaders decided not to serve.

And because the war was unpopular, they were barely making excuses.  Cheney had better things to do.  For others it was the "wrong war."  Really?  There are American soldiers fighting.  Are you an American?

The draft is a zero-sum game so for every draft dodger who did not go, a poor kid who could not afford deferments went in his place.  More than 50,000 soldiers died in Viet Nam.  Hundreds of thousands more were wounded or afflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Whoever took The Donald's place is as likely as not dead, wounded or suffering from PTSD.

When I bring this up, one reaction is Bill Clinton dodged the draft.  He did.  But he did not go on to urge more war.  Many people I grew up with sang "give peace a chance" in the 60s and are still to the left of Bernie Sanders today.  But the "peace people" who became Conservatives once their draft eligibility ended are simply cowards.  They let someone else serve in their place and became Hawks once they were safe from actual service. 

I can understand why people who define their world by who they hate would love Trump.  But how can people who have made the military their career vote for a guy who despises service.  Trump thought people who served in Viet Nam were chumps when he got his five deferments.  The glib way he dismissed John McCain says Trump thinks no better of soldiers now.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Super Dad" Article Got Republished by 28th Division

An article calling me a Super Dad got picked up by 28th Division and posted on Facebook.  It was a good article.  It was fun to talk to the reporter.  We started talking about kids and sports.
Here is the link.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

More on Lt. Col. Joel Allamdinger

Yesterday I wanted to get the post about Lt. Col. Joel Allmandinger posted quickly.  After I posted it I realized I forgot two links: one about racing in Iraq and one about his career.  

As I mentioned in the last post, Allmandinger won the Thanksgiving Day race on Camp Adder, Iraq.  The story is here on the New York Times "At War" blog.

The other story is about how Allmandinger left Army active duty after eight years of service in August of 2001, then re-enlisted after 9-11.  His story was in the New York Times on the 10th Anniversary of 9-11.  Here is the link.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Best People Serve in the Guard

Command Team of Task Force Diablo at Camp Adder, Iraq, from the left:  Col. Scott Perry, Command Sgt. Maj. Dell Christine and Lt. Col. Joel Allmandinger.

This weekend one of the best soldiers I have served with since returning to the Army retired.  Lt. Col. Joel Allmandinger ended a 22-year career that began at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and continued through service in Kosovo and Iraq as a combat Blackhawk helicopter pilot.  He was the Executive Officer of Task Force Diablo at Camp Adder, Iraq, in 2009-10 and Commander of 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion at Fort Indiantown Gap from 2010-13.  I served with him the entire time.

He also happens to be THE best bicyclist I have ever served with.  He won the race I organized in Iraq and was the Sportsman National Champion in mountain biking in 2013.  We rode together up the 18 percent grade on Asher Miner Road on Fort Indiantown Gap and the five-mile climb up Gold Mine Road toward Tower City.  I was behind him at the top of both climbs, suffering.

The host and main speaker of Allmandinger's retirement event was Col. Scott Perry, our commander in Iraq.  Perry is also a U.S. Congressman.   Perry talked about how Allmandinger embodied Army Values all the time.  He is right.  I worked in the same office with both men for several months.  If Joel has a weakness, I never saw it.  And I certainly saw the dark side of many people during deployment.

As tough and self controlled as Allmandinger is, it was also clear when he was angry.  Most of the time I worked for him, he called me Neil.  But at Annual Training in 2013 at Fort AP Hill in Virginia, I screwed up and he let me know it.  I rode 300 miles on the bike in the eight days we were there taking pictures of training all across the 76,000 acres of hills and forest.  Among all that space was one strip of several hundred acres that is restricted.  I rode across that strip to take pictures of a refueling site.

As I rode across a Blackhawk helicopter flew overhead.  Less than an hour later, I got a seven-second message that is still on my cell phone in the archive that said, "Sergeant Gussman, this is your battalion commander. Call me when you get this message."  His voice was calm, but my only thought was "Oh shit!!!"  No doubt now who was flying that Blackhawk.

When I called back, he said he was both angry that I had ridden in the restricted area, and jealous because I got to ride and he didn't.  But he did not stop me from riding to take more pictures.  Many military leaders take one guy's mistake and make a policy to prevent something that will never happen again, just to cover their own butts.  Not him.  The mission really did come first in Virginia as well as in Iraq.

When Colonel Allmandinger spoke at his retirement ceremony, he thanked people from his entire career, from his time as a cadet to right now.  Toward the end of his speech, he said he was going to mention more people.  As I sat in the back of the room he said, "Sergeant Neil Gussman challenged me as an athlete, both in the Army and in civilian life."


That was up there with the best compliments I have ever received.  He is one of the toughest soldiers I have ever served with, always among the best in any Army fitness challenge and great on the bike and a Tough Mudder.

Thanks, Sir!  I hope you don't miss military life too much.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Racing in Two Hours

In just over two hours I will be riding the first of two races at the National Senior Games in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  As fart as I know, I am the only current soldier participating in the games:  the minimum age to participate is 50.

I rode the course yesterday with my daughter Lisa.  My sons and I are staying with Lisa in Minneapolis where she is in grad school.

She is at her office now, but will be at the race with my sons.  Because participants FAR outnumber spectators at amateur bicycle races, I will most likely have the biggest cheering section at the game and the loudest.  Some of the riders will have a spouse on the sidelines, but they won't be yelling like my kids.

Yesterday when Lisa and I rode the course, we were talking about the corners, the other riders, where the attacks might come, how strange races are when there are no teams, and all of the specifics that are the conversation of racers.  Lisa raced bicycles form age 4 to 14 and was racing with women when she switched to cross country from bicycling.  Even ten years after her last race, she talks about racing and racing culture like she is still in the peleton.  Former players are the best fans.

Time to go and warm up.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Historians of Science Eat MREs

My Next Race on DVIDS

My next race is at the National Senior Games on the Defense Video and Image Distribution System, DVIDS, here.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Miser-Mom on Detecting Lies

My lovely wife Miser-Mom has a blog that could not be more different from mine.  She talks about frugal living and raising kids.  Today's post talks about a book she read and applied called "Spy the Lie" on how to extract the truth from terrorists, criminals and, as it turns out, teenage boys.  And excellent post on and excellent book is here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dad's Last Fist Fight

This year I am the age my Dad was when he fought and won his last fist fight.  And on Friday of this week, my adopted son Jacari will follow in Dad's very large footsteps taking his first boxing lesson at Nye's Gym in Lancaster.

George Gussman was 62 years old on the summer day of his last fight.  He was a working foreman at the grocery warehouse for the Purity Supreme supermarket chain.  They had dozens of stores in New England in the 60s and 70s.  I am sure they have been bought and sold many times since.

On that day, I was also working in the warehouse.  I was 15 years old and had been working summers and Saturdays since I was 12, sweeping floors and cleaning garbage out from the truck and train loading docks.

On that afternoon I was on the west end of the warehouse cleaning out the area where the freight cars unloaded.  On the opposite end of the three-acre building in Charlestown, Massachusetts, near Sullivan Square, was the truck loading dock.  I had not cleaned the garbage there yet.  School just got out for summer, and cleaning dozens of truck and train docks of months of dropped groceries and produce was a job of many weeks--job security.

So I was a quarter mile away under a freight car when a 30-year-old driver from Texas walked up to the Receiver and said he had waited long enough and he was unloading next.  The big Texan, complete with a white cowboy hat shoved the Receiver.  One of the two hundred-plus warehouse workers ran and got my Dad.  The janitor I worked for could sense trouble and ran to get me.

Dad was a middleweight boxer when he was in his 20s and pitched for the Reading Phillies.  He was one of the toughest guys among those two hundred Teamsters.  I saw none of what happened next, but heard roughly similar accounts from at least a dozen guys.

Dad walked up to the angry Texan and said, "What's the problem here?" The Receiver was my Dad's age and had a heart condition.  At that time, a heart condition meant staying calm, or you die.

The Texan looked at my Dad and said, "What is this, a retirement home?  Look you old bastard, I'm unloading next or I'll kick both your asses."

Dad stepped closer.  The Texan took a swing.  He missed.  Dad hit him somewhere between five and 100 times (I think ten was the most agreed upon number) and knocked him flat on the loading platform.  The platforms were hinged and tilted down.  By all accounts Dad shoved the Texan with his foot and rolled him off the platform into the garbage I had not cleaned yet.

Dad stood over him, threw his hat down and said, "You'll wait your fucking turn.  Get back in line."  Then Dad turned and walked away.  I saw him walk back to work.  When he was out of sight, a dozen guys came up to me and said, "Did you see that?  Your Dad kicked his ass."

Now that I am the age my Dad was for his last fight, I remember how much I wanted to be as tough as him all the time I was growing up.  I wanted to be a soldier because Dad was a soldier.

Dad was tough to the end.  Three years later at 65 he started his last and longest fight.  Dad had brain tumor, probably from multiple concussions.  He had had his nose broken four times.  The operation that followed nearly killed him, but he recovered and lived another twelve years.

Saved from a Skunk by a Range Official

During Annual Training 2013 at Fort AP Hill, Virginia, we had convoys travel across the post that got hit by simulated roadside bombs.  Above is one of the pictures of a "roadside bomb" going off.  The technician setting up and setting off the munitions was a retired infantry sergeant working as a technician.

During the eight days I was at AP Hill I rode almost 300 miles on my bicycle going from convoy to MEDEVAC to Air Assault taking pictures and collecting information for stories.

The day after this picture, I came up behind the munitions technician on the main road through AP Hill.  He was in his big, white pickup truck.  I was catching up to him, which was strange.  When I got near, he frantically waved me off the road.  Just ahead, waddling out of the woods was a fat skunk.  I could have gotten close enough to get sprayed if he had not signaled.  I slowed, waved and took off in the other direction.

Riding on post is definitely something I will miss when I leave the Army.  On post, everyone gives me plenty of room and even signals for skunks!!  The rest of the world mostly hates bicycles, but on post we are treated like real humans, especially when riding in uniform.  Most of the 300 miles I was in camouflage.