Monday, December 5, 2016

Drill Sergeants and Recruiters: Enemies Forever!

Drill Sergeants and Recruiters:  Enemies Forever!

In popular culture around the world, drill sergeants or training sergeants are powerful and terrifying. 

Recruiting sergeants, on the other hand, are the sales reps of the military: deceptive, pliable, apt to promise much and deliver little. 

These two types of sergeants are in permanent conflict, but the real power, surprisingly, is on the side of the smiling recruiter, not the screaming drill sergeant. 

The job of recruiters is to fulfill their quota of new soldiers, the raw material the drill sergeant then turns them into the soldiers who will be the army for the months and years to come.  

For the drill sergeant to do the best job, the recruiter should entice fit, smart, eager, aggressive teenagers well brought up by loving parents.  These new soldiers will be mentally and physically ready to become the best soldiers on the planet, striving with each other to be the best at running, shooting, studying, cleaning and crawling through the mud.

This ideal situation very occasionally happens, such as in the first months after America declared war on Japan and Germany in 1941.  Many of the best young men in country from the very poor to the very rich signed up before they were drafted.  Those drafted, for the most part, did not resist the draft and these brave young men defeated Germany and Japan within less than four years.

Take away the draft and the recruiter has to entice soldiers to enlist.  In an eternal truth of military recruiting in free countries, the better the economy, the harder the recruiter’s job.  Currently, the U.S. economy is good enough that the military is advertising enlistment bonuses.  I read an article earlier this year about the Army relaxing height and weight standards and adding more training to slim overweight soldiers down.  On Facebook recently, I saw a recruiter passing the word that if you did not pass the aptitude test, contact him, there may be a waiver.

For recruiters, the lower standards are, the more bodies they get in the bus for basic training.  

Drill sergeants then have to take whoever steps off the bus and turn them into soldiers.  Lower standards mean they spend more time trying push the bad soldiers up to the level of barely acceptable when they could be making the good soldiers better.  

When I re-enlisted at age 54 in 2007, the Army raised its maximum enlistment age from 35 to 42, which meant I could get back in with eleven years prior service and a one-year waiver.  By 2010, the Army changed the age back to 35.  It turns out enlisting over 40 does not work out for most people.  

At the same time, the Army relaxed some of its education, aptitude and criminal standards because recruiting was so difficult in the good economy of 2007.  By 2010, the economy sucked and recruiting was easier.  

When recruiters met their quotas with old and less qualified recruits, the drill sergeants had to deal with pushing people who should not be there through their training schedule.

Eventually, lower standards entering the military mean lower standards in the military.  When my Army National Guard unit mobilized for Iraq 40% of the soldiers flunked the fitness test.  That is crazy.

When I saw that the Army might accept lower aptitude scores, that was really scary.  The cut-off score now is 31 on a scale of 160.  The aptitude score roughly correlates with IQ scores.  Can 31 really be acceptable? Can LOWER than 31 be acceptable?  I don't think so.  

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Does the Economy Suck? My Army/Civilian Pay Comparison Says YES!

In the early 1983, I was a 30-year-old Army Reserve tank commander and a dock worker at Yellow Freight Systems in Lancaster, Pa.  For a drill weekend, I earned $180.  At Yellow Freight I earned $12/hour with full medical, dental and even retirement if I had stayed longer.

Thirty years later in 2013, I was an Army National Guard sergeant and earned $360 for a drill weekend.  My Army pay had doubled.  Yellow Freight's Lancaster terminal closed years ago.  But similar work in the Lancaster area pays $12/hour with fewer or no benefits.

In the 1980s, major trucking companies employed thousands of workers to transfer freight from one truck to another.  Computers now consolidate freight in a way that needs far less handling and far fewer workers.

Most of the soldiers I served with in the 68th Armor in 1983 had blue collar jobs and earned a decent living, as I did, with their hands and backs.

Many of the soldiers I served with in the Army National Guard 30 years later were unemployed or underemployed. Some had volunteered for multiple deployments to get a year of full-time benefits and full-time pay.

By 1985, I had finished college and had a white collar job at Godfrey Advertising.  I think the economy has been nothing but wonderful all of my life.  I made a $1.60/hour for my first full-time job selling toys at Sears in Burlington, Mass.  When I enlisted in the Army, I earned $283/month.  By the time I left active duty in 1979 as a sergeant, my base pay was $5,000/year.  When I was in Iraq in 2009 my pay at the same rank had almost quadrupled.

When I started at Godfrey Advertising I was making just under $20,000/year. Twenty years later I was a consultant with a six-figure income.

But the blue collar workers I worked with before I entered the professional world are making the same or less now than they did in the 80s, and with less job security.  In the middle of the 20th century into the 80s, the American economy allowed almost everybody to make a living.  Today's economy is skewed to the educated.

When I got back from Iraq in 2010, the state of Pennsylvania gave every returning soldier six months of medical care.  They did it because half the soldiers returning from deployment had no medical coverage when they left active duty.

Capitalism pays for what it values.  It is clear that 21st century America does not value blue collar workers.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

Deer Pays Tuition for a Semester at Penn State

1976 Chrysler Newport, 2-door with 400 CI V8 engine.

The first deer I killed in Pennsylvania payed a full semester's tuition for me at Penn State Harrisburg.

When I left the Army in 1979, I needed a car.  High gas prices made gas guzzler used cars ridiculously cheap.  So I bought the car in the picture above for $800.  This 22-foot-long, six-passenger car got 9 milers per gallon in town, maybe 17 on the highway at 55mph on cruise control.

A year after I bought it, I was driving north on PA Route 230 at night when a deer jumped from the side of the road into the path of my two-ton car.  The white-tailed doe flipped into the air.

I stopped as fast as I could and walked back to the carcass.  Within a minute, a blue pickup truck pulled of the road and stopped ten feet from the deer and I.  Two big guys in coveralls got out.  They looked at the deer, looked at me and said, "You want that?"

"No," I said.

The one on the right picked up the deer, carried it to the bed of the truck and tossed it in.  The guy on the left nodded, walked back to the truck, climbed in, and they drove away.

The next morning I took the car to the local Chrysler dealer.  They gave me an estimate for $710 for cracked plastic and chrome on the right side, plus a damaged headlight mount.  Insurance pays in full for collisions with deer.  I replaced and aimed the headlight, used duct tape to repair the body damage, and used the insurance money to pay for most of my $850 tuition the following trimester.

You could say I paid deerly.......

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Oh Deer! Another Hunting Season Story: Skinning a Deer in Missile Test Bay

Sometimes the best tool for a job is a tool that is not yours.  So you borrow it.  That’s why the first time I skinned a deer was in a U.S. Air Force missile test bay on Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah. 

Four miles north of the main area of the base was the missile test facility on Hill.  We had equipment to shake, bake, heat, freeze, and simulate high altitude.  We stressed missile engines (not warheads) then test fired the engine bolted to racks.  The smaller missiles, like the Sidewinder, we fired right on post.  When we fired one of the three engines of the three-stage Minuteman missile, we fired on a range on the west side of the Great Sale Lake. 

To shake, we called it vibration test, the missile engines we used a 300,000-watt electro magnet—essentially a really big speaker driver.  Bolt an engine to this vibration machine and it could be shaken back and forth, up and down, left to right fast or slow, soft or hard, smoothly or with jerks.  Then we fired the missile on a test pad to see if the vibration broke it.

To hook the missiles to the electromagnet we used a crane on a beam running the length of the test bay. 

One Monday morning we were waiting to see the week’s tests when Sgt. Robert Reineccius whispered for two of us to give him a hand.  We went outside and followed the sergeant across the sand to the vibration test building.  Before sun up, Reineccius had backed his pickup truck into the bay, hooked the deer he bagged that weekend to the crane and pulled the carcass all the way up.  Our job was to skin the huge, stinking carcass before work started so he could drop the deer carcass back and the truck and cover it with a tarp. 

The deer was impressive: a 12-point buck he bagged in the mountains, which was why he needed a crane.

He really wanted that skin in one piece.  So we climbed up on the test bed and started pulling from the inside of the thighs where Reineccius had already slit the skin.  We pulled and twisted and pulled some more. After twenty tiring minutes, the skin was on the test bay floor and the sergeant was lowering the deer back into his Chevy pickup. 

Reineccius covered the animal with a tarp.  He would drive to the butcher at lunchtime, but he had the skin now. Back in the 70s military, enlisted men did whatever sergeants told them, even skinning a deer first thing Monday morning.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gutting a Deer in the Driveway in 1980

Today, my kids are home from school because in Pennsylvania, school is closed on the first day of deer season.  I grew up in Boston and spent most of my seven years on active duty in the western United States or in West Germany.  In those places, deer hunting was something you did away from towns and cities, often quite far away because the deer were up in the mountains. Or you just could not hunt close to populated areas.

In Pennsylvania, the city and borough lines are sometimes where the hunting begins.
After I left active duty in November 1979, I lived in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.  My apartment was two blocks from the eastern edge of the E-town marked by the PA Route 743 South. 

One day, I got home from work at noon.  As I went up the outside stairs, my neighbor across the alley, Jimmy, drove into his driveway with hooves sticking out of the trunk of his Ford Falcon.  I stopped and looked.

He jumped from the car and yelled, “Gimme a hand, Guss.  I have to gut this thing.”  He pulled a big blue plastic sheet from his garage.  The sheet had brass eyelets so I assumed it was some kind of shelter.

Jimmy spreads out the sheet, then pulled the deer from the trunk.  Jimmy dropped the six-point buck with a headshot, so the body was intact.  Jimmy slit open the deer’s abdomen and we started pulling out entrails.  We shoved the organs and entrails into a plastic bag then put the deer and the bag back in the trunk of the Falcon.  Jimmy sprayed the blood off the plastic sheet with a hose then hung it over his fence to dry. 

While we cleaned up, Jimmy said he saw the deer in a field south of route 743 about 100 yards from the road. He pulled off the road onto the edge of the road.  The deer was in West Donegal Township, so he could shoot.  He leaned on the roof of the Falcon and dropped the deer with one round.  Then he dragged the deer across the field and drove straight home.

The whole job took about ten minutes, then Jimmy was off to the butcher.  I started back up the stairs.  Jimmy had hosed off my hands and wrists, but I need to take a shower and get the blood off my shirt in cold water.  Then I needed to do my homework for the next day’s class.

Being a good neighbor in Pennsylvania was different than in Boston.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sergeant Bambi Killer: Nicknames Happen as Fast as Machine Gun Fire

From 1982 to 1984 I was a Staff Sergeant and tank section leader in Alpha Company, 6th Battalion, 68th Armor.  For the last few months I was in that unit, I was "Sergeant Bambi Killer."

In the 80s, Army Reserve tank units fired twice a year.  We had a full tank gunnery at Annual Training and a three-day weekend tank gunnery at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., in the fall.

We fired both day and night on these ranges.  In 1983, I was the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge) of the range for night fire.  At dusk on that October evening, I was in the tower above the range.  Below the tower, our 17 tanks were lined up fender to fender waiting to test fire their machine guns before night fire.  The crews got to check their guns in the fading light before firing at night with searchlights, both white light and infrared.

Each of the 17 tanks had 50 rounds for the M-85, .50-caliber machine gun and 50 rounds for the M240 coaxial "coax" machine gun next to the main gun.

As the light faded I gave the command from the tower to lock and load one 50-round belt of ammo for each gun.  The targets were between 500 and 1200 meters away, clusters of olive-drab panels on stakes driven into the muddy ground.

I checked the range, picked up the loudspeaker microphone and said, "Ready on the right. Ready on the left. The range is ready. You may fire when ready."  As I said the last words, a white-tailed doe jumped out of the woods and hopped into the middle of the 500-meter targets.

It seemed that all of the 340 tracers in 1,700 rounds of ammo converged on the spot where the white-tailed deer hopped into the middle of the targets.

I called "Cease Fire" less than a minute later, but there was no need. Each of the machine guns on an M60A1 tank can fire 50 rounds in 5 seconds. Everyone had expended ammo.  The deer disappeared and I was Sergeant Bambi Killer for the rest of my time in 68th Armor.  In the Army, nicknames can happen as fast as machine gun fire.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Movie Review: "Prisoner of the Mountains" "Кавказский пленник"

Last night I watched the 1996 movie "Prisoner of the Mountains" loosely based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy called "Prisoner of the Caucuses." We read an abridged version of the story in Russian for the Russian class I am taking and watched the movie for the class.  

The movie is set during the bloody Chechen War of the mid 1990s shortly after the Soviet Union had collapsed. This is not an action movie in the American mold: no special effects, no big explosions.  But the relationship between the main characters is as good as I have seen in a war movie.  The captured career sergeant and draftee private are the center of the film.  Sasha, the sergeant, maintains his authority throughout their capture.  Even when they are chained together and facing death, Sasha lies to the young recruit Vanya in a way that made me laugh out loud.    

The movie also gets right the experience of an Army made up of draftee soldiers led by career soldiers.  The tension between those who love the Army and those who hate the Army never goes away, but both soldiers can be equally brave facing death.  Near the end of the movie, Sasha and Vanya escape.  Sasha kills a shepherd to get his gun.  Shortly after they are recaptured because of a mistake by Vanya.  Sasha admits killing the shepherd and walks to his death, allowing Vanya to live. Later Vanya has a chance to escape again, but refuses when it would risk the life of a Chechen girl.

The relationship between Sasha and Vanya makes this movie well worth watching.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This is My Shit: Why Army Language Makes Sense

While I was in Iraq, I wrote about the word Shit as a pronoun. The post is here. Earlier today I was reading a book called The Zone by Sergei Dovlatov about life in Russian prison camps. Dovlatov wrote about a prisoner correcting a new camp guard about the guard's improper use of the word fuck.

When I wrote in 2009, it was about the difference in how soldiers use shit and bitch as a pronoun.  In that post, I noted that anything that will fit on a bunk is shit.  Anything larger is a bitch.

But I neglected the reason for the use of these pronouns.  From the moment a young soldier begins the process of enlisting, she is showered with acronyms and awash in the Latin-derived words of government bureaucracy.  Normal human beings cannot hear and retain hundreds of opaque new words and terms, so each soldier remembers a few new terms and for the rest says, "The sergeant told me some shit I was supposed to remember."

Then the soldier actually goes to basic training.  On the first day, soldiers file through supply and receive uniforms, boots, underwear, belts, packs, duffel bags, insignia, name tags, a helmet, and hundreds more bits of gear, large and small. These items could be identified by the nouns in the last sentence, but they are not.  The camouflage uniform is ACU: Army Combat Uniform.  The helmet is ACH: Advanced Combat Helmet. The belt and pouches for ammo and other equipment is our LBE: Load Bearing Equipment.  Our dress uniform is the ASU: Army Service Uniform.

When we were training for Iraq, our first sergeant would yell, "Line up outside in five minutes! ACH, LBE and weapon! Move!" My sleep-fogged brain would rebel and I would think as I pulled on my ACU pants, 'Why not call it a fucking helmet!'

For the 18-year-old, or the 56-year-old, hit with a blizzard of opaque terms the response is to identify ownership until we learn all the terms and think the Kevlar hemisphere on our heads is an ACH, not a helmet.  So we point to a pile of gear and say, "This is my shit." or  "That's your shit."

Later when the soldier is assigned a vehicle, a large-caliber weapon, or other piece of equipment that won't fit on a bunk or in a duffel bag, he will say, "That bitch is mine." I said that of my first Jeep.  A Jeep in the army could not be just a Jeep. It was a Truck, 1/4th Ton, Cargo.  Four decades later the Jeep's replacement was a Humvee or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, HMMWV.

Either way, when I had a vehicle I could say, "That bitch was mine, I'm throwing my shit in it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Obama Will Take Our Guns

The 28th Combat Aviation Brigade mobilized for Iraq in January of 2009.  My battalion flew to Fort Sill for training at the end of the month, just a week after the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.  From the time we mobilized in Oklahoma to our demobilization in 2010 in Fort Dix, New Jersey, I heard earnest soldiers who were sure that "Obama will take our guns while we are deployed."

These devotees of Glenn Beck, Alex Jones and other batshit purveyors of lies on the right had emails from the NRA proving confiscation was imminent.

And now just 2,850 days later, President Obama has just 70 days left to send thousands of United Nations black helicopters swooping down from Canada to the homes of gun owners across America and begin the tyranny he planned all along.  Because as a Kenyan socialist, Barack Obama's plan all along was to turn America into a socialist state.

It is sadly funny in retrospect.  Among Obama's failures are his years of thinking he could work with Republicans and believing he could bring together a nation simmering with with race hatred.  And now one of the chief racists of the right has an office in the White House.  Steve Bannon of brought the views of the Alt-Right into the mainstream and now he has an office next to the Oval Office. It's not like Bannon's views conflict with the President Elect.  Trump brought the Birther movement into prominence in 2011 and rode that cancerous horse to the White House.  Every Birther is a racist.  Denying the legitimacy of the Presidency based on made-up bullshit can have no basis but racism.

The Republicans fought President Obama from Day One of his presidency and the conservative media spread endless lies about him, like the one that is the subject of this post.  I am going to mark Sunday, November 13, 2016, as the first day of the end of American democracy.  Steve Bannon has an office in the White House and an agenda of hate, and I plan to fight it in every way I can.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Riding in 2017--A Story

“Shane, Shane is right as rain,” Shane sang to himself as he drove north on Pennsylvania Route 74 from York.  He saw dark clouds to the north. He was driving Grandpap’s ’74 Chevy C10 Stepside pickup truck listening to President Trump talk about how he was going to get all the Mexicans out of the country.  The old truck only had an AM radio. That was fine with Shane.  Trump was on WHP-AM.  Really, he was on every station now.

“Shane is right as rain,” he sang to the open windows on this April afternoon.  All those Lib’ral bitches that made fun of him weren’t laughing now.  Trump was Making America Great Again and Shane was part of it.  He was on his way to a Klan rally in Grantham.  Christians can’t be Lib’rals and they were going to march across the Messiah College campus and let them know what’s what. Shane dropped out of York Area High School.  Shane knew Trump would put all those college bitches in their place.

“Here’s a Trigger Warning bitches!” he said as he patted the AR15 in the rack behind his head.  He kept on singing. Shane called his AR15 an M4 because Shane should have been a soldier.  He tried to enlist but they turned him down.  The Jews made up the intelligence test he flunked and the bitches at the recruiting station said he needed to lose about 100 pounds.  What did they know?  He could shoot.  He could fight. 

The old six-cylinder engine clattered with knock from cheap gas and old age as Shane started up the first hill north of York.  Ahead riding on the shoulder was a guy on a bicycle.  “Faggots wear bike shorts,” Shane said to himself.  As he got near the bicyclist he moved gently right hitting the rider on the shoulder with his mirror.  Shane then laid on the air horn he installed himself and yelled “Faggot!” laughing as he drove away.

The bicyclist stayed upright and kept pedaling. 

Just past the crest of the next long hill, Shane pulled off the road and parked well off the shoulder.  He grabbed his rifle, slid his overall-clad form from the driver’s seat and walked to a pine tree just past the crest of a hill.  He dropped to the ground and wiggled his plus-size body under the tree.  He settled down in the pine needles, his massive midsection puddling out on either side of his body.  He could see well down the hill to the south.  Shane turned the switch on the battlesight.  The red dot inside the sight glowed faintly.  He watched as the lone bicyclist pedaled smoothly up the long hill.  When the bike was 200 meters away Shane listened for traffic.  Hearing none, he set the magazine on the patch of dirt he cleared in the pine-needle covered ground.  Shane put his right cheek on the collapsible stock, put the red dot in the middle of rider’s chest, flipped the safety to Fire and squeezed the trigger. 

The rider collapsed on the handlebars.  His legs wobbled.  His right foot twisted out of the cleated pedal, but the left foot stayed locked in.  The bike swerved left and fell.  He was dead before he hit the ground.  Shane rolled out from under the pine tree flipped the lever on his weapon to Safe and walked as quickly as he could back to Grandpap’s C10. 

“Shane is right as rain,” the unemployed Trump supporter said softly and smiled as he returned the rifle to the rack in the rear window.  “One round, one dead faggot,” he said louder as he started the old truck.  Shane looked left, signaled and rolled down the hill toward the Klan rally. 

Five minutes later an ambulance sped past to the south.  “Don’t need no ambulance,” said Shane as he watched the red lights blaze.  “Bicycles don’t belong on the damn road in Trump America,” he said to his open window. 

As he pulled off the road near the Messiah College campus, Shane saw dozens of Klansmen with their hoods off looking at their phones.  Shane grabbed his sheet and locked the door to the truck.  He walked over to a group of men and heard one of them say, “Shot dead.  A fucking General in the Army National Guard.  The real fucking deal.”  Shane started to ask, then decided to just listen.  Shane had no money for smartphone so he had no idea what they were talking about.  After a few minutes it became clear that the “faggot” he shot was General Pete Stevens, one of the most Conservative Congressmen in America.  Trump loved the guy.  Pete was an Apache pilot. He fought in Iraq. 

“Shit,” Shane said to himself as he slipped away from the group and walked back toward his truck.  “Ain’t right a General should ride a bike. Ain’t my fault.” He climbed in his truck and stared at sheet-clad men staring at their phones on the field in front of him.  He put the key in the ignition, then took it out again.  ‘Cops won’t come here,’ he thought to himself.  ‘Best I just do what I came to do.’

Shane swung his legs left and slid from the seat.  He pulled his sheet on and the hood and walked back to the group. “Shane is right as rain,” he said to himself as he joined the hooded horde.