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Showing posts from January, 2010

In Today's Sunday News

Jon Rutter wrote the final article about my Army adventure in today's Lancaster Sunday News (Local Section, Page 1)
Photos here

On the home front

Neil Gussman returns from Iraq, where he served the country in myriad roles, including base communicator.

Neil Gussman is back from the Army, at 56.

The Lancaster businessman has returned home after two years away from everyday midlife.

"Boy," the nontraditional sergeant quipped earlier this month, "it seems like I've been gone forever."

The military experience was rich, if sometimes exasperating, he added. And it was a lot different from his 12-year Army hitch that ended more than 25 years ago.

Back then Gussman was, among other things, a tank commander in Germany.

His more recent sojourn with the 104th General Services Aviation Brigade's Echo Company was covered in a series of Sunday News stories spanning nearly 2½ years. It included combat training at Fort Indiantown Gap and Fort Sill, Okla., followed by a 12-month …

Back to Work

Before returning to work on Tuesday, I had a couple of articles to finish. On Thursday I finished an article for On Patrol: The Magazine of the USO writing on the train to and from New York. Last night I was writing my next column for "We're History" in Chemical Engineering Progress magazine. I am revising it now as the clock strikes midnight and will be up for another hour.
(Update through the magic of internet revision, I was up till 2:30am rewriting to include an explanation of why snails have blue blood.)
So I really am back to work--writing about weird topics at weird hours.

An Old Friend's View of an Old Soldier

On the way home from New York City Thursday night, I called Abel Lopez, one of my two best friends from when I was on active duty in the 1970s. If I haven't mentioned him before, Abel left active duty in 1978, a year before I did. He was the commander of the tank next to mine in Bravo Company 1-70th Armor in Wiesbaden. We talked a lot about faith and about life, the universe and everything when we served together and have kept the conversation up for past 32 years.

Abel and I seldom see each other, but talk every month or two about our current views of the same things we talked about back in Germany. He went home to Chula Vista in San Diego County and became a Federal Fire Fighter. He recently retired from the fire department.

I talked to Abel on the 100-mile drive from Trenton to Lancaster, from just over the Pennsylvania line to my driveway. If you think it is wrong to talk on a cell phone while driving you should stop reading now.

Anyway, the first thing Abel asked when I …

Adjusting to Beauty

Adjusting to being back "in the world" is an odd process with stops and starts. Today I was in New York. I drove to Trenton then hopped on a train and got to spend the day with several different interesting people. That part was just fine. But since these people were in different parts of the city I had several views of this vibrant metropolis.

The most jarring was the Brooklyn Bridge. I took the Park Street line to one of the most beautiful bridges in the world. I walked up the middle on the tourist path. There was a point where those cables sweep up in a beautiful arc--it is where the group of walkers are clustered on the right of the path in the photo above. At that point of the bridge I looked up along those cables. The sky was perfectly blue, not a cloud in sight. It was cold. The wind was blowing straight across the bridge deck at more the 20mph. The flag above the bridge pointed straight north.

I stopped and stared up for a long time. I walked a little fu…

Liars and the Dentist

Today I went to my own dentist for a check up and cleaning. They had a cancellation so I got in right away. As she was getting ready to clean my teeth the hygienist asked why I had not been in for more than a year after getting regular check ups. I told where I had been and she said, "That's the first excuse I have heard in a long time that I believe."

Then she asked me about how the war was going, but since she was cleaning my teeth while she asked, she answered her own question. "You never get the real story from the media. They just say what they want to. They make it up."

When she took a break I said I thought the media had a very tough job. "Many people they deal with are lying, shading the truth, and making things up. Reporters have to figure out what part of the things they say are true and why they are saying them. It would be like having patients who walked into your office, smiled and denied they had teeth. Or walked in with a broken toot…

Adjusting to Life at Home

Yesterday on the training ride there is a place where we usually slow down as we turn from State Highway 441 onto a narrow road with a creek on one side and a steep tree-covered hill on the other. The hill is dark all the way up to a north-south ridge so if there is any sun it is bright on the top of the ridge and dark all the way down to where we ride the road. Just after we turned onto this road Matt Hollenbach said, "Neil, look up there, three deer, no four." I looked and there they were, right on the ridge line standing parallel to the road.

They were back-lit, standing still and silhouetted from their hooves to their horns. They could not be better targets if they wore orange vests with bulls-eyes. What I should have seen was how beautiful nature is here compared to the dust, rock and vermin that is nature in southern Iraq. But as I looked at the deer and the afternoon sun and the trees, my first thought was "Get off the ridge you idiots! One shot and you a…

Back to Training Rides

On Friday I wrote about my first ride back with the daily ride crew. Today I rode farther and faster than on Friday. On the Friday ride at mile 20 my voice was gone and I was crawling up the hills. Today I rode fast enough to sort of keep up while the regular guys rode slower than usual. But even on the last nasty hill into Millersville I rode to the top of the hill steadily.

It will be a long time before I overcome a year of flat riding and get in shape for climbing hills. One additional incentive for me to get in shape for the coming season is a change in the age group divisions. For years the age groups have been even decades: 30+, 40+, 50+ and occasionally 60+. Next year the ages will be 35+, 45+ and 55+. I am 57, so I will be only two years older than the youngest guys in the race, not seven years older. So I won't be the old guy completely at the back of the pack. I might do OK in some races.

Combat Patch

One of the best things that happened to me in Iraq was covered under OPSEC until now. It would not seem like a secret, but we are in the process of being allowed to wear the combat patch of the 1st Armored Division. 4th Brigade of 1AD is in charge of the garrison at Tallil Ali Air Base/Camp Adder.
When I served the last time I was a tank gunner in 1975 and a tank commander from 1976 to 1984. Although I was in tanks, I was assigned to mechanized infantry divisions so I always wore an infantry unit patch, never an armored patch. Now I can wear the 1st AD patch on my right sleeve. So after all these years, serving with an aviation unit in Iraq finally got me the opportunity to wear an armor patch. I wrote about the connection between 1AD and my unit on December 22 & 23.
I already got a price for a tattoo. I have seen people get a unit patch tattoo on their arm where the patch would be on the uniform. But I am a bike racer. If I get the tattoo it will be in the middle of my…

Welcome Home Party

This afternoon was my Welcome Home party. In addition to my family, friends from work showed up--driving all the way from New Jersey in the case of Shelley Geehr and her family. Sarah Reisert made the long drive from Philadelphia. Jan Felice, Jim Pomeroy, Keith McIlhenney, and Scott and Barb Haverstick were here representing the bicycling side of my life. Several members of the math department at Franklin and Marshall College (including Arny and Tracy Feldman who provided the snacks) were here along with bicyclist and college president John Fry. Bruce and Carol Mawhinney and the whole LeDuc family along with the Whites, Eric and Lina Bierker, and Leslie Bustard from Wheatland Presbyterian Church. All my daughters came home from college so the house was very full.

At 6pm my wife disappeared upstairs to listen to Prairie Home Companion. I took the kids to Starbucks and then to the train station to put Iolanthe on the train back to Bryn Mawr. Reviving an old tradition Lauren, Lisa…

First Ride Back in Lancaster

Today I slept late (almost 9 am) just because I could. Then I pumped up the tires on my "A" race bike (Trek Madone) and started doing errands--all of which cost varying amounts of money because Uncle Sam is no longer providing everything for my life and well being. First I re-registered my car and insured it. $71 for registration, $1003 for insurance. Then I jump started my very dead car and drove it to Firestone. It needed brakes and a new ignition switch and some other stuff that came to $800.

After that I took a break from spending money and did the Friday training ride with Scott Haverstick and Jan Felice. Jan shot the photo of Scott and I on the ride. We did the usual 29-mile winter loop. At the end I could barely talk. Scott and Jan were not even breathing hard. It was great to be back. They even let me win the coasting race. Actually Scott lost 20 pounds during this year which will make him even faster up hills, but at least I will be able to beat him on …

Beyond the Fort Dix Gate

I am writing this post in mid-afternoon in Philadelphia train station. I just got off the train from Trenton and am on the way to Lancaster. During the 90-minute wait between trains I am sitting in Cosi using free wireless internet that actually works--for several minutes on end. After 30 minutes I had to reboot my computer for internet access. I think my computer has difficulty believing the internet can work for that long.

After the internet, I got on the train to Lancaster and came home. My wife met me at the station and took me on a tour of our renovated house. It really looks different.

We picked up Nigel at school. I helped him with his homework. After he takes a bath we will be going to out to dinner.

It is GREAT to be home!!!!

A Last Long Day

I was up b efore 7 this morning to finish copying files and putting together the last Task Froce Diablo Newsletter. I finished it at 9 tonight and got it approved by the commander and PAO and proofed by the commander's assistant. It was like being in Iraq again. Especially the length of the day. I got most of the photos copied. That's what I will be doing tomorrow, in addition to packing and cleaning my room.
It's getting very close to civilian life now. Att 11 am tomorrow my friend Meredith Gould will pick me up and take me to the Trenton train station. She will be keeping my New Jersey bike for me also. Amtrak doesn't want bikes on the train.
More tomorrow.

"There's a Good Reason Why You are In This Line for 4 Hours"

Today I went through another stage of out-processing. The particular task involved calculating the leave due me. This can be tricky for the soldiers who are full-time in the Guard or Reserve, but not so much for people me. I and almost everyone else used exactly 15 days of leave for the trip home and we get a total of 32.5 days for the time we served. So I continue on active duty for 17 days with benefits and they pay me for the half day. The process would have taken ten minutes, but my leave form was blurry, so it took 30.

But I waited 4 hours to get to the station where this ten-minute calculation was performed. I was sitting in the finance office waiting for several sergeants and civilians to discuss my faded leave form. I said to one of the finance clerks that I had not waited for anything in line for four hours during the 23 years I was a civilian. She started to explain why we were waiting--only four finance clerks, 170people in line, etc. I said it was not the reason th…

We are All Back in America

We are all here in New Jersey now. No more flights we can't talk about, we are in America. So whatever is left do we will do it here in America and then go home to Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Montana and wherever else people call home. The last plane arrived tonight at McGuire Air Force Base at 9pm. I was at the bottom of the ramp and got pictures of about 100 of the 170+ soldiers on the flight. It was much easier to shoot tonight for a variety of reasons.

1. Just about everyone on the plane was in our unit and from Pennsylvania so the VIPs shaking hands at the bottom of the ramp were all from PA. Last time there were VIPs from both PA and NJ. They formed parallel lines and the soldiers walked down the middle, so I could not shoot without someone's back to me.

2. I had only the flash on the camera which was not enough to shoot on the ramp--I know this now. I did not know it the first night.

3. A professional photographer from PA Headquarters shot video and …

Living in America

So what's it like to come back to America after being gone for most of a year? Part of it remains to be seen. I have not left the Fort Dix/McGuire Air Force Base complex yet, so I still have more to see and get used to. I suppose it is better to return slowly.

My first funny shock was the Taco Bell commercials, recommending the new Drive-Thru diet. Taco Bell has very funny commercials. What could be more American than the idea of a diet that you can do just sitting on your butt in your car!! And what could be more sneeringly American than to put the idea on TV for an audience that is drowning in flippancy.

This evening I saw a commercial for a healthy lifestyle diet plan. I don't remember which one it was, but all around the day room where the TV was playing mostly unwatched were men in their late 20s to mid 30s surrounded by pizza boxes and other delivery food containers. They were playing a video war game on line with each other. It was a beautiful day today, almost 5…

Who Fights This War? Operations Officer

Most people don’t know what they want to do with their lives till they are past their school years and into a career they don’t like. Some people know what they want to do all their lives. When Maj. Lee Hayes was just a kid growing up in Tyrone, Pa., he watched Chinook helicopters roar through the sky over his little town. He knew he wanted to be a soldier and he knew he wanted to fly.

Now 40 years old and completing his second deployment in which he served as Task Force Diablo’s operations officer, Hayes is a soldier, a pilot, and has his eye on his next assignment. Hayes commanded an attack helicopter company from 1998 to 2000 and is looking forward to his next command. If all goes well, he will command an aviation battalion. “Commander is the best job in the Army,” said Hayes. “This is my second deployment as a staff officer. I want my next deployment to be as a commander.”
Hayes joined the Pa. Guard at age 17 serving first as an infantryman while he attended The Pennsylvania…

Uncle Jack's Airplanes

F-4 Phantom II

KC-135 Tanker

My son and oldest daughter, Nigel and Lauren came to visit for a couple of hours last night. It was dark so we could not see the big transport planes on McGuire Air Force Base very well. But on the way over at traffic circle there is a static display of two planes Uncle Jack flew in the skies over Viet Nam: the F4 Phantom fighter plane and one of the original KC-135 refueling planes. I could tell Nigel how his Uncle Jack flew in both of these planes. Nigel judged the KC-135 as "really big" which it is when you are a 10-year-old walking underneath it and the F4 as "Awesome."

Both planes struck me as being very small. The KC-135 is based on the Boeing 707 airliner, which is long replaced by newer planes in most of the world. The F4 just sitting on a slab was also very small and very odd looking with its droopy tail and nose and angled surfaces.

It's still at least a week till I get home. I am in the Air Force library four mil…

Who Fights This War? -- Apache Longbow Pilot

Just When I Thought I Was Out... They Pull Me Back In

For the senior staff in Task Force Diablo, dinner at the Coalition DFAC was an event. It was often a big event with more than a dozen officers and NCOs sharing food and a lot of jokes and laughter. One oft-repeated themes was about Maj. Frank Tedeschi’s connection to ‘The Mob.’ Some of the staff members refers to him as The Tulip: the hitman (played by Bruce Willis) from the movie ‘The Whole Nine Yards.’

The Italian-American officer who flies an aircraft that is a gun with rotary wings, the AH-64 Apache Longbow, takes these jokes with good humor and hands many back himself. Part of the fun revolves around Tedeschi’s encyclopedic knowledge of Gangster movies. One of the lines he quotes often is from Godfather III (1990) when Michael Corleone says, “Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in.”
The jokes are even funnier for those who know that Tedeschi earned an bachelor of science degree in criminal justice at St. Jo…

Must Be Typewritten!!!!

Today I rode to the gate to fill out the paper required for each visitor. Two of my kids are coming to visit on Friday and a friend from work is coming here on Saturday. I rode the two miles to the visitor's center, walked inside and asked for the form. The officer behind the desk handed me a different form than the last time I was there. I asked for a pen. She said, "The form has to be typewritten." I made an exaggerated gesture for looking for a typewriter. "You need to put this information on a form and return it here typewritten or printed. No more handwritten forms. They are hard to read."

In case this sounds like a reasonable request, it is only a hardship to soldiers in transient barracks--the soldiers just going to or returning from Iraq. Soldiers assigned here can drive to the gate. Transient soldiers who walk two miles to the gate and find out the policy changed have to walk back, use the one printer per 100+ soldiers and walk or scrounge …

Who Fights This War? Military Intelligence Sergeant

During late summer this year, Staff Sgt. Timothy Opinaldo was part of a joint operation of intelligence analysts from Task Force Diablo and 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division to train and integrate Iraqi analysts. Together, they provided intelligence support for a joint operation pursuing and detaining insurgents.

For Opinaldo and the other members of Task Force Diablo, this joint operation trained their Iraqi counterparts in the American method of intelligence work, which is very different from the Iraqi model. The analysts and their counterpart unit, the 10th Iraqi Infantry Division, are trained for nine weeks. American analysts are trained for 18 weeks.

“Their army is officer-centric. An individual Iraqi analyst works on just one piece of a large intelligence project,” Opinaldo said. “The officer in charge controls the flow of information. He creates the picture from the pieces the individual analysts provide. In the American model, analysts keep the larger pict…

Real Frugality

Now that I am home from a year neck deep in socialism and spending way less money than is my usual habit, I have a better idea how much money I spend on life, the universe and everything. And I am already feeling guilty about how much I want to spend--not that it will slow me down much.

In Iraq I bought exactly two meals during the entire tour: two pizzas at Ciano's. The only money I spent was for phone cards, maybe $20 a month, Internet $88 per month, and one or two lattes each day at Green Beans, $150 per month, and books, maybe $15/month.

The standard by which I compare my profligate self is my frugal wife Annalisa who spends nearly nothing--except the occasional huge amount of money to be more energy efficient, like buying a Prius or renovating our house to insulate and air seal it, plus completely change how it looks. The house is beautiful and more energy efficient now.

During the year I was gone, our lovely new home had no TV in it. My son was already excited to see me th…

Catch 22

My Uncle Jack who served in Viet Nam responded to my post yesterday. Here's our messages:

Sgt. Nephew,
I feel your pain and I applaud that you have kept your daughters out of public schools, aka government indoctrination centers. That said, knowing you are a devoted reader and lover of literature I recommend the greatest anti-government/military book extant: Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. I'm also an avid reader but mostly on the surface level. I seldom look for the symbolism buried deeper in the text. It took me a couple of readings of Heller's book to realize he was using irony, if that's the right word, to illustrate the lunacy of government and especially the military. Rather than an expose' or an angry diatribe he used subtlety to insinuate his point without bludgeoning his readers. By doing so, he engaged a far larger audience and perhaps changed the minds of people who never suspected what he was up to. If you haven't read it, try it.

The movie all…

Welcome Home! Not So Much

All the time we were in Iraq and using internet at dial-up speeds we thought how great it was going to be to get back to America and have real high-speed internet. We would also have cell phones and text messages and voice mail and all of the lovely ways to keep in touch that we missed.

We are in the US. We are almost home. We have cell phones. There is high-speed internet--sometimes. The high temp today was 34, it will be 29 tomorrow. Our cell phones only work outside the barracks. We have been here at the transient barracks at Fort Dix for five days. The internet has been down for two full days and part of every other day.

I know I am bitching about very small things, but context is important. A dozen high-ranking officers and NCOs greeted us at the plane when we landed. I have no idea who they were. Many more will greet the rest of our unit as they arrive. Some of them will fly in from Montana, Connecticut, Illinois and other states or just drive from Pennsylvania. The…

Who Fights This War--Command Sergeant Major

Today's post is a guest post by the commander's assistant writing about the Task Force Diablo Command Sergeant Major.

By Specialist Andrea Torrano Magee

Command Sgt. Maj. Dell Christine has proudly served in the Army for twenty-nine years. He not only enforces uniform standards in Task Force Diablo, he embodies them. He understands the importance of leading soldiers by setting the example. Once around him for any length of time, one can note he is always sporting a fresh haircut and immaculate uniform. His standards don’t end with just adhering to uniform regulations.

He is a leader who encourages troops to do their best and succeed in whatever they do. He has learned throughout his career that friendship, safety, persistence, and perseverance are what help soldiers be leaders and complete the mission with success. He is not the typical Command Sergeant Major. When one thinks of a Command Sergeant Major, they think rough, gruff, steady, intimidating and tough. Although…

Who Fights This War? -- Me

My commander wrote about me for the latest issue of the newsletter. Thought you might like to read it.

By Lt. Col. Scott Perry
During a play in 1639, Cardinal Richelieu uttered the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He was certainly not the only to have this opinion, joining greats like Euripides, Shakespeare, and Thomas Jefferson. The sentiment has been germane through the ages, and the current era is no different.
Although serving in a Task Force consisting of awesome strength, firepower and mobility, it is a camera and computer that Sgt. Neil Gussman aims in order to shape the face of the modern battlefield. While bullets and brute force may subdue the most tenacious enemy, over the course of history, opinions, sentiments and perception have been used to greater affect in influencing kings, dynasties and nations. As an accomplished writer, this is something Neil Gussman knows well.
Even so, I had to ask myself, who is this world-influencing neo-gladius whose stories se…

From Sweating to Freezing

It certainly is cold here. When we left Iraq it was much cooler than when we arrived, but I was still riding in short sleeves. It was in the 70s on cool days, mid to high 80s on hot days. Here at Fort Dix it is below freezing except for about 5 hours in midday when it is just above freezing. If I were not so close to home I would be homesick for the creature comforts of Iraq. In Iraq the internet was slow but it worked. Here it is fast, but down more than it is up and that's with only a few of us using it. It will be permanently unusable when hundreds of us are here. And especially so because the on-line gamers will be back and hogging whatever bandwidth they can dominate. And because we are newly arrived in a new Army bureaucracy, I do not have government internet access, because everyone involved in the cooperative process of establishing access show who is in charge. So I can't do the work that I getting inquiries about from Iraq.

But enough bitching. I have alr…

Back in America--But not Home for 3 Weeks

Yesterday afternoon we landed in America. But I am not home yet. I and everybody else who is out processing from Iraq and Afghanistan cannot leave post until all the paperwork is done. I am in the advance group so we will be on Fort Dix for another three weeks.

But at least we are in America. It is nice to be in my home country even if I can't go home. The Army is a great place to learn patience--or to find out you can't.

This morning in the welcome before 7 1/2 hours of briefings, a colonel told us he thought he was ready to go back to civilian life after his first deployment in 2004. He returned to his job as a marketing manager for a large pharmaceutical company. In a meeting that was dragging on because everyone was waiting for someone else to do something, he stood up and said, "Enough, it's time to make a God-damned decision." He decided to be full time in the Army after that.

I can imagine that in the nasty days of 2004 the transition from life unde…

Who Fights This War?--Task Force Commander

As his digital watch silently records the time passing midnight Lt. Col. Scott Perry sits at his desk hand writing letters in response to cards, letters and gifts he receives from folks back home. Some of them he never met. “They took the time to write and thank me for my service,” he said. “The least I can do is answer in kind.” He usually gives in to sleep and goes back to his CHU between midnight and 0100 hours. Time! Best use of time. Lack of time. Perry is always aware of time.
In the morning he is up early and back in the office. “This is an awesome responsibility commanding a combat Task Force,” he said. “I need to be on top of things. I wouldn’t sleep at all if I could dispense with it.”
Each day begins with a calendar review with his assistant Spc. Andrea Magee. She keeps the calendar for Perry and for Maj. Joel Allmandinger, the Task Force Diablo Executive Officer. Allmandinger and Magee also begin their days with coffee: the first one in makes the first pot. Per…

Who Fights This War?--Task Force Commander's Assistant

In 2009 her life has gone through more changes than a chameleon walking on a rainbow. Spc. Andrea Magee, 27, of Pleasanton, California, began the deployment as Andrea Whitacre working in flight operations for Task Force Diablo. Also, when the deployment began she was engaged for a year to Staff Sgt. Jeremy Magee, a former Marine Sniper who is an Air Traffic Controller attached to 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.
In March, things began to change. On March 18, they changed more. That was the day Andrea and Jeremy got married. They were going to wait, but waiting meant living in separate CHUs for the entire deployment, marriage meant the same CHU. So they were married in their ACU uniforms in Commanche Courthouse. During the next month they made plans to share a CHU at Joint Base Balad.
Then in mid-April, the commander of 28th Combat Aviation Brigade decided we would not be going to JBB, but to Tallil Ali Air Base. So after a couple of weeks in tents in Kuwait, they got their CHU a…

Who Fights This War? Executive Officer and Racer

On September 11, 2001, Maj. Joel Allmandinger was visiting his parents in Tehachapi, California, with his wife and two children. He was on terminal leave after eight years on active duty as an Army Aviation Officer and a Blackhawk pilot. The 1993 graduate of West Point was ready to be a civilian. He is a strong advocate of free enterprise and was ready to go to work for a Fortune 500 Company and start on the road to the top of corporate management.
Then he heard the horrible news from New York, from the Nation’s Capital, from a field in western Pennsylvania. The nation he swore to defend was under attack just as he finished eight years of peacetime service. It was nearly a week before regular airline service was restored. On September 16, Allmandinger and his family flew home to Macungie, Pa. As soon as he arrived, he drove to Fort Indiantown Gap and signed up to serve in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Allmandinger began his civilian career and is on the path he sought…