Wednesday, January 6, 2010

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 seem to touch the world as easily as he qualifies with his assigned weapon?
As I have learned through my interaction with him, Sgt. Neil Gussman is an eclectic series of mutually un-supporting disciplines, dichotomies and passions that somehow have blended into an exceptional communicative force.
Neil Gussman was 56 years old as of May 2nd, but he doesn’t mind that you can’t keep up with him during Army physical training. And don’t even think about challenging him in a bicycle race. But I’m getting ahead of the story and Neil wouldn’t appreciate that.
Like any other red-blooded American young man, Neil had a passion for fast cars and racing. For those who can appreciate such things, he once owned a ‘69 Cobra Jet Torino featuring a 428 C.I. power plant with a factory 735 dual-feed Holly carburetor and Hurst 4 speed shifter. When he owned a TV that he kept in the basement, the only thing he was interested in watching was NASCAR during the good old days of Cale Yarborough, Alan Kulwicki and Dale Earnhardt Sr. For the purist in Neil, that all ended when the sport departed from bias ply tires.
No problem.
There were other fascinations to occupy the time of this undefined thrill seeker. He had suppressed a motorcycle obsession because his father opposed them. Once on his own, he started out with a Honda 175 and soon was risking his life on the likes of VFR 700s, Interceptors, Hawks and other popular crotch-rockets of the late ‘80s. After a disappointing day at the track he determined he wasn’t practicing enough and he gave up riding having decided he wasn’t really good enough to race.
Neil joined the Air Force in 1972. The next year, he spent over a week in the hospital after being blinded by shrapnel at Hill Air Force Base, Utah during a live-fire exercise of interstage rocket detonators. Incidentally, he had grown up nominally Jewish, but became a Christian while recovering from the blindness. He left the Air Force in 1974 but joined the Army in 1975 as a SP4 Tank gunner and progressed to Tank Commander stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. and Wiesbaden Germany. In 1979, he left the military to go to college.
After departing the service, he used his GI bill benefits to attend Penn State University where he completed his BA in Humanities and an MA in American studies consecutively. After graduating in 1985, he started working for an advertising agency. He noticed others in the agency were out of work when their client left. Recognizing the volatility of the advertising world, Gussman set out to find his own clients. Being familiar with chemistry and calculus, he decided to write about technology for continuous employment and covered electronics until the ad agency acquired a chemical company account. Concentrating on chemistry, in 1998 he became manager of global communications for Millennium Chemicals and was travelling overseas every month. Having no interest in managing as he puts it, “free form-people who each want to rule the world,” in 2001 and 25 countries later, he left to work as a consultant. Now he is the communications manager for the Museum and Library of the history of chemistry and early science which he characterizes as a science museum for grown-ups. The non-profit Chemical Heritage Foundation was founded in 1982 and is located in a 160 year old building located next to the Liberty Museum and Independence Mall in center city Philadelphia.
Having given up motorcycles, he got serious about bicycle riding in 1992 when he logged 8,000 miles. In recent years he’s been racking up over 10,000 miles annually. In April 2007, he broke his neck while riding at 50 MPH down Turkey Hill in Lancaster, PA. The crash resulted in 10 broken bones including three vertebras. Now his 7th vertebra is from a cadaver. His riding repertoire includes cycling on five continents and if you spend any time at Tallil with your eyes open, you no doubt have seen Sgt. Gussman on a bike. He shipped 2 here, bought 2 others since we arrived and he’s met his goal of riding 5000 miles at Tallil Iraq.
I’m sure Neil doesn’t think he’s obsessive or particular. But, how else do you describe a person who goes to a 300 year old Presbyterian Church because he can’t help but criticize the sermons of anything newer? And how else do you explain a person who has organized a spreadsheet enumerating of all the books he’s read as well as an accounting of all his broken bones? -- 32 by the way. An avid athlete, it’s no surprise that he also charts all his physical activities including the mileage he’s run, ridden, pushups, pull-ups, sit ups, etc…
At the age of 54, Neil Gussman re-enlisted in the Army in August 2007. He joined an aviation unit because he was concerned about joining a ground unit, thinking he couldn’t keep up with the 20 year olds. His assessment was wrong. His 26 year old, commanding officer put Gussman in charge of remedial PT to train all in the formation who are unable to pass the test—most of them half his age.
Gussman always wanted to be a writer but prior to college read only science or religious books. Since his first class at The Pennsylvania State University where he read Dante’s Inferno, he has been involved in a love affair with literature. Sgt. Gussman now reads an average of 25 books per year and is hosting 2 separate reading clubs while in Iraq. USA Today recently featured his efforts. When home, he reads other’s stories to his wife and four children; while he’s in Iraq he writes the story of Task Force Diablo’s mission for others to tell the world.

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