Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the Eve of 2012

My big Army projects at the beginning of 2012 are:

  • Write a newsletter summing up the last half of 2012 and all the things we did.
  • Send a message to everyone in the unit who has a facebook page to "Like" to the 2104GASB page.
  • Fill out the packet of information I need to extend my enlistment after I turn 60 in 2013.
Life gets more crowded every week.  If I had any sense I would just let my enlistment run out so my life would be less complicated.  But it is so much fun to fire machine guns and ride in helicopters that it is hard to give up.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

In Haiti: Bare Chests, Bad; Bare Breasts, No Problem!

On Sunday morning I went for a run from the mission/orphanage where we are staying. To get to the main road, I ran down a half-mile dirt road past a small beach on the Caribbean Sea.  As I was running past a spring that ran to the beach, I saw a young woman who was washing her clothes and herself.  It was already over 80 degrees at 9 am so I was running with my shirt off.  The woman at the spring was doing the same.

When I got to the road, I turned right with high hills to my left.  Another spring ran down the side of the mountain and in the spring was another young woman ten feet from the road and dressed the same as I was--naked from the waist up.

A half-mile down the road a motorcyclist sped toward me gesturing to put my shirt on.  A few minutes later another one did the same.  I put my shirt on.  Clearly I was in violation of some local custom.  Or maybe the problem was aesthetic.  I could see lots of reasons to tell an old guy to put his shirt on while running.

I suppose bathing by the side of the road is a fact of life here and old guys running with their shirts off is not.  But I did think that most every guy I have ever known would like to live in place where shirts were mandatory for men and optional for women.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

In Haiti Adopting Our Next Son

Sorry I have not posted much lately.  I will be posting on my other blog about adoption.  I just posted about the first day in Haiti.  Looks like I may be able to use my national guard service to help with the paperwork.  More on that later.

Monday, December 12, 2011

On Radio Smart Talk WITF FM with Col. Perry

This morning Col. Scott Perry and I were guests on Radio Smart Talk on WITF FM 89.5 in Harrisburg PA.  The topic was the end of the war in Iraq.  This show airs Monday-Friday from 9 - 10 am and re-airs at 7pm.  So you can listen to the radio (if you live in central PA) or on line tonight at WITF.

The producer of the show, Franklin and Marshall grad Megan Lello, sent me a link so you can also listen at some later time.  The first 20 minutes of the show is about the world almanac, then Scott Perry and I talk to show host Scott Lamar.

It was a lot of fun to be on the show.  Radio Smart Talk is a live call-in show.  All but one of the callers wanted to talk about war policy and whether we should have been in Iraq.  Col. Perry took the policy calls.  I answered the call from the Mom of a Marine who just finished basic training.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Family Pictures from Thanksgiving

(reposted from my other blog

With three daughters in Virginia, holidays are the only time to take family pictures.  At noon on Thanksgiving we were able to take a family photo before Lauren and Lisa sped off to Thanksgiving in New Hope.

The entire family:

From left:  Iolanthe, Kiersten, Annalisa, Jacari, me, Lisa, Nigel, Peter and Lauren.
Iolanthe is my step daughter, Kiersten lives at our house and tutors the boys.  Her Mom was one of Annalisa's hospice patients a dozen years ago.  Kiersten has gone on some of our family vacations since and is now a student at a local college.  Peter is Lauren's boyfriend.

The kids:

The boys:

Timmy is our neighbor and is also adopted.  He and our boys play together a lot.

Friday, November 25, 2011

State of (Inter)dependence

For those who follow my wife's blog Miser-Mom, you have already seen today's post on the State of (Inter)dependence.

The military lives by interdependence.  Independence gets people hurt.  


Monday, November 21, 2011

Speaking At the Lititz VFW

On Sunday, Nov. 6, I spoke to more than 80 members and guests of the VFW Post in Lititz PA.  The Lititz Record newspaper put the story on its front page--slow news week in Lititz!

Most members of the post were clearly Viet Nam Veterans, plus a few from the Gulf War.  It was a lot of fun talking to this group.  The talk title was "Who Fights This War?"  And many of the stories are in this blog during the time I was in Iraq.  The audience laughed when I told them I flew on a Blackhawk piloted by a guy whose day job was flying Gov. Rod Blagoyevich.  They laughed again when I said the pilot was not allowed to repeat what he heard on his headset over those eight years.  

There were many nods of recognition when I told them about the door gunner on that crew.  He rode convoy security on highway one in 2004 long before Humvees were armored and was on his 2nd tour as a door gunner.  He had just turned 24.  

I talked longer than my allotted 20 minutes and then took maybe 30 questions.  The humbling thing for me about the Q&A is that most of the audience was actually asking questions.  I know from many public events that a really interesting talk gets short, rapid-fire questions.  When an audience is less engaged in the subject they tend to ask question in the form of a five-minute sermonette on what they think about the subject.  

Some of the questions were about 100 miles above my pay grade--on war policy and political matters.  But many were about Iraq and the young men I had the opportunity to serve with.  It was a lot of fun.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Whiplash from Work--Saved by Spandex

Last month I wrote about meeting a guy on the train who grew up near me and had his first marriage end because of a "Honey-Do" list.  He was a king on the road and a chump at home.  He finally decided he liked the road life better and left home.

The Army works in reverse, at least as far as opulence.  My most popular post ever was "Home Sweet Trailer Home" with more than 2000 page views followed by "Flying to Camp Garry Owen" with more than 500 hits.  Living in a small metal trailer in the relatively luxurious CHUs of Camp Adder was way better than the tents at Garry Owen, but both were far worse than home.  So there was no doubt I was ready to return to my home and family in Lancaster and leave Iraq.

But last week, I had the biggest hit of travel opulence I have had in quite a while.  In one three-day trip to New York City I went to:

Lunch and a seminare at the Gotham Club (Once J.P. Morgan's private club)

Then a black tie banquet at Gotham Hall:
Lunch the next day at the Yale Club:
And in the evening, the Union League of NYC:

So what kept me from being swept away by my surroundings?  The best part of my trip to NYC was not inside these buildings but the three rides I took from my hotel at 39th and 9th Avenue to and across the George Washington Bridge and back.
Every morning I was up early and wearing spandex bike clothes to make this 22-mile ride by different routes:  on the west side bike path, through Central park and up broadway, along the river drive (not the highway!) and mixes of these.  So at each event I was pretty sure to be the only guy in the room wearing spandex from collar to heel.

The last event, at the Union League, was called Socrates in the City.  The organizer, Eric Metaxas, said that all who attend these meetings are part of a UFO cult that wears spandex unitards.  

Little did he know, I own two spandex unitards--for time trial races.  

I bet he doesn't even own one.

And so it is very hard for me to be completely serious about the occasional luxury my jobs affords me.  I used to live in CHU and wear spandex pretty much every day.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

So Many 1 Percenters

In the news today I was reminded I am part of the 1% in America. 

Not the 1% looking for toilets in lower Manhattan.  This morning a commentator on the news said America's military is 1% of our population.  That is literally true only if you round up.  The two million men and women on active duty and in Guard and Reserve unit are less the 2/3 of 1% and decreasing as budget cuts slice through every branch of the military.  

I am one of the few soldiers who knows as many people with PhDs as with Aviators Wings.  PhDs are another less-than-one-percent group of Americans.

Of course, working at a non-profit and serving as a sergeant, I am not part of the 1% idolized by Fox News and reviled by the Occupy Wall Street protestors.  But compared with 7 billion people in the world right now, I am pretty close to the top 1% of the wealthiest people in the world.  

But the real problem right now is not the 1% who are currently serving.  As the military shrinks, more and more veterans will join the ranks of the unemployed.  Veterans are already have higher unemployment than the population in general.  It will soon get worse.

I heard Mitch McConnell this morning say that he is against any sort of Veteran's preference in hiring.  Really?  Veterans are always behind their peers in education and opportunity.  Is there a loss to society when it gives veterans, especially young veterans preference in hiring?


Mission to Canada

Last month several of the new F Model Chinooks flew to central Canada near Edmonton for a joint training exercise.  At the speed Chinooks fly the trip was 15 hours in the air each way.

A photographer with the Canadian Combat Camera unit took pictures and sent them back with our crews.

Here are two of them:

Monday, November 7, 2011

"You Better Puke Down Your Shirt"

This morning I flew on the firat of three flights set up for recent graduates of Basic Training. The young men and women and their recruiters get a thrill ride in a Blackhawk, and a pitch from us about why they would want to choose Aviation as an Army career path.

Before the flight, the crew chief does a safety briefing.

None of the 26 new soldiers had ever flown on a helicopter at all, let alone a Blackhawk.  The crew chief told the trainees how to enter and exit the helicopter, how to buckle the four-point harness in their seats, and what to do in an emergency.

Then he told them what to do if they feel sick.  "If you get sick do not puke in my aircraft.  You Better Puke Down Your Shirt, because if you get sick in my aircraft you are going to clean my aircraft."

I rode with the first group.  Everything was fine with the second.  But in the third group was a young man who probably ate way too much Army food for breakfast before a helicopter ride.  

On these rides we would climb and quickly dive.  On two of the flights, the crew chief did the pen in the air trick.  He lays the pen on his palm and in the moment of zero gravity pulls his hand away.  The pen floats in the air for the two seconds of zero gravity then falls in the crew chief's hand.  

Right after that roller coaster moment, the soldier looked ill then, as instructed, puked down his shirt.  The temperature was slightly below freezing at dawn and was no higher than 40 when the last flight touched down--so the soldier had to be more than a little uncomfortable until he could leave a field on the west end of the base and get a shower.  

But he can follow instructions!

2nd Group of Trainees Boards Blackhawk

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Back to Arguing Politics

After formation this morning one of pilots who is also a big TEA Party supporter came at me smiling with winner's glee talking about the Occupy movement.  

"The TEA Party cleaned up after themselves and supported local businesses, your guys in the Occupy Oakland movement looted local business," he said.

And it went on from there.  I mentioned that this week I gave the Conservative Commentariat its monthly listen.  I chose Rush Limbaugh.  On Thursday as I was driving back from New York, I heard Rush say that Herman Cain's current troubles are "a Democrat program at the highest level (the White House) to discredit Republican candidates."  Michael Savage says George Soros funded the attack.

Another ardent Republican here who is pissed off about the attacks on Herman Cain did concede that running for President is the ultimate colonoscopy and if Cain was not prepared for every fact and opinion to come out, he was crazy.  

It is fun to have these discussions with people of vastly different opinions who are not shy about expressing them.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Video Blog in NYC

Taped in NYC on Wednesday:

Or on You Tube:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Home Boy on the Train

The last leg of my long trip home from Houston on Thursday began with a 3:45 am wake up call and ended with taking the 10:59 pm Keystone train from Philadelphia to Lancaster.  

There is no quiet car on the last train so I sat across from a guy about my age wearing a suit and dozing off listening to music.  Since he was my age, he would not be listening to Metal, Rap or Lady Gaga so loud I had to listen to 2nd-hand noise.  It turned out he was on the way home from a delayed flight also.

As we talked I learned he works from home advising small companies how to get bigger.  He was a father of eight--two groups of four kids from two marriages.  Group One are in their late 20s and early thirties.  Group two are four kids between eight and twelve.  I also learned he grew up in the next town south of Stoneham MA where I grew up.  Mike grew up in Medford.  

He graduated in 1973, the year the draft ended and was very happy not to go in the Army.  As we talked, it was clear that this 56-year-old guy lived for success, moving up from his blue collar background and being rich.  He made it.  He lives in Lancaster County's best suburb (Lititz) in one of its best neighborhoods.  For him risk has to do with money.  Mike is pro-military, but was never interested in serving.  

Mike was also very candid about his life.  He said his first marriage ended because he could not deal with the transition between being a King on the Road and a chump at home.  The way he said Chump really made me sure he was a Home Boy.  He was a rising star in the business consulting and got handed a "Honey-Do" list at home.  "Hero to Zero when I stepped off the plane," he said.  So he left.

He travels frequently to Europe and was making his first trip to Asia soon.  Another guy across the aisle, Jim, had made several recent trips to Beijing.  Mike was happy to hear Jim had no health problems from the trips.  

Usually, I read or work on the train, but the shared misery of the midnight train home gave me a chance to talk with another guy from Massachusetts whose live took him to Lancaster County.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Traveling in Class A Uniform

This week I was in Texas from Monday to Thursday.  Rather than travel in our digital camo uniform, I decided to travel in Class A uniform.  Actually, it is better for travel than I would have suspected.  This heavy weight (compared to a good civilian suit) uniform resists wrinkles very well.  The shoes are good to walk in and much lighter than combat boots.  The jacket can be folded into an overhead compartment and looks good when unfolded.

On the trip back I was on a delayed flight with a group of women in the Arizona VFW on the way to a ceremony at the Statue of Liberty.  One of the ladies gave me the official coin of their VFW post.  Like most of the other coins I have received, it was mostly for being in the right place at the right time.  As I write this I hope their group had as good a trip as they could.  Today's storm set NYC's all-time snow record for October.  It was an easy record to set since an inch was the previous record.

The uniform got me free meals on the planes, a quick trip through security, a coin, several people saying a heart-felt thank you for my service and many smiles.  But it doesn't make trains and planes run on time.  I slept late today trying to help my 58-year-old body recover from that very long day.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Oldest Company Commander Replaced by Youngest

Today Headquarters Company of the 2-104th Aviation had a change of command ceremony.  1LT Matthew Moyer who will turn 26 on Sunday took command from CPT Paul Ward, age 54.  Ward is moving on to a staff job at higher headquarters.  Like me, Ward has a break in service.  He was a company commander when Moyer was in the 1st grade.

1LT Moyer

CPT Ward

Both men were deployed with 2-104th in Iraq in 2009-10 and were on battalion staff.  Ward was a battle captain in operations.  Moyer was Unit Movement Officer, the officer in charge of moving the battalion to Iraq and back to America.  He organized the movement of almost 50 aircraft and hundreds of containers from Pennsylvania to Fort Sill to Iraq and back to America.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Boys Like Guns

Today I drove to Mifflintown to pick up Emarion for his first visit to our home.  He asked if we could see Army stuff on the way home.

I wrote about some of visit in my other blog, Adoptive Dad.

Of the three boys, Emarion clearly knows the most about weapons.  He has gone hunting, loves fishing and says Cabella's is his favorite store.

He is clearly going to like the family days at Fort Indiantown Gap.  We watched M16 qualification for several minutes.  Emarion liked watching the shooters knock the targets down.  He was fascinated walking through the hangar at FT IG and liked just looking at the trucks and tracks in the motor pools around post.

I could also show him the M60A1 tank in front of the headquarters building and tell him I was a tank commander of one of those 35 years ago.  Since I don't watch football and baseball, it's good that I am in the Army.  Helicopters, camouflaged vehicles and weapons are a great ice breaker with boys.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sunset Here and There

Today I got a call from one of my riding buddies in NYC.  I got the call at 630pm and said I had to go, I still had ten minutes to ride.  He said "No way, it's dark."  I said "See ya" and rode for 10 minutes.  I could have ridden longer because it was a brilliant full moon low in the eastern sky.  And to be exact, I had nine more minutes to ride than my buddy in NYC, not ten.

I guessed at ten minutes as I left to ride, but I knew it was close.  New York is about 120 miles east of Lancaster PA.  At 40 degrees of latitude, each degree of longitude equals about 60 miles on the ground.  The two degrees of difference translates into four minutes on the clock--15 degrees is 1/24th of the one-rotation-per-day spin of the earth.  So the sun sets in NYC just over eight minutes earlier than in Lancaster. And, of course, the sun rises earlier in NYC.

I know.  What good is knowing that?  Maybe nothing, but when GPS and every other gadget runs out of juice, I can still do some rudimentary time keeping and navigation.

Or just write about weird stuff I know.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My First and LAST Army Ten Miler

The Army Ten Miler was my third long-distance event in the last three weeks: my seven in the last year.  And this event has the distinction of being far and away the worst run.

Let me begin with the schedule.  Race number pick up was at the DC Armory near the capital--nowhere near the event itself.  But it did allow the organizers to fill the armory with more than 100 vendors selling shoes, shorts, shorts and other shit.  I drove to number pick up with my sons.  There was a line out the door because having the number pick up in a government building meant metal detectors.  We got to go in a different entrance with my military ID.  But there were only two lines for those who were not military.

This bottleneck told me what the whole event would be like.

Inside, I got my number and went to another table for the t-shirt.  I paid $10 extra for a long-sleeve t-shirt.  But when I got to the table, with two hours left in registration--no more long sleeve t-shirts.  They had a woman's small which fit Nigel, so he got the race shirt.  I got my other a son an under armour Army shirt in the Expo.

We got up at 0540 in Silver Spring MD at Grandpa's house (he cooked spaghetti for us the night before) and were on the way to the Pentagon by 0600.  The race program said to take the Metro so we parked in Arlington and took the Metro two stops to the Pentagon.  So did thousands of others.  It took 11 minutes to get from the tracks to the exit.  We were against a wall.  Most of the riders did know the Metro and that there were other stairs.  So we all funneled up one inoperative escalator.

No one from the event was at the Pentagon Metro station helping with traffic.  There were HUNDREDS of volunteers along the route with nothing to do.  They would have been helpful in the Metro tunnel.

Or moving people from the Metro stop to the start line.  Everyone who drove or took the Metro had to move through one unmarked gate to get to the start.  No volunteers there either.  No announcers.  But along the route there were official volunteers with very good bull horns encouraging us.  These same bull horns would have been great getting people through the funnel.

In the half dozen other half marathons I have run, by mile five I would be in a group of people running about my speed.  In this event I ran a very steady 10 minute pace for the first five miles then ran about 9:20 pace for the second half.  But for the entire event the crowd around me was changing.  I was passing and being passed by others all the way from start to finish.   And in the last half mile I got passed by young guys who were sprinting for 11,000th place.

They shouldn't have bothered.  From a half-mile to the the finish until the boys and I got in the Metro station, we could hear the finish announcer saying, "Don't walk, keep running after the finish.  Keep moving."  The boys could mimic his pleading/commanding tone very well.  When I got the finish line I couldn't cross the timing line because runners jammed up and stopped.  It was about 20 seconds from the time I was in the crowd till I actually crossed the line.

The finishing chute was no wider than the one at the Hamptons Half Marathon which had about a tenth of the runners.   Fifty feet passe the finish I climbed over the spectator fence and went to Nigel and Jacari.  We first tried to walk back to the finish but the mess was getting worse, so we left.

Again, this event is 25 years old.  They knew the number of runners.  Why all these bottlenecks?

The entry fees totaled about $150,000.  The organizers should take some of that money and make a road trip to Philadelphia to see how they can run these events with either side of 20,000 runners and no bottlenecks at all.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Army Weekend without Drill!

My sons are going to have yet another weekend of long car rides, early wake up and greasy food.  This Sunday I am running the Army Ten Miler.  The race is in Washington DC for most of its distance, but it begins and ends near the Pentagon.  Start time is 0800, so we wil be waking at 0600 to get to the start through a very big crowd.

We will leave after lunch tomorrow and drive to DC for packet pickup.  We have free accommodations with Grandpa in Silver Spring MD.  So hamburgers for dinner tomorrow and for lunch Sunday!!!

I will start with Wave 2 of three waves.  It looks like I will be running with 25,000 of my closest friends.

Should be fun!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Benefits of National Guard Service

This morning I was making hotel reservations for New York and Philadelphia and thinking about how many things are cheaper, easier or more fun because I am a Guardsman.  
  • If you book with Holiday Inn (same with other hotels I assume), they offer a Government Rate.  I have a military ID and that's all they require to give you a better rate and a free breakfast.  Part of the Government rate is breakfast.  
  • When I travel to NYC, Washington and Boston on Amtrak, I get a 10% discount with my ID.
  • If I fly in uniform I don't get a different price, but I do get WAY better treatment in the security line.
  • Two days ago we met Emarion who may be our next son if all goes well.  He is 12 and shy and somewhat nervous about meeting what may be his new family.  I could take out pictures of helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers and talk about flying in the former and firing the latter. Not surprisingly, this ends up being a great ice breaker with a 12-year-old boy.
  • When my daughter organized a day at Richmond International Speedway as part of her internship with the local VA Hospital, she could give me an unused ticket because I am a veteran with a combat tour in Iraq.
  • And it's fun to occasionally overhear one of my kids saying, My Dad is in the Army."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Great Book by Brit Chinook Pilot

I wrote a review for Books and Culture of Sweating the Metal by Alex Duncan, Chinook Pilot in Afghanistan:


Sweating the Metal

Happy 50th Anniversary to the Chinook helicopter.
Happy 50th Anniversary to the Chinook helicopter! This month, the huge, twin-rotor aircraft capable of carrying 40 soldiers and tons of cargo marks 50 years of service in the US military and in the air forces of more than two dozen other nations.
In 2011, the Chinook was in the news around the world. On May 2, the Chinook helicopter on the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden extracted the Navy Seal team as well as the crew of the ill-fated Blackhawk that crashed on landing at the Bin Laden compound. Bin Laden's body left Pakistan on the Chinook. The Chinook's size made it possible to complete the mission when the primary Blackhawk was down.
In August, that same colossal size (a full 99 feet from the front of the forward rotor to the back of the aft rotor) made a Chinook a big enough target that a single Taliban gunner with a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) could bring the copter down. More than 30 Navy SEALs, Afghan commandos, and crewmembers were onboard for a night mission. All were killed.
But neither of these incidents is typical of the tough-under-fire utility of this hulking helicopter. For a rousing description of flying a Chinook in combat, look no further than Sweating the Metal by Chinook pilot Alex Duncan. Written at a breathless pace, the book shifts easily from technical descriptions of aircraft and procedures to clipped dialogue and action-packed combat narrative.
Although Duncan never goes three pages without using the f-word, he does spare his audience transcription of the speech of British soldiers. Both when I served in Germany in the 1970s and in Iraq in 2009, I trained with British troops. Their ability to cram properly pronounced foul language into every sentence surprised even the most foul-mouthed American soldiers.
A British sergeant leading an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) briefing in Iraq pronounced the "ing" clearly when using the f-word as a verbal adjective for each of the 30 IEDs he showed us. Duncan uses the f-word five times in one three-line paragraph to convey the alarm of one of his crewmembers who landed under fire in the wrong place, but for the most part he limits himself to a few per page. When I try to describe life in the army, particularly the 77-man tent I lived in for three weeks in Kuwait, I find it is a tricky balance to convey the profane speech without coming near transcription. Duncan does a good f-ing job.
Another balance Duncan tries to strike on every page describing combat is the use of acronyms. Soldiers in general and aircrew in particular have an opaque language of acronyms that is real speech to them. I currently serve in a Combat Aviation Brigade, and I find pilot jargon beyond incomprehensible when they speak to each other. Readers who have never flown in a military aircraft will be turning repeatedly to the seven-page glossary at the end of the book. Since some of Duncan's jargon is peculiar to the RAF, I found myself looking up LCJ (Load Carrying Jacket), CAS (Chief of Air Staff or Close Air Support depending on context), and a few others.
Duncan writes in the first person. So, when he is angry the reader can feel the warm temperature of the page. In Chapter 14 (of 40), he talks about waiting for a seat on a flight home. This is one of the chapters with high f-word density, including spelling out the acronym REMF. I will leave it to the reader to look on page 105 or Google it. The chapter is about the hassles of combat soldiers when they are marooned on a large base with non-combat soldiers.
The dispute dates back at least as far as the era of King David, who is recorded in Scripture as commanding that those who guard the baggage get a share of the spoils along with the frontline troops. Duncan clearly would cut the REMFs out of the distribution of any benefits. Yet he makes clear in this chapter that the soldiers he disparages live through daily mortar and rocket attacks, eat dust, and regularly deal with the contempt of people like him.
Many of the missions Duncan flies are what the US Army would call MEDEVAC. The Brits have their own acronyms. Several chapters describe rescuing wounded soldiers under direct fire. I read one of these chapters to my 12-year-old sons. They were caught up in the excitement, but it was a lot of work for me translating those acronyms into something the boys could understand, not to mention bowdlerizing the text and substituting exclamations.
When Duncan mentioned weapons, the boys' questions led me into a ten-minute digression on the M60 machine gun mounted on the Chinook's tail ramp and the miniguns mounted in the doors. They were so excited with what tracers are and how they look when they arc to the ground that we barely got back to the story. They especially liked the British nickname for the 3000-round-per-minute miniguns: Crowd Pleasers, the Brits call them. The next night we went back to Tom Sawyer.
Duncan is very good at technical explanations. Little by little, the reader learns technical details of the controls and instruments of the Chinook helicopter. Page 135, for example, features an excellent description of Night Vision Goggles (always called NVGs by the crews). We also learn chapter-by-chapter about life at home in Britain as well as on the big base at Kandahar and on the forward bases. One cumulative effect of Duncan's descriptions was to make me jealous of British deployment. Tours for US soldiers are one year long. British flight crews spend two months in country. Ground troops, six months.
In the course of the story, the reader gets a sense of how pervasive American popular culture is in the life of British soldiers—and really for all English-speaking soldiers. He says "Let's get out of Dodge" over the intercom, knowing the crew will understand his intent. Same with "Captain Obvious" and many other references to American movies, American songs, and so on, no doubt including some that I am too old to recognize.
And speaking of popular culture, Duncan mentions the DVDs that are everyone's favorite at their base on Camp Bastion: The HBO Series Band of Brothers. Soldiers can be as cynical about war films as doctors are about hospital dramas, but I have never heard a bad word about Band of Brothers. The men I served with in Iraq and Duncan's mates all at some level want to follow Major Dick Winters from Normandy to Berchtesgaden in World War II.
While these descriptions gave me a real feeling for Duncan's life, they helped to make the book too long. The climactic scene when Duncan's Chinook is hit by an RPG begins almost 220 pages into this 300-page book. If the book were shorter by a third, tightened by a ruthless editor, it would be even better.
That said, I would happily recommend Sweating the Metal to anyone who wants to get a good sense of the war in Afghanistan and what it's like to fly the biggest helicopter in the Army inventory.
Neil Gussman is communications manager at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He blogs

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NASCAR at my Day Job

Sometimes I post on the blog where I work.  This time about NASCAR and Octane.

And while I was looking up something else, I saw this: radio interview just for those of us who are well past the age to join AARP.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Amazing Race

My sister is a personal trainer living in the Boston Area.  She thinks that the two of us should try to compete in The Amazing Race which begins a new season tonight.  I haven't ever seen the show, but will watch tonight's episode.  If any of you are fans, let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday Chinook! Flood Rescue Videos

Happy Birthday Chinook!!  The big helicopters mark 50 years of service today.
You can follow links from my battalion's Facebook page if you want to know more.

Scroll down and you can watch videos of our helicopters rescuing flood victims two weeks ago.

By the way, if you have not LIKEd our page yet, please do so, and send the link to your friends.  I post all the pictures from drill weekends on the battalion page and my page.

In Iraq, a very funny soldier who hated wearing PT belts on base created a PT Belt fan page that has more than 16,000 fans.   

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Firing the M203 Grenade Launcher

Continuing with my Heaven in Camo weekend, this morning I got to fire a half dozen rounds from an M203 Grenade Launcher--the standard grenade launcher for all army units.  M203 is the designation for the entire weapon. The grenade launcher itself is the 12-inch tube underneath the barrel of the rifle  or carbine it is attached to.

The weapon fires 40mm grenades and loads like a shotgun.  We fired dummy rounds.  The live rounds are high explosive and have a kill radius of 5 meters so you don't have to make a direct hit to be effective.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

300 on the Fitness Test!!

I got the maximum score on today's Annual Physical Fitness Test:  300!  55 pushups and 80 situps in two minutes each and 22 minutes to ride 10k on the bike.  The bike is pass/fail.  I had 28 minutes to pass.  The last five times I took the test I scored between 288 and 297.  It was great to finally get 300.  If you are wondering how I could ride the bike--above age 55 I get my choice of running, walking, or riding.  Once I got the max score on the other two events, I did not want to mess up like last time and run 20 seconds too slow and miss 300.

For the rest of the day, I took pictures of a blackhawk and a chinook picking up Officer Candidates School trainees and went to the battalion picnic with Nigel and Jacari.  After that I talked to a couple of friends at the armory and rode 30 miles.

Life doesn't get much better than that!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

PT Test and Picnic This Saturday

The first day of drill this weekend begins with the annual Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) in the morning, then the battalion picnic in the afternoon.  My sons are going to the picnic.  They will spend the morning at Jacari's former foster Mom, who lives six miles from Fort Indiantown Gap.

I have a lot of wonderful days in my life, but a day that includes working out, riding my bike, competing, eating grilled meat, hanging out with the boys--life doesn't get much better than that!

Except next month when will have a three-day drill and get to fire rifles and maybe machine guns.

When SFC Larry Christman said, "Gussman thinks all this training is an amusement park" he had my number.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Another Warning Order--and NASCAR Tickets

Flooding across eastern Pennsylvania is bad enough that I got another warning order about activating the Guard for flood control.  What a mess!!!  They evacuated Wilkes-Barre today.  Rivers are cresting way above flood stage all across the mid state.

On the plus side, if I don't get activated my oldest daughter got me and my sons tickets for the Richmond NASCAR race.  Richmond is arguably one of the best tracks on the circuit:  short, fast, wide enough for passing.  I hope we get to go!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On WGAL TV Last Night

In a series about 9-11, the producer wanted someone who served during Viet Nam and in Iraq.  It's a still-photo montage.  Nicely done.  Video here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Writing About Presidential Candidates at Work

I occasionally write for a blog at work called Periodic Tabloid about the history of science.  Today's post is about how very modern the views of many Republican candidates can be.

I Went to a Movie!!!

Ok.  Not a big deal for most of you, but the second to last time I was in a movie theater was in 2005 to watch "The Devil Wears Prada" with my whole family.  Meryl Streep is as mean as two buckets of rattlesnakes in that movie.  It was a lot of fun.

I also remember the last two movies I saw, though I could not watch the second one to the end.  When I deployed, my roommates insisted that I had to watch "Full Metal Jacket."  I liked it a lot more than I thought I would because the guy who went crazy in basic training was Vincent D'Onofrio, later the star of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent."  The other movie they wanted me to see was "300."  They thought I would like it because it was historical.  It was horrible.  It was the battle of Thermopylae made into a cartoon.

The last time I was in a movie theater was to see "Restrepo" with a friend who just returned from Afghanistan--and was on the way back.  This documentary of life at the worst outpost in Afghanistan kept me staring at the screen.

The movie I saw yesterday was "Senna" the story of three-time Formula One World Champion (1988, 1990, 1991) driver Ayrton Senna da Silva.  I took my sons Nigel (Named after 1992 World Champion Nigel Mansell) and Jacari to the movie at the Bourse Theater in Philadelphia.  Since I did not read about the movie in advance, I did not realize half of it would be subtitled.  Senna is Brazilian.  His main rival, Alain Prost is French.  The boys can't read fast enough to follow subtitles, but there was a lot of historic car racing footage so they could enjoy at least half of the movie. And since this the second time I have been to a theater with Nigel (Devil Wears Prada) and the first with Jacari, they were fascinated with the whole idea of Dad in a theater.

They sat on either side of me in the third row, far in front of the other patrons.  And at the end they were both whipping their heads back and forth between me and the screen.  Senna died in the Imola race in a 170-mph crash.  I remember the race.  A rookie driver died in qualifying the day before.  It had been almost 10 years since a Formula One driver died in the car and Senna was, in most fans eyes, the best driver in the world at the time.  

When a car crashes, it is swarmed by the corner workers, the men and women who stand just behind the fences and wave flags, then run to crash sites.  Most times they workers are doing everything they can to get the driver out of the car.  And you see the swarm just after the crash with the camera at track level.  then they switch scenes and show the car from the helicopter a moment later.  Instead of the swarm, they showed a half-dozen corner workers six feet from the car with their backs toward the stricken machine.

When the corner workers do that, the driver is dead.  I started to tell the boys thats what the corner workers body language meant, but instead, I started to cry.  The boys had never seen that either.  They started to cry.   The movie ended a few minutes later.  They were Ok.  I wanted some time to think.  so I told the boys to double knot their sneakers we ere going running.  We ran back and forth across the Ben Franklin Bridge--1.5 miles each way across the bridge and a half-mile back and forth to the bridge.

Should you see the movie?  Only if you are a racing fan.

Speaking of the boys, I am starting a new blog today.  My wife and I are driving to State College to talk to the social worker of a boy who may be our next adopted child.  The blog is Adoptive Dad.  Just as the Senna movie is mostly interesting for race fans, this new blog is mostly for parents I would assume.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Tonight after we left the Apple Store, I went three stores down in the Park City Mall and got a new pair of Gap Boot Cut Jeans.  The jeans I currently own are Gap Boot Cut Jeans size 34-34.  

I tried on a new pair of the same size.  They were huge.  I bought size 32-34.  They fit fine.  Did my waist shrink two inches in the five years since I bought the last pair?  Not likely, I weigh 4 or 5 pounds less, but that's not two inches of waist size.  

It turns out Gap has joined every other retailer in shrinking putting smaller size labels on larger clothes.  So the 32 waist jeans I bought today are about the same fit as the 34s I bought in 2006.  We live in a fat country.  Maybe in 2016 I will buy 30-34 jeans.

Writing Checks

My wife pays all the bills in our house, so I don't write checks.  I don't think I have written a check in a store in the last decade, certainly not in this millennium.  But I do look out for people who still write checks.  I live in Lancaster County PA, so people really do.  In grocery stores the best way to avoid a check writer is by going to the automated check out line.  No one who writes checks in public would be in that line.

Just now I am sitting in the Apple store waiting for my appointment with a Genius (the repair guys in the Apple store).  While waiting in the Apple line--seated at a stool with my laptop using their WiFi--I saw a guy at the Genius bar paying for something his teenage son got repaired.  The guy was writing a check!!  First time for everything.  I have never seen a check written in an Apple store.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Savage Hot Air

Tonight I couldn't sleep so I went to the gym.  The students are back in class, so the gym is open from 6 am to Midnight.  On the 0.7-mile drive to the gym I tuned to the "Savage Nation."  This talk show is at the extreme of bad taste in the world of talk radio.  In that two-minute trip Michael Savage (born Michael Weiner) said, "Whoever put the Navy SEALs on a slow Chinook helicopter that can't turn should be tried for murder."

Pathetic Asshole that he is, Weiner is not restrained by facts.  The Chinook is the fastest of the Army's four main helicopters:  the Blackhawk, Apache Longbow and the Kiowa.  As to its ability to turn, I have ridden in Chinooks both in the US and Iraq.  They can land in tiny Forward Operating Bases and take off spinning around in barely more than their own length.  Chinook pilots can fly their 60-foot aircraft (99 feet from blade tip to blade tip) 50 feet or less off the ground at 160 knots.  The Chinook is a great aircraft, but it is not rocket proof.  The loss of the SEALs, the air crew and other soldiers was a tragedy.  But if a dozen SEALs and four crewmen had been shot down in a Blackhawk would our nation have mourned less?

Like any right-wing talk show host, the 69-year-old Weiner spent the Viet Nam War accumulating degrees and deferments.  Had he paid attention to anything military when he was 19, he might have noticed the Army fielded a new helicopter in September of 1962--The CH-47 Chinook.  That helicopter celebrates its 50th anniversary in service this year.  Now in its sixth version, the F Model has been in service with the Army since 2007.  In July Bravo Company of my unit became the first Army National Guard unit equipped with the new helicopter.

We live in a country that allows Westboro Baptist Church members and ignorant fools like Savage Weiner to address the public.  Conventional wisdom says that is a good thing.  I must be too old to remember why this is good.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Get by with a Little Help from My Friends. . .

On Monday I called my high school classmate Marty Anderson.  We reconnected at the reunion after 40 years.  Marty works for Boeing in their Chinook helicopter assembly plant in Ridley Park (Philadelphia) PA.  Marty served for 30 years, much of that as a Chinook pilot and rose to the rank of Colonel.  There were not a lot of veterans in my Boston-area, Viet Nam-era high school class, but one made Navy Captain and one made Colonel, so that's pretty good for 12 kids out of 370.

Anyway, Marty offered to help me stay in part age 60 if there was anything he could do to help.  But it is beginning to look like I won't be staying into my geriatric years.  Next Tuesday, September 6, I am taking a day off from work with my wife to meet the social work of the next boy we may be adopting.  Actually, we are at the beginning stages of adopting two more 12-year-old boys.

On Tuesday we will meet the social worker for Emarion who currently lives with a foster family in the Erie area.  The other boy is named Wenky Pierre.  He lives in Haiti.  So I will have a small army of my own.  But I will definitely stay through May of 2013 when my current enlistment is up.

Monday, August 29, 2011

No Call for Irene

On Friday I received several emails about a possible need for volunteers if Irene turned out to be a bad storm.  It wasn't.  I never got a call.  It would have been exciting to get called up, but it is better for millions of my neighbors that there was no reason to call up additional National Guard soldiers.

Irene stopped trains along most of the Northeast Corridor so I will be working at home today.  We had no damage at all.  If you were in Irene's path, I hope you were just as fortunate.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Expertise is SO Entertaining

One of the very odd things about the current wave of populism sweeping America is the "I am as good/smart/whatever as anyone else" sentiment is the opposite of what soldiers really admire.  And calm expertise is what the civilian world admires about soldiers.

Navy SEALs were cheered and admired across America on May 2 when the news was confirmed that two quick shots ended the life of Osama Bin Laden.  Two months later when 21 Navy SEALs died in a Chinook shot down over Afghanistan a woman I worked with said, "What a waste.  All that training and they died like that."  I reminded her (gently) that the Chinook crew, the Afghan commandos and the other soldiers on board that ill-fated helicopter were a great loss their country and their families.  But I understood what she meant.  The SEALs are so clearly at the top of their game.

We all know what expertise looks like in sports.  It's Sam Fuld horizontal in the air catching a fly ball.  It's Barry Sanders eluding five tackles in as many seconds and looking like he could run full speed sideways.  I love expertise.  When I broke my neck I was lucky to have a great neurosurgeon be on call.  No one is a populist when they have cancer or heart disease.  The want the best surgeon, not one who is as good as anyone else.

I had an expertise moment when my wife and drove our sons to visit their aunt Francesca in Ithaca NY.  Annalisa reads aloud during car trips.  She started by finishing a book about the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi.  She then read Tom Sawyer till she noticed me getting bored listening to the explanations of the unfamiliar words in this book.

So she read the book Zen To Done by Leo Barauta.  Annalisa carries a Franklin Planner, really uses it and is one of the most organized people I have ever known.  She reads all kinds of self help books, but organizing and time management books are among her favorites.  Zen To Done borrows a lot from the very famous Getting Things Done management system, but also borrows from the Franklin Covey system.

I thought Annalisa would just read this very short book.  But she stopped on nearly every page to explain the shortcomings of what she considered a very thin and ill-conceived time management system.  The ZTD system is based on ten habits, which I would have accepted at face value, but Annalisa knew what was wrong with every one.  If I remember correctly, two were not really habits.  She was animated for much of the five-hour drive home reacting to the obvious (to her) flaws in the the ZTD system.

I only heard of the system because my friend Brother Timotheus in Darmstadt said he liked some of the book.

I love expertise and I love the expert I married.  I hope she decides to write her own time management book that really does meld the best of Getting Things Done and the Franklin Covey systems.  Because clearly ZTD does not own the field.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Different Reunions

Last year I went to the 70th Armor reunion, this year to my 40th high school reunion. I wrote about the reunion on the Stoneham High School Facebook page as follows:

The reunion was a wonderful event. Better than I could have hoped. Not just because Murrie, Chickie and the other organizers put together a great event, but because after 40 years I am finally old enough to appreciate what a great thing it is to reconnect across decades.
The first person I talked to at the pre-event mixer was Pat Daly. He told Frank Capuano and I just how tough his childhood was. I had no idea. The more important thing he said--if I can quote correctly--we were all fucked up in our own way. Which was very true for me.
Coming to this reunion let me see that I shared a very difficult part of my life with some really great people. We were trying to figure out who we were while the rest of our country was trying to figure out what kind of world we would live in.
For me, basic training was a relief from life as a teenager. Everyone in the military seemed to know what they were supposed to do.
I did not get to talk to even a quarter of you and hope to talk to all of you in future reunions or mini reunions. But for those I did get a chance to talk with--Mike Katz, Pat Daly, Mark West, Gary DePalma, Dottie Crocker, Beverly Smith and others, I got a chance to see how they got through the turmoil of teenage life in the 60s and early 70s and lived good lives. I also talked to some of the spouses brave enough to come to somebody else's reunion. Murrie's wife was delightful to talk with. Next event I will be their. Thanks again for a great evening.

I realized today that one big difference in the reunions is that the 70th Armor reunion was almost entirely officers. They remembered a different unit than the one that we sergeants served in. At my high school reunion, we were all enlisted--just trying to get though it.

I am very much looking forward to the next high school reunion, but I will pass on future 70th Armor reunions.

I would love to go to a reunion of all the enlisted men in Bravo Company, 70th Armor.

By the time anyone has a reunion of my current unit, I'll probably forget I went to Iraq.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Firing the MK 19 Grenade Launcher

During last drill Echo Company set up and ran the MK 19 range.  The weapon is a belt-fed, fully automatic grenade launcher, mounted on a tripod or on a vehicle.  In combat it fires 40mm high explosive rounds at a rate of more than 300 rounds per minute--although the actual rate is 60 rounds per minute when feeding new belts of ammo into the weapon.  It can fire effectively up to 2000 meters and put rounds on a point target at 1500 meters.

We fired the non-explosive training rounds on Range 36 at Fort Indiantown Gap.  The range looks down into a valley from up on a ridge.  All of the gunners had 32 rounds each and were able to put effective fire on vehicle targets at 500 meters.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Viet Nam Vet from My High School Class

From Murrie Hubbard, USMC

I also belong to a FB group called "The Walking Dead", which is the nickname of my Marine Battalion from Vietnam and Okinawa during 1972-73. I just posted the below captioned in that group, as I knew my Marine Brothers would be honored to learn that they had been recognized at our 40th Reunion the other night. Thought I'd share it with you...

I graduated from Stoneham High School in Stoneham, MA in 1971. I had already been sworn into the Corps' 180 day delayed entry program in Boston, MA on New Year's Eve of 1970, and then left for P.I. 15 days after HS graduation. There were 364 graduates, only 12 of whom eventually became military veterans, and only 3 of us, to include 1 female, who became United States Marines. As you all of you ...know, very few wanted anything to do with going into the military at that time, and even fewer into the Marine Corps... And of the 12 veterans from my class, 8 were Vietnam Era veterans, and I ended up being the "ONLY" one of the 364 graduates from my HS class who actually spent some time within the designated Vietnam combat zone by that time, and that was off the coast of the DMZ in the Gulf Of Tonkin as part of two BLTs' 1/9 between 6/72 and 1/73. Anyway, the reason for this story is this: When my class recognized certain graduates for significant things at our 40th Class Renunion this past Saturday night, they recognized me for being the only Vietnam veteran in the class, and also told everyone in attendance the story about how The Walking Dead received it's nickname from Ho Chi Minh in the '60's, that the 1/9 had the most KIA's between '65-69 during Vietnam than any other single Marine Battalion in history, and that we were the last Marine battalion to leave the Gulf Of Tonkin just after the peace treaty was signed in Jan of '73. Needless to say, I was extremely proud and wanted to share this with everyone. Semper FI Brothers, Murrie

Class of 71 Reunion--Going Home

Last time I wrote was about going to my 40th high school reunion.  After driving all day Saturday from Lancaster PA I arrived in Stoneham MA.  I got a real Boston traffic welcome too.  Since it was Saturday, I decided to go through the city of Boston.  I drove through the infamous Big Dig on my way to Stoneham.  Just I left the city I saw I-93 was squeezed down to two lanes for a bridge replacement project.  

I got off the highway in  Medford thinking I could go through the two center to Stoneham.  Bad idea.  Medford was jammed with hundreds of cars with the same idea as I had.  Since I always have a bicycle with me, I stopped at a donut shop on route 38 and circled around in Medford until I found a good back road into Stoneham.  I arrived a half hour early so I parked at Robin Hood Elementary School (my elementary school!) and road around the streets in the area of Stoneham where I grew up.  

I went to the reunion with my best friend from High School, Frank Capuano, and his wife Diane.  They live in Stoneham.  Diane works in Stoneham,  Frank designs medical devices.  His current commute is to Rhode Island!!!  I know its not a long commute, it may be shorter than my 70-mile commute to Philadelphia.  But Frank commutes from the north side of Boston to Providence.  That's a long commute in Boston traffic.

I am at 300 words and haven't even gotten to the reunion yet.  Next post more reunion.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Class of 1971 Stoneham High School, Stoneham, Massachusetts

Here's the latest update from Murrie Hubbard on the service of my classmates.  Either or 11 or 12 of the 371 graduates in our class served.
Since my first enlistment was USAF, I guess I could be double counted in who served where.  It is interesting that we got all five branches with just 11 people.

As far as we know right now, we have a total of 11 military veterans from our class, and there could be a 12th (George Zanni), but I've never been able to confirm whether he really had served time in the Marines or not.  If any of you know anyone else who is a veteran, in addition to the below list, pls let me know before our reunion this coming Saturday.  
As you can see, the USAF was best represented by the Class Of 1971 (4), followed by the USMC, and we have served in all 5 branches of the military.  We have 3 designated war veterans, 2 retired high ranking officers, and at least 4 out of the 11 of us who have various types of service-connected disabilities.
1)   Murrie Hubbard, USMC, disabled, Vietnam war veteran
2)   Neil Gussman, USA, Iraq war veteran and Vietnam era veteran, still serving as well as seeking a tour in Afghanistan 
3)   Alan Jones, USAF, Iraq war veteran, still serving
4)   John Holmes, USCG, retired Captain and Iraq era veteran
5)   Marty Anderson, USA, retired Colonel and Iraq era veteran 
6)   Joanne LeFave, USMC, Vietnam era veteran
7)   Walter Carroll, USMC, Vietnam era veteran 
8)   Pete Lang, USN
9)   Richard Warren, USAF, retired/disabled, Vietnam era and Desert Storm era veteran
10) Dan Mahoney, USAF, retired/disabled, Vietnam era veteran
11) Michael Brown, USAF, retired/disabled, Vietnam era veteran, seriously injured and medically retired as a result of being involved in USAF plane crash around 1981   

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Who Fights Our Wars: Contractor on the Way to Afghanistan

On the flight home from Kentucky yesterday, I was seated with a 27-year-old named Matt who was on his way to Afghanistan.  He will work in S-2, military intelligence, as a contractor.  This will be his third time serving in Afghanistan.  The first time he was a 19-year-old gunner on top of a Humvee.  At age 24 he had retrained and was in an intelligence unit in Afghanistan.  Now he was on his way back with no weapon and much higher pay.  I know he is not serving in the sense of being a soldier.  But IEDs don't discriminate and he will be working 12 hours a day, seven days a week in a very dangerous place.

Matt and I talked about flying long distances, hassles, chow, rockets, heat and dust.  We also talked about civilian jobs.  Matt lost his jobs when he came back both times.  The employers had been supportive and intended to keep his job, but they went out of business.  Like many soldiers, Matt is taking the contracting job because he will make more than $100,000 mostly tax free for the year he works in a war zone, and because he can't find a job that pays $20,000 back here.  Matt and his wife have no kids.  He is thinking of starting a business with the money he makes in the coming year.

When we landed in Charlotte, we each hurried off to connecting flights wishing each other well.  I hope his year goes well and his plans work out for him.  He went on inactive status with his National Guard unit.  If he returns to his unit and the war does not end, he will be back in Afghanistan as a soldier within a year after this tour.

Monday, August 1, 2011

40th High School Reunion in Two Weeks--2 Combat Vets in Class of 71

In two weeks I will be driving to Stoneham, Massachusetts, for my 40th High School Reunion.  One of the organizers is Murrie Hubbard.  He, Chickie Taylor, Tom and Diane Mayo and others worked to put the event together and track down many of our classmates.  In the course of getting reacquainted with many members of the class of '71, Murrie found out he and I were the only combate veterans of our class. Several others served.  Marty Anderson joined in 75 just after Viet Nam and rose to the rank of Colonel in the Army.  Mike Brown was a career Air Force sergeant.

But at age 18 Murrie Hubbard USMC went to Viet Nam.  On my 56th birthday, I stepped of the plane at Tallil Air Base, Iraq.  Funny that the only two veterans in our class served so far apart in space and time.

It's Murrie's birthday today.  Happy 58th birthday Murrie! See you soon.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Who Fights Our Wars: Staff Sergeant Jeremy Houck

At the good-bye dinner in late January 2009, the night before 2-104th board the planes to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, my family and I sat with Sgt. Jeremy Houck and his parents.  Jeremy sat with next to his Mom on one side and my daughter Lisa on the other.  Lisa was a senior in high school.  When we all had our food, Lisa had green beans, mashed potatoes (no gravy) and salad.  Jeremy loked at her plate and said, "Where's your dinner?"  Lisa told him she was a vegetarian and did not eat meat.  Jeremy said, "I am a carnivore.  I don't eat vegetables."  For much of the rest of dinner they made jokes about each other's eating habits.  During the deployment, Lisa sent me brownies, but included a protein brownie for Jeremy in one batch and a can of Spam in another.  Jeremy at the brownie and the Spam.

From training for the deployment in PA, through training in Oklahoma and Kuwait, to the deployment itself, Jeremy was out in front of all kinds of training.  He led PT at 0530 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Oklahoma and was a convoy commander in Oklahoma and Kuwait.  He went down the rappel ropes as many times as he could and went over and and over in the Humvee rollover trainer.  He could help other soldiers with all kinds of basic skills.  His smoking kept him off the top of the PT score list, but he always scored high.  

When we got to Iraq, Jeremy was right at the center of a dispute that lasted the rest of the deployment.  He is an electrician with a degree in electrical engineering.  When we arrived in country Tallil was not ready for us.  Echo lost two maintenance squad leaders on the second day.  Jeremy went from maintenance squad leader to electrician.  He worked full time for the rest of the deployment getting power to maintenance hangars, operations centers and headquarters offices.  The motor pool wanted him back.  Jeremy was in the middle.  But he and the rebuild team did some great work across the base throughout the deployment.

Jeremy helped me personally more times than I can count.  In one particular instance, he kept me going when I was ready to quit.  Before deployment, Jeremy, Sgt. Kevin Bigelow and I were three of the first ten soldiers to go through the new Live Fire Shoot House at Fort Indiantown Gap.  This was in the fall of 2008, just a month before I had surgery to repair four ligaments in my right shoulder--left over damage from the big bike accident in 2007.  First day we had to fire and M4 on full auto with one hand.  I shoot right handed.  I was going to quit.  Jeremy convinced me I could do it.  He was right.  I made it through and had a lot more confidence going into the deployment because I finished that course.

Jeremy is in Afghanistan now.  He is with an engineer unit.  He volunteered almost as soon as we returned to America.  When he comes back Lisa and I will take him out to whatever kind of carnivore dinner he wants.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Who Fights Our Wars: Captain Bryson Meczywor

During the July drill weekend, Captain Bryson Meczywor passed command of Echo Company 2-104th to his long-time executive officer, First Lieutenant Brian Marquardt.  Meczywor assumed command of Echo in November of 2008 just as we were getting ready to deploy to Iraq.  He had just three months to get to know his soldiers in Echo in Pennsylvania before many new soldiers were added to our ranks at Fort Sill OK.  Meczywor interviewed every soldier under his command.

The commander who preceded Meczywor was older (not old like me, but almost 40!) had family and work problems and was not very involved with the unit.  Meczywor worked full time as a recruiter, was just 25 years old, had prior enlisted service in the artillery, and was all Army.  I don't think he scored less than 300 on the PT Test during the entire deployment.  He dove into everything Echo from his first day in command.

Echo Company maintains motor vehicles for the 2-104th Aviation Battalion, fuels the aircraft, cooks the food and, if necessary, provides ground security for the battalion.  From train up at Fort Sill beginning at the end January of 2009 to Annual Training in June of this year, Meczywor pushed Echo to do more than what the regulations require in every area.

In Iraq, the 110 or so men and women of Echo Company set up fueling operations in FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) covering about a quarter of the entire area of the country of Iraq.  Echo soldiers rotated in and out of Normandy, Riflestock, Garry Owen and other bases fueling every kind of aircraft that could land in their FOBs.  These 24/7 fueling operations were rocket and mortar targets--especially Garry Owen.  Meczywor flew all over Iraq and was on the ground with his soldiers wherever they were assigned.

Echo trained harder than any other company in weapons and security operations both in Fort Sill and in Kuwait.  We never were called on to provide convoy or perimeter security in Iraq, but Echo was ready.

The day before we left for Iraq, Meczywor told us we were being assigned to a different base in the south, not the base where we originally assigned.  This change would leave Meczywor in a terrible position for the first month of the deployment.  All of our equipment was 200 miles away from Tallil Air Base at Balad Air Base.  Meczywor went to Balad to get our equipment while we moved into a base without facilities for Army Aviation.  Higher headquarters took away some of the best Echo NCOs to rewire buildings, build and remodel facilities and get aircraft maintenance facilities in working order.  At the same time, Echo troops were setting up fueling operations Iraq.  He kept all of these operations going and then started over a month later when the motor pool, company headquarters and two of the fueling operations were moved.

Meczywor gave me my favorite extra duty of my army career in Fort Sill when he put me in charge of remedial PT (physical training).  For the time we were in Fort Sill, I was the sergeant in charge of fitness training for the 40 soldiers who flunked the fitness test when we first mobilized.  We got most of the soldiers who flunked at least to a passing score.  When I joined, I was worried I would have trouble keeping up physically.  Being in charge of remedial PT reminded me I could make it whenever I doubted myself.

It's hard to be a good leader without being an SOB.  As much as I respect Meczywor as a leader, we had our difficulties.  We butted heads when I moved to battalion headquarters in the middle of deployment. He didn't want me to go and made his feelings very clear.  It was a compliment of sorts.  He thought I was worth keeping in Echo or we would not have had a problem.

Our deployment was more drama than action, but I very much believe that if things had gone badly, Meczywor would have shown how good he and Echo really were.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bear-ly Made Ride Down Gold Mine Road

After drill on Sunday, I rode up and down Gold Mine Road north of Fort Indiantown Gap.  The 5-mile climb has many challenges, but until today, they all had to do with the road itself.  Gold Mine Road is a left turn of Route 443 north of Lebanon.  As soon as you get on the road it drops steeply for about 30 feet, then starts the long climb up.

The first mile is mostly up, but has a couple of short descents and is mostly out in the sun.  Mile two is the beginning of the woods that line the road all the way to the top.  Mile two gets steeper until it is 17% just before the crest at two miles.  Then the road drops steeply down for a half mile.  Very steep.  The second time I rode down this stretch I hit 57mph.  Today I hit 54.  At the bottom of that drop, the road goes up for just under 2.5 miles to the Lebanon County line.

I rode up, turned around and flew back down.  In three minutes I was making the difficult climb up the steep half mile in the middle of the hill.  At the top I went straight down through the tight, steep right and left down to the edge of the woods.  When I went around the last turn and came out of the woods, I clamped on the brakes (at 40 mph) and pulled off the road.  A hundred yards in front of me was a big black bear on all fours stopped in the middle of the road.  He was facing across the road to the west, but stopped with the yellow line running under his belly.

He stayed where he was. I stayed where I was.

Then two cars came down the hill.  They slowed as they approached the bear, but didn't stop.  When the first car got very close, the bear ran into the trees on the west side of the road.  I turned around and rode back up the hill about 200 yards.  I wanted speed.  I turned around and pedaled hard to the spot where Mr. Bear ran into the woods.  I couldn't see him.  I kept going.  I know that I would lose in any encounter with a bear.

Last week they warned us about bears in Wyoming and I never saw one.  I didn't expect to see one in PA and there he was!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Back from Vacation

For the last week, I was in Jackson, Wyoming, with my in-laws on a family vacation.  Every year my father-in-law, Hall Crannell, arranges travel and lodging for 15 or more family members.  The Crannell family is a very frugal bunch--as evidenced by my wife's blog Miser-Mom.  We ate meals together every day, taking turns cooking dinner.  Hall cooked most of the breakfast meals, and lunch was leftovers and cold sandwiches.  I cooked hamburgers and hot dogs for my turn.  Other nights were salmon and stroganoff (a little weird I know--it was a request), pasta, and other fare for fifteen folks.

Now I am back to playing Army.  More tomorrow.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Counting Down

I realized today that I was paying more attention to the coverage of the space shuttle's last flight than I might have otherwise.  What I was listening to is the shuttle program expiration date.  I kept hoping that NASA would change its mind and extend the aging shuttle program another few years.

Obviously, I was thinking the same about the "Gussman in the Army" program that has an expiration date of 22 months from now.  I had so much fun at summer camp that I realized the next summer camp is my last one--unless I get a waiver to serve over age 60.  I will age out in May 2013.  If summer camp in 2013 is actually in the summer, I will be out before it begins.

You might be thinking that I got in on waivers and I have many people who would support me staying in, but that was in 2007and early 2008 when enlistments were down, the economy was up and the Army needed more people.  Now the reverse is true and it is not likely to change in time for me.  The brigade command sergeant major told me about another CSM who tried for a waiver to go on a deployment that would put him over age 60 before the scheduled end of the deployment.  He took a general out to dinner to plead his case and did not get a waiver.

But I won't give up trying.  Who knows, maybe things will get better or worse in a way that will make one more old soldier necessary for the mission.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flying Army

Today I got up and put on my uniform at 5am.  I did not have a drill weekend, I flew on vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  This family vacation is an annual event paid for by my very generous father-in-law Hall Crannell.  He flies the whole family to a vacation spot for a week.  He has three daughters with families, so with the kids, he buys 15 - 17 tickets depending on the year and rents the vacation place.  This year is Jackson Hole.  I have missed a few for work reasons.  The best one I missed was in 2006:  a cruise to Alaska from Vancouver!!!!  

Anyway, I flew in uniform which may or may not be the right thing to do, but I haven't asked and no one told me I shouldn't do it.  The practical advantages are obvious.  We flew from Philadelphia.  My wife, my sons and I were whisked past the waiting line for the security checks to the scanners.

On the first flight, I was seated next to a master sergeant going to annual training.  He said when he was going to wear the uniform on the return flight.  He enlisted in 1977, five years after I did, but long enough back in history that he ate C-rations for years.  We both agreed that people who complain about MREs should have to eat C-rations.

There were a few open seats on the first flight, but the flight from Chicago to Jackson Hole was overbooked and I was the only one with a seat assignment.  We all got seats, but in different parts of the plane.  The boys sat together and got a 12-year-old girl as the third person on the row.  The three of them had a great trip.  My wife got a seat alone where she could read.

A few minutes after take-off on the trip to Jackson Hole, the flight attendant asked me why I didn't want to sit in first class.  I told her no one asked me.  So she moved me up to the front of the plane.  I had already eaten so when they served the first class lunch, I brought the sandwich back to the boys.  They can always eat a second lunch.

In 22 months I will be a civilian again unless I get some kind of waiver to stay longer.  No more flying in uniform after that.

Who Fights Our Wars? CSM Donald C. Cubbison, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division

In the fall of 1977, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division got a new Command Sergeant's Major.  Donald C. Cubbison, veteran of the Vietna...