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"Fury" Again with My Son--Nicknames

On Monday night, my youngest son and I went back to see "Fury" again.  Third time for him, sixth time for me.

By this time we were quoting the best lines to each other just before the characters said them.  On the way home the first thing we talked about was the point at which "Machine" got his nickname.  We left before the end right after the final battle started.  At that point the movie goes all John Wayne.  But the moments before that, when Norman becomes Machine, are some of the best in the movie.  It is in those moments that Wardaddy, Bible, Coon-Ass, Gordo and Machine each face certain death and each say, "Best job I ever had."

In that final battle, the other crewmen call Norman only Machine. Nicknames really stick.  My first gunner's nickname was Merc.  I don't remember his first name.

On the way home after the movie (at almost midnight) we had a long discussion of nicknames and what they mean.  We also talked about thickness of armor and…

What Place and Period in History Do You Want to Live in? HERE and NOW!

On a recent bicycle ride, a Trekkie on the ride told me about a Star Trek episode he liked in which the crew traveled back in time and visited great moments and times in history.  He talked about times and places he would want to visit.

I would like to visit Florence when Dante was alive, Rome when Julius Caesar ruled, and be in the room when the Constitution was debated.  But if I could live any time, anywhere, I would stay right here in America in the 21st Century.  No question.

It's not like America is perfect.  We have to be the biggest gathering of whining, privileged bitches in the history of the entire Universe.

But by living with whiners who have not missed a meal in their entire lives, I get to live in a time and place in which every injury I manage to inflict on my aging body can be fixed.  I live in a place where I can choose to fast, but otherwise I can eat every meal, every day and if I want to eat snacks till my ass fills two seats on a Greyhound bus.

This month o…

Dunker Training--Flipping Upside Down in the Deep End of the Pool

Last week I went to Dunker Training for Detachment 1, Charlie Company 2-104th.  Aircrew members are strapped in seats with five-point restraints then flipped upside down in the deep end of the pool.

Chris Calhoun made an excellent video of the training:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QW8q03Xsihg&feature=youtu.be

Here's two more videos:

First one going into the pool:


When a helicopter crashes in water, the crew has to be able to get out of the aircraft and get their passengers out of the aircraft. "Dunker" training teaches downed aircraft drownproofing to pilots, crew chiefs, flight medics and other aircrew members. On December Drill Weekend, Det. 1 of Charlie Company, 2-104th (Medevac) put eight aircrew members through a day of "Dunker" training. This first video shows a pilot and a flight medic flipping into the deep end of the pool at Somerset Senior High School. They are wearing flight suits and helmets and land upside down in a five-point harness in 12 f…

How to Wear a Suit.

This is an Army blog, so why I am writing about wearing a suit?  Because soldiers will need a job or need to wear a suit at some time in their lives.  And as our culture becomes more "Casual Friday Every Day" it is very clear that wearing suits is becoming a lost art.  And of all people, soldiers can put themselves in the right frame of mind to wear a suit.  Because wearing a suit well is not just about the suit, but how you think about wearing a suit.
So let's begin with first principles.  When you wear a suit you are wearing it to identify with a group--not to be your own special, individual, wonderful self.  This is important.  The primary reasons men and women wear suits is to apply for a job, work at a job with a dress code, or attend an event at which people dress up.  In each of these occasions, the man or woman wearing the suit is saying, "I am part of this group;  I respect this group."  
From this point on, I have specific advice about selecting and …

"Fury" for the Fifth Time, Focus on Faith

Yesterday my son Nigel and I went to see "Fury" for my fifth, his second time.  We went to the 10am showing at the Kendig Square theater in Willow Street, PA.  This is where movies go when they have  run their course in the big chain theaters.  Our tickets were $2.50 each and we were half of the people in the theater.  
Nigel focused on the the "surprise" events in the movie.  The first thing Nigel said after we left was that his brother "Jacari would hate this."  Jacari does not like war movies and really does not like horror movies.  Cartoons and comedies make him happy.  Nigel pointed out several of the times when everything was calm and then someone dies horribly.  
For me, I focused on Shia LeBouef, known in the movie as "Bible."  LeBouef does the best portrayal of a Believer in the Army I have ever seen.  The banter about his faith was perfect.  Wardaddy asks, "Can Jesus save Hitler."  Bible says if Hitler cries out to the Lord …

Tanker's Final Exam, Part 3, Machine Guns and HE

After the first two engagements, coax machine gun then HEAT at a 1600-meter target, the next two engagements were machine guns against troop targets.

We are supposed to keep moving while firing machine guns.  As we moved away after firing the cannon, I said "Driver Steady" over the headset.  Merc and I had practiced for hours holding our sights steady on an area target while Burhans smoothly steered the tank down the trail.  He held 10 mph while the loader and I scanned the horizon.  The .50 cal. target came  first.  Troop silhouettes off to the left at 1200 meters, almost 3/4ths of a mile.

When Pierce called the target, I swung the turret close to the area, then dropped down to refine the aim through the .50 cal. sight.  Burhans slowed to 5 mph.  I had been cautioned over and over by our platoon sergeant not to "Cowboy" the commander's machine gun.  I only had 50 rounds to bring effective fire on those targets.  That meant the 2nd tracer better be on target,…

Total Reverse: At the End Drill on Sunday, I Decided to Try to Stay for Another Year or Two

Pretty soon I will be older than the model for this picture.  But despite that, I just wrote a letter to ask to extend my enlistment for two more years in the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade.
The reason for the change, as far as I can tell, began with seeing "Fury."  I may not be able to return to tanks, but after a weekend of talking to soldiers I have served with for years now, I knew I would hate myself if I didn't at least try to stay in.  So I wrote a letter saying why it was good for the Army to keep me in for another year or two.

I don't know if it will work.  Waivers over age 62 have to be approved by Big Army at the Pentagon, not just at the state level.

I will let you know.

Seeing "Fury" for the Fourth Time

Last night I saw the move Fury for the fourth time.  I was in NYC and saw it with Jim Dao, who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times.

Seeing it the fourth time, I was just as impressed with the crew and how accurate every tank scene was--until the final battle scene when everything went all John Wayne.  I did not leave the theater in the same emotional haze that enveloped me as I walked form the theater the first time.  That night I walked out of the theater ready to re-enlist for six years--if I could serve in tanks.

My favorite scene remains the four American Sherman tanks battling the single German Tiger tank until just the heroes' tank remained.  I loved watching the gunnery procedure in fine detail.  Four times watching Bible shoot, Coon-ass load, Gordo drive and Wardaddy lead the crew just made the whole scene look better.

Of course, by the fourth time, I realized my view of the action is very different from someone who has never sent rounds dow…

Tankers Final Exam, Part 2 "Gunner, HEAT, Tank"

After the first engagement, we rolled down the firing lane scanning the trees and dunes ahead on the range at Fort Carson in southern Colorado.  Off to the left just over a mile away, a 6 by 6 wood panel popped and I yelled my favorite fire command into the headset:

Gunner, HEAT, Tank!

At the moment, Burhans brought the tank to a smooth halt.  I traversed the turret left and got the gun on the target.  While the turret traversed Geno loaded a HEAT round into the chamber and yelled "Up" announcing the main gun was loaded and ready to fire. The High Explosive Anti Tank round has a projectile shaped like a whiskey bottle.


The round detonates when the nose of the round touches the target, but the detonation is at the back of the round.  It forms a shaped charged that burns a hole through up to a foot of armor plate.  An explosive shell would not penetrate half that much armor.  The best round for punching through armor plate is the solid-shot SABOT.  We'll get to that late…

Remembering the Tanker's Final Exam

The Moment After the 105mm Round Goes Downrange
Last post ended when my crew and I lined up for the moving range at my first annual tank gunnery.  It was April 1976.  I had enlisted in the Army the year before after spending 2-1/2 years in the Air Force.  I was a Specialist at enlistment in June of 1975, got promoted to Sergeant in January and was a tank commander.  For the driver, PFC Richard Burhans, and I it was our first gunnery.  For the loader, PFC Gene Pierce, this would be his second annual gunnery.  My loader, SPC "Merc" Morris, had been a loader in the two previous years.  This would be his first time as a gunner.  
And gunner was the position The Lord made him for.
Merc was a rumpled, complaining, lousy soldier in many ways, but was good with numbers and could think quickly and clearly about ranges, ammo and adjusting fire.   
As we rolled onto the range we loaded ammo and waited in springtime sun in Colorado.  Blue sky, little wind, and lots of nerves.  The movin…

"Fury" Brings Back Memories of Tank Gunnery and Life in a Turret.

On Monday night my son Nigel and three men from Church went to see "Fury" with me.  I re-read books I love and will watch movies and TV shows I like a second, third, or more times.  Re-reading and re-watching takes away the delight of surprise that only the first time can offer, but removing surprise lets the best moments sink in more deeply.

In 1976 I spent more time inside my tank "Bad Bitch" than at any other time in my Army career.  That year our brigade was training to go to Germany for three years as Brigade '76--4,000 combat soldiers with an alert area in Fulda, West Germany:  the place where everyone thought the ground war with the Soviet Army in Europe would start.  Tom Clancy wrote his best novel about that war:  "Red Storm Rising."

In the Spring of 1976, the 54 tanks of 1st Battalion, 70th Armor, spent three weeks in the Colorado desert for annual gunnery training.  For three months before that I read the 700-page maintenance and operatio…

Review of "Fury"

Last night I went to see the movie "Fury" at the 945pm showing.  That meant movie did not start until 1006pm and was not over until after midnight.

At more than 20,000 days my life is much too long to say for sure this is the best movie I have ever seen, but it is the best movie I can remember ever seeing.  I walked out of the movie slowly after watching the credits.

I never stay for the credits.

But the credits of Fury show actual footage from World War 2 I remember from documentaries.

The story begins in the flaming, smoking wreckage of a tank battle with a lone German on a horse riding into the scene.  The somber calm is broken when Brad Pitt jumps from his tank and kills the German with a knife.  Pitt and his crew are the only survivors of the battle.  They get the disabled tank running and return to the war.

From this scene onward, the movie gets perfectly right the claustrophobic, noisy dangerous world inside a tank.  Even without a war, every tank turret is divid…

Apache Live Fire

In mid-August I watched AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters fire rockets and cannon at targets on Range 40 at Camp Grayling, Michigan.  The exercise included ground troops, mortars, artillery and US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack fighters.

Here are the Apaches firing rockets and cannon:






Next post I will show the ground crews loading the rockets and 30mm chain gun.

Changing Faster Than a Chameleon Running Across a Rainbow Bridge

Every day this month something happened that made think either, 'I should try to get a waiver and stay in the Army.'  Or 'I would get out tomorrow if I could.'
What I will actually do is put on my uniform an hour before the sun comes up tomorrow and go to drill.  When I get there, we will have formation, then I will have two, two-hour classes: one on resiliency and one on how to get along with people of other races, sexes, sexual orientations, etc.  
Wednesday, when I found out about the classes, it was one of those I-can't-be-out-soon-enough days.  The resiliency classes are pop psychology which may work for people under normal, everyday, I-live-in-America levels of stress which includes three meals a day, shelter, smart phone, computer, TV and a thousand other things the majority of the world would LOVE to have.  But resiliency training is not going to work if you are face down on one side of the road with you lower leg still in the Humvee you were just blown ou…

What's Next Neil??

"What's next Neil?" My riding buddy Chris Peris asked me that question yesterday.  I have been hearing it a lot since the Ironman.  I did not answer quickly because we were riding fast and my jaw hurt from getting the first stage of a root canal yesterday morning.

I could give several answers to the question:

Since I am out of the Army next spring, I can actually race again without Army training eating up all the weekends at the peak of the race season in May and June.Jim Dao and Ethan Demme both want to do Half Ironman events next year.  I could be interested in that.Next month is the 28-mile March for the Fallen--in uniform with a 35-pound Rucksack. But here's the definite answer: Shoulder surgery, probably in January 2015.Dental implant next month.Tomorrow I will find out if I am getting a root canal or another dental implant.Three crowns. All of the above are things I put off because I did not want to interrupt Ironman training.
So the answer to "What's …

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Six Minutes to Midnight I crossed the finish line.  Many times after bicycle races I felt good enough that I thought:   'I didn't try hard enough.'  That thought NEVER crossed my mind as I limped and to the car after the Ironman.  I looked for a fork sticking out of me, because I was DONE!
I wrote in previous post that time I spent training for the Ironman exceeded anything I did for the Tough Mudder.  In fact my second Tough Mudder was easier because of the Ironman training.

Now that I have actually finished the Ironman, the contrast between the two events is much sharper.

After I crossed the finish line, a smiling woman grabbed my arm and steered me toward my finisher's medal and asked me if I need anything.  She was looking at an old guy she was worried would collapse.  She guided me to the end of the finishing chute.  I told her I could walk to the car a half-mile away.  She let me go.  It took nearly a half hour for me to walk, limp, shuffle, stop, lean on walls…

Jet Porn: A-10 Thunderbolt II Ground-Attack Fighter Drops Bombs on Range at Camp Grayling MI

I shot these from the control tower of Range 40, Camp Grayling MI.
















NOT a Bucket List!

I understand.  You could get the idea I am acting on a Bucket List.  Somewhere in my iPhone is a list of life ambitions that I methodically check off.

Ironman--Check
Iraq--Check
Ride around Beijing--Check
Alpe d'Huez--Check

But it is not true.  Like my ADD sons, then next thing I do is guided by the last idea to enter my head.

Sorry if you gave me more credit than that.  Wait!!  Squirrel!!!  I'll be back.

Really, let's start with the Ironman.  Surely, a life ambition. . .surely NOT.

My wife's main running buddy Terilyn reminded me a few nights ago of a conversation we had after a half marathon we ran in 2010 with a half dozen members of our Church.  After the race Terilyn asked me if I was going to do a triathlon.  "No way," I answered in a millisecond.  "I never learned to swim.  I have no interest in triathlons."

So how did I end up spending 16 hours and 34 minutes in Louisville swimming, biking and running 140.6 miles?  In November 2012 the past…

Beginning a Friendship at the End of the Ironman Triathlon

My story of finishing the Ironman Triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky, on Sunday, August 24, will begin with the end--or near the end.  At mile three of the marathon that ends every Ironman, I jogged past a guy who saw my tattoo and said, "I was in first armored."  So I slowed to a walk and started talking to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike Woodard, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the Kentucky Army Reserve.



Mike has done the Louisville Ironman for several years.  He was convinced we could run-walk to a finish just before midnight, so we started walking and running together--and stayed together until mile 19.  During the 16 miles we walked and ran together we got a lot of encouragement.  When people on the side of the road would say, "Looking good!" I would tell them that Mike and I were 115 years of good looking.  I yelled this to one group of women wearing matching t-shirts supporting another competitor at mile 5.  We passed by them on mile 9 and one of them said, &qu…

Minutes of Excitement, Hours of Drudgery

Minutes of This Is Followed by Hours of This. . . And This. . .

In the Army, anything that is really exciting will require hours of drudgery before and after.  Much of life is like this.  Think of the hours that go into preparing a perfect meal.  The most exciting moment is the first taste of the sizzling scallops or the crunch of the the perfect salad.  
Add all the bureaucratic bedevilment with safety and the Army brackets each minute of real excitement with an hour of boredom before and after.  This is so true of firing weapons.  Before a soldier steps on the range, that soldier will have two or three hours of Primary Marksmanship Instruction.  For someone like me who fires once a year, this class is a good reminder of some of the fundamentals, especially of zeroing the weapon (lining up the sights and the barrel of the weapon for the particular shooter).  
But most of the class own a dozen guns, talk about gun safes at lunch, know who sells ammo cheapest, and fire on a range or h…

SEALS and Green Berets are from Lake Wobegon

The commander of the garrison at Camp Adder, Iraq, when I was stationed there was a Lieutenant Colonel who was a Green Beret.  Because I helped with some garrison events I got to talk to the colonel a few times about being a soldier.  Once he said, "The difference between [Green Berets] and other soldiers is that we meet Army Standard in every area.  Most soldiers are good in some areas, great in one or two and bad in many others."  The applies to SEALS, Recon Marines and other elite units.  
Like the children of Lake Woebegon who are all above average, elite soldiers are fully qualified on their own weapon and every other weapon in their unit.  They know field medicine.  They are beyond Army Fitness Standards.  They can survive, escape, and evade capture.  
Outside these elite units, the Army looks very different.  Outside the combat arms fields--infantry, armor and artillery--soldiers tend to specialize in their job.  And competence breeds contentment so some of these ski…

Army Life: A Real Day as a Weekend Warrior

For those of you who think every drill weekend is shooting machine guns, flying in helicopters, or marching with a 40-pound pack, the following is my actual day at drill from a few minutes before sunrise until well after dark.
Drill weekend begins at 0530 hours when my alarm goes off.  I get straight out of bed and get cleaned up before waking my sons up.  This drill weekend both of my sons were leaving with me and getting dropped off at Jacari's former Foster Mom's house.  They will sleep over and get picked up on my way home Sunday night at abut 2000 hours (8 p.m.).
By 0615 hours we are on the way to Fort Indiantown Gap by way of Fredericksburg where the boys will be dropped off.  By 0730 I am in my seat in the main meeting room for morning formation.  The Brigade Headquarters Company has often has formation sitting in a briefing room rather than standing to attention outside or on the drill floor.  
As soon as we enter the room it is clear why we have formation here.  The …

Pissed Off At Dante: "Virgil Got Screwed!"

I just finished Purgatorio, the second book of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.  Next week I will be having lunch with Brian Pauli who was part of the Dead Poet's Society book group at Camp Adder in Iraq.  Re-reading Dante in Iraq gave me new insight into this beautiful epic poem because I read it with younger soldiers.

Easily the biggest surprise I had was when most of the soldiers in the group got angry at Dante because of Virgil.  At the end of Purgatorio, just before Dante crosses Lethe and begins his ascent into Heaven, Virgil gets sent back to Hell.  Virgil, with other great and good pagans, gets to stay in Limbo, the penthouse of Hell.  Limbo has none of the torments of Hell proper, but it is Hell and has the greatest torment of separation forever from God.

The first time I read Dante, I remember feeling sad about Virgil, but the poet creates his own world so I accepted Virgil's condemnation.

But in human terms, the injustice is glaring.  Virgil was only in Hell …

My Last Summer Camp--Photos

M249 SAW and M2 .50 cal. machine gun ranges.