Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"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 how the outnumbered Germans beat France and Britain early in the war with fewer tanks.  The Germans invaded with 2000 tanks to 3000 for the British and French.  The short version is Guderian's tanks were on a 20-mile front led by Rommel.  The French and British spread their tanks like too little butter on too much bread from Switzerland to the Normandy Coast.

Happy New Year!

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury


Faith in Fury


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

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

waving american flag

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 on my Army drill weekend, I swam underwater with a GOPRO Camera making video tape of pilots, crew chiefs and flight medics going through water survival training.


I am 61 years old and because of 19 different surgeries to repair more than two dozen broken bones,  remove shrapnel from my eyes and repair torn ligaments, I can still serve in the Army.  And I can run, shoot and swim underwater, not just fill out paperwork.

With all the whining about our military, our enemies never do anything more than push us then run.  No nation is declaring war on us, invading our territory, or seriously threatening us in any way.

The protests in New York and Missouri and elsewhere say clearly that racial problems still afflict America in the 21st Century, but in my lifetime Black men in the South were lynched.  Jim Crow laws were enforced in "The Land of the Free."  In the 1950s America in which I was born, I could not have adopted two Black sons.  Not in Boston, Birmingham or Boise.

On Fox News, there is a war on Christmas, faith is under fire, and Jesus wants you to Open Carry.  But the freedom of worship in America is truly amazing.  World history reeks with religious murder. In most Arab countries they will kill their own citizens if they convert from Islam.  Our tolerance has led almost infinite stupidity in the name of faith.  Just try to imagine Joel Osteen walking the roads of Sanai and Asia Minor with the Apostle Paul and facing persecution and death with Joy!

Next month I will have surgery for the 20th time in my long, healthy life.  A life that keeps getting healthier!  I am writing this post in a warm comfortable home while my strong, healthy sons clean the kitchen and their rooms.  My wife is beautiful, brilliant and an Ironman, and she is the chair of the math department because women who have the drive and talent in America can do that stuff.  Two of my daughters already own houses.  One is having a baby next year.  One is on her way to an academic career.  Another works with very troubled Veterans.

In American in the 21st Century is where all this can happen.  God Bless America!!  He certainly has blessed me.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

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:

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 feet of water. They cannot unstrap until the divers doing the training stop shaking the Dunker--this is to simulate moving blades in the water. Each trainee flipped into the water several times. 
Above CW2 Sara Christensen and SSG Pamela Leggore were the lucky duo upside down in the water.

Below is an underwater view of Dunker training.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

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 wearing a suit that may or may not apply to women.  I don't know, because I don't wear women's suits.  So from here on I will address only men.

If you have a suit you should lay out the suit and the accessories on a bed.  Along with the suit, you should have a shirt, tie, belt (or braces), shoes, and socks.  If you are lucky enough to have a full-length mirror, put everything on and check yourself to be sure your suit fits.  The pants should gently rest on the shoes, the sleeves should just reach your wrists showing less than half an inch of shirt cuff.  The shoulders should be even with no bunching of fabric.  

Although pattern shirts are perfectly fine, matching the tie can be tricky.  The safest shirts are white and medium-blue dress shirts with classic collars.  Yes, I know, your favorite shirt is a button-down collar Oxford.  Save that shirt for casual wear.  Remember, in a suit, we are part of the group.  Before we leave the subject of shirts, there is no such thing as a short-sleeve dress shirt.  Period.  Never wear a short-sleeve shirt with a suit or jacket.  And for that matter, don't wear a tie with a short-sleeve shirt.  It's like wearing a leather belt with pajamas.  It's always wrong.

Belts and shoes should be black or brown and match.  Black shoes with a black belt, brown with a brown belt.  That's it.  Braces are a whole separate subject.  Email me if you want to know about them.  Yes, I have heard that shoes and belts come in white, red, green and other colors.  If you are in a Broadway musical and need such colors, the wardrobe manager will tell you, otherwise, black or brown, but not both.

And now we have arrived at the most difficult item:  The Tie.  Bad ties, like facial jewelry and neck tattoos, can ruin any suit they are worn with.  A tie is made of silk with stripes less than an inch wide that slant down to the right.  Left is more typically European.  Nothing wrong with left, but remember, we want to blend.  

Now you know what you should wear.  You should not wear novelty ties.  If you love My Little Pony, or the Buffalo Bills, or just Buffalos, save your unique good taste for your sweatshirt.  Pattern ties can be just fine, but they can also be quite strange.  Better to start with stripes and try a pattern later.

This post is long enough so I will talk about buying a suit in a later post.  

One more word for readers who may be circumferentially enhanced.  One of the real strong points of a good suit is that it properly drapes bodies that should not be on public display.  Rather than a long discussion, take a look at Gov. Chris Christie in his usual $3,000 suit then flip to the Gov. in a windbreaker.  In nylon he looks like a tent.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"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 in faith and repents of his sins, he will be saved.  Bible gives the serious answer knowing that that Wardaddy, Coon-Ass and Gordo are busting on him.  He says, "You know where I stand." And he means it, but he can also take the jokes and join in.  

So many other Believers are shown as wooden, or vile.  Bible sits apart and reads his tattered Testament when Gordo and Coon-Ass get laid in the tank.  But Bible is angry later when Wardaddy and Norman are off by themselves with two German women.  Bible does not want the pretty German girl as do Gordo and Coon-Ass, but Bible does not want to be left out when they are sharing real food and a clean place.  

Bible tears up and his words catch in his throat when he knows he is going to die, but he remains brave and faithful to the end.  

I love this movie more each time I see it.  

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury


Faith in Fury


Monday, November 24, 2014

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, if not the first.  Firing the .50 by eyeball is fun, but not accurate.  I aimed through the site, kept my burst short and put effective fire on the troop targets.

Next were troops at just 500 meters.  As soon as we saw then, Pierce dropped down in the turret in case the coax jammed.  I swung the target in the area and yelled "Gunner, Coax Troops."

Merc took the control and put nearly all of the hundred rounds into those troop panels.  Burhans held us at a steady 5 mph while Merc fired, then eased up to 10 mph again when I called "Cease Fire."

When we rounded the next bend, Merc was ready for the shortest shot, but one that would catch other crews out.  We fired at a panel at 900 meters with High Explosive.  This was the round we fired with the telescope, not the main sight connected to the stereoscopic range finder.

Merc had no problem.  Months of practice and the relatively short firing distance meant he was ready to hit the small panel with the slower high explosive round.  HE has a muzzle velocity of just 2,450 feet per second, less than half the speed of SABOT armor-piercing rounds.  A 900-meter shot with SABOT was point and shoot.  With HE the ballistic path took the round many yards above the target before it dropped through.

When Pierce spotted the target (He was very good at picking out targets.) I swung the turret and yelled, "Gunner HE Anti Tank."

Pierce already had HE loaded and the next round cradled in his arms.

Merc refined his aim.  We waited two extra seconds for this telescope shot but it seemed a lot longer.

"On the Way," Merc yelled and the tank rocked back.  Pierce yelled "Up" announcing the gun was reloaded just a second after the tracer showed that the HE round passed through the panel.  I announced "Hit."  The grader concurred.  Merc yelled "On the Way" and the second round passed through the panel.

I said "Driver Move Out" and tapped Merc on the shoulder with my foot.  Pierce reached over the gun and whacked Merc on the helmet.  We could lose points for unnecessary chatter on the headsets, so Pierce had to jump down and hit Merc on the head, in the most affectionate way.  Pierce was grinning.  He knew we were tearing this range up.  But the next engagement would be tough.  Moving tank.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

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 downrange from inside a tank turret.  Like a helicopter pilot in a simulator, I can feel and smell things that non-pilots completely miss.

I may see the movie again in a theater before it goes to video.  I am sure I will own the video when it is available.

If you haven't seen it yet, enjoy!!!!
Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury


Faith in Fury


Saturday, November 8, 2014

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 later.

With HEAT loaded, Merc moved the sights to center of mass of the panel, shouted "On the way" and fired.  The tank rocked back as the main gun recoiled, splitting the turret in half.  The spent cartridge from HEAT round clattered to the metal floor of the turret.  Geno slammed another HEAT round into the chamber and yelled "Up."  I saw the tracer pass through the panel with my binoculars and announced "Hit."

One of the advantages of HEAT over the more effective SABOT round for the tank commander, is that it is easier to adjust fire.  With a muzzle velocity of 3,850 feet per second, the HEAT round took two seconds to travel from the gun to the target.  The SABOT round covers the same distance in just over a second.  That extra second gives me a better chance of seeing through the huge cloud of smoke and flame coming from the gun muzzle.

Merc refined his aim as he always did, announced "On the way" and fired.  Another round, another hole in the panel.  "Driver, Move Out."

Next, machine guns.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

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 moving range takes the crew down a lane with nine targets.  Four main gun targets, three coaxial machine gun targets, and two .50 caliber machine gun targets.  The "Coax" machine gun is a 7.62mm, belt-fed weapon mounted parallel or coaxially with the main gun.  The .50-cal is fired by the commander in the cupola on top of the tank.

After the command "Driver, Move Out" we move slowly down the range.  We are all scanning left, right and front for targets.  The first targets pop up to the right: troop targets at 400 meters.

Before I talk about firing, a word about crew commands.  The fire command is primarily for the gunner, but tells the whole crew to do something.  The format is: Alert, Ammo, Target.  So for the first engagement, when I saw the troop targets, I used the commanders override turret control to swing the turret close to the target area.  As I swung the turret, the driver brought the tank to a smooth stop and I said, "Gunner. Coax. Troops."

Merc then brought the sights to the center of the troop concentration and announced "On the way" as he squeezed the trigger.  The loader made sure the ammo belt was feeding smoothly into the coaxial machine gun while the gunner fired.

Before the new tanks with stabilized sights and guns, tanks fired from the halt.  So every time I issued a fire command, the driver's job was to bring the tank smoothly to a halt as level as possible.

Merc put a dozen tracers in the area--a total of 60 rounds.  I called ""Cease Fire!"  And then "Driver, Move Out."

The whole crew scanned for targets.  To the left, a tank-sized panel popped up.  First main gun engagement.

More next post. . .

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"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 operation manual for the M60A1 Patton tank I commanded from cover to cover.  I came to the Army from the Air Force and was determined to be as good as the Army at tank gunnery.

For three months before gunnery, my crew was the last to go home at night, and sometimes was in on weekends when everyone else was off so we could drill on every aspect of tank gunnery.  Some afternoons we drove to the top of a hill near the motor pool and tracked cars on Interstate 25.  Moving targets are difficult with a tank cannon.  We drilled on tracking targets for hours.

One of the things "Fury" gets so right is how different the members of a crew can be and how well they can work together confined in a turret despite all those differences.  My gunner was Specialist Morris.  His nickname was "Merc."  Because Mercury Morris was a start running back of the 70s.  I was a starched, creased ambitious young sergeant.  Merc was a very good gunner, but a wrinkled, complaining soldier who was at his best after smoking dope.  Outside the tank we would not spend two minutes together.  Inside Merc and I became a team that could hit targets, even if we could never hit it off.

We had an amazing loader in Eugene "Geno" Pierce.  Geno was big, strong and quick.  He could flip and armor-piercing round into the breach one-handed in two seconds and have the second round in the chamber while the first one was still rattling to the bottom of the turret after the first shot.  Our driver, Rich Burhans, was a lanky, laid-back Minnesotan.  He was perfect as a driver.  He could wait calmly during long delays and then driver the 54-ton tank smoothly down the firing lanes.

On the final day of tank gunnery when we were next up to fire on the moving range, Merc walked off into the woods to "have a smoke."  He came back calm and happy.  We were ready to fire.  Would three months of practice really pay off on the ten-minute "Final Exam" for tankers?

Next post.

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury


Faith in Fury


Saturday, October 25, 2014

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 divided in half by a main gun.  When the main gun is fired, the gun recoils almost to the back of the turret.  Hands, legs, gear, bodies or anything else behind the main gun gets crushed.  This movie gets that danger right.  The crew calls the metal enclosure home, but home is a place that can turn into a fuel and ammo fueled inferno.

In the middle of the movie, four American Sherman tanks are attacked by one German Tiger tank.  The American tanks are outgunned by the more heavily armored German tank and three of the four Sherman tanks are smoking wrecks by the time the brief, violent battle ends.  The way the fight went brought back my best memories of tank gunnery and how well a crew that agrees on little or nothing outside the tank can mesh to put fire on targets.

Like "Saving Private Ryan" the premise of the last scene is ridiculous.  But unlike Ryan, which had me laughing and calling "bullshit" I stayed with the movie because even if the scene was unbelievable tactically, as bad as the worst John Wayne movie, the final scene made clear how attached crews can become to their tank and to each other.

The battle between the Tiger and the Shermans is worth the price of admission by itself.  Brad Pitt's character drew me in past every filter I have for war movies.

I am going to see Fury again in the theater.  Maybe twice.

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury


Faith in Fury


Thursday, October 9, 2014

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.

Friday, September 26, 2014

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 out of.  Suffering builds courage, builds inner strength, builds the resiliency the Army really wants us to have.  But we get two hours of pop psychology instead.

Today, I wanted to stay in.  I was talking to one of the funniest soldiers in my unit, a Blackhawk pilot named Latifa Gaisi who posted a link on Facebook about a female F-16 pilot flying for the United Arab Emirates Air Force hitting ISIS targets.  Talking to Latifa made me want to stay in.  The 1st Infantry Division set up its headquarters in Iraq.  That's 500 pairs of boots on the ground that are set up to command 15,000.  Are they there just to enjoy Iraq in the Fall?  This time we are not trying to win hearts and minds.  Every soldier I know who was part of the ridiculous mission in the last war, would like to return with a mission to win, me included.

Tonight, my sons came home from school, one after cross country practice and the other after getting help with English from one of the tutors on his squash team at F&M College.  The boys are doing well--much better than last year.  In part it is because they are in a better school, but it is also because I am home a lot more.  I work just two days a week.  When they have trouble I am around.  I am not riding a train or off at a three-month Army school.  

So it also seems to be time to let Latifa and the other 20-year-olds go off and smash ISIS.  I even backed out of doing the 28-mile ruck march on October 11.  I am getting shoulder surgery soon and carrying a 35-pound pack for 9 hours could switch my torn ligaments from scheduled surgery to emergency.

I will try to enjoy the next several months till I am out.  But currently, the chameleon is stopped--far away from green.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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 next Neil?" is getting various parts of my body repaired from Ironman training, previous crashes and the wear and tear of living more than 23,000 days.

Another dimension of "What's next?" is what I am doing now that I work two days a week and go to Philadelphia just once a week.  Ten years ago when I worked as a consultant, I took a course at F&M College each semester:  French, five courses in Ancient Greek, two each in Organic Chemistry and Physics.  

This semester I signed up for Russian 101. Hearing that I did this, one of my running buddies (who is multi-lingual) said, "Language is not like the Ironman.  There is always more to learn.  There is no finish line."   

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Ironman Friendship

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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 and railings and finally get my very sore self back to the car.  I was as completely exhausted as I have ever been.

After the last Tough Mudder I jumped on a single-speed bike and rode 18 miles including several mile-long hills back to my car.  I was bruised, cut, and smelled like a barnyard, but the next day, I was fine.

Although I shared 16 miles of the marathon with a great guy I met on the Ironman course, hanging with friends is not the point of the Ironman.  I only did the second Tough Mudder because I had a friend who would do it with me.  If I ever do another Tough Mudder it will be with a group from my Army unit or my Church or some other group of people I would like to share a tough experience with.

If you are thinking "Which should I do?" my advice would be form a team and do a Tough Mudder.  But if you want to see how much you can suffer in one day, train for the Ironman.  You will feel awesome when you finish--but not so good the next morning.

Tough Mudder and Ironman Posts:

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Friendship

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Monday, September 1, 2014

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.

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 pastor of our Church preached a sermon comparing the Ironman triathlon to the Christian life.  I was playing Army at the time.  My wife decided after the sermon she was going to do an Ironman.  She told me so that night.  I knew she meant it.  She made the same kind of calm announcement when she decided to donate a kidney to a stranger.  I knew she would do it.  Projected date 2015.  She needed time to train for the bike.

She HATES the bike.  But she bought a bike in January of 2013.  She named it SPDM (Sudden Painful Death Machine) and started to ride.

OK then.  I told her I would do it too.  Which meant I would have to learn to swim at 59 years old.  I never learned and I could not swim at all.  Not close to one length of the pool.  I got lessons.  I learned.

Life plan?  Bucket list?  Nope.  Squirrel ran past.  I chased it.

Did I always want to re-enlist in the Army and just happen to choose 2007?  Nope.  In 2006 I read August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  The hero of the novel is an old (mid 40s) soldier who re-enlists for World War 1.  He loved it, even as the Russian armies were badly beaten by the Germans. Around the time I read the novel, Congress raised the enlistment age by seven years.  I could get back in.  So I tried.  I got in.

At the end of the 90s and the beginning of this century I made more than 35 trips overseas to five continents in four years.  I have ridden in almost 30 countries.  Bucket list?

I did not even have a passport in 1998 when I got the job that would send me overseas almost every month.  I never had a passport.  The only time I went overseas before that was with the Army.

Suddenly I was Mr. Bike--Around-the-World.  No plan.  I just decided to take my bike on these trips.  No one else at my company did.  The opportunity was there.  I took it.

My next big activity will be marching 28 miles with a 40-pound pack.  Why am I doing this?  Well, I was planning to do the march without the pack, but then I thought, 'I am getting out of the Army in May of 2015, might as well see if I can carry the pack for 28 miles.'

So no, there is not a Bucket List.  I don't have a big or small list of things I want to do.  But if someone asks me to do something I have never done before and it sounds good at the time, I might do it.

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Ironman Friendship

Friday, August 29, 2014

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, "Here comes that 115 years of good looks."

We agreed that at 10:30 p.m. if we were not at mile 22, we would run till we made it or cracked.  At 10:30 we were at mile 19 and started running.  Mike took a break a mile later.  I kept running and finished six minutes before midnight.  Mike finished just before midnight.

Before the last mile I was thinking of waiting for Mike at the line, but the final effort to get to the line was so painful, I lost track of everything except getting back to my car.

That half-mile walk from the finish line to my car took more than 20 painful minutes.  When Annalisa and I got back to the hotel room, I told myself I should eat before going to bed.  I microwaved some leftover spaghetti.  I tried to eat it, but the effort of lifting my fork was too much.  I went to sleep.

It turns out Mike is a writer in addition to being a pilot and an Ironman.  Here is something he wrote about flying MEDEVAC in Afghanistan.  Mike also flew through the base where I was stationed in Iraq, although a few years before I was there.

The night before the Ironman, we went to dinner with Pam Bleuel, a friend from Iraq who lives in Kentucky.  My next trip to Kentucky, I will be visiting Pam and Mike.

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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 hunt every month.  Yet these guys have to go through the same repetitive rehash of firing procedures.  If all goes well, the soldier is actually on the zeroing range firing for 10 or 15 minutes.  The procedure is to fire three-round groups, adjust the sights and fire again.  Once the weapon has a zero, the soldier can go to the qualification range.  

At the "Qual" range, the soldier fires 40 rounds at pop-up targets from 50 to 300 meters away from the firing position.  This is very exciting, especially for the once-a-year shooters like me who have not memorized the target order and have to look for and fire at the targets for the few seconds they are visible.  

This year I had trouble with the battlesight, but a friend who is an armorer and an expert marksman switched out my sight.  I fired six rounds to zero.  All six were in the 4 cm circle at the center of the target.  On the range itself, I fired the best in my life with 33 of 40 target hits.  During my first enlistment, I carried a pistol so M16 marksmanship wasn't part of my Army life.

After the sight switch, I had an exciting ten minutes getting six rounds in the center of the zero target, and an exciting five minutes hitting 33 of 40 on the pop-up target range.  Immediately after shooting, we carefully pick up the spent cartridges

Then it was time to clean weapons.  For most of the next three hours I cleaned my weapon and started cleaning another soldier's weapon who had to go to a ceremony.  So in all, 15 minutes of excitement in a ten-hour day.

But wait!!! There's more.

At the end of the next day, our brass turn-in was was 400 less than the 10% allowed for loss on the range.  We needed 400 rounds of brass--the spent cartridge that is ejected from the side of the rifle.  For those who have not been on a range, finding brass is a painstaking job.  Most shooters from long years of habit begun in basic training carefully pick up all their brass.  Some ranges require you to turn in 40 rounds of brass when you step off the range after firing 40 shots.

At 5:30 pm, the first sergeant picked a dozen of us to head to the range and find brass.  We were joined by many staff officers.  We kicked the grass and crawled along the edges of the firing stations combing the ground looking for spent brass.  We found about a hundred rounds of brass on our range, then moved to another range, hoping the soldiers who fired there had left some brass in the grass.

An hour later, the Brigade Command Sergeant Major called a halt to the search and we headed back to the armory with the brass we could find.  

I will probably never know what happened to the missing brass.  The most common speculation I overheard on the range is that someone "misplaced" several hundred rounds of ammo.  

In any case, I was happy.  I fired the best I ever fired in my life with a rifle.  My zero was as near perfect as I will ever get.  And crawling in the grass looking for spent cartridges 42 years after the first time I fired on a military range was just too funny.  I was smiling the whole time while most everyone else was bitching.  For me this was the perfect Army end to my last session of qualification.  In the Army those minutes of excitement always begin with safety briefings, long lines to draw weapons and end with hours of waiting, picking up brass and cleaning the weapon.

That missing brass let me have a full Army experience.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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 skilled pilots, mechanics, technicians slip into pushing basic soldiers skills and fitness onto the back burner of their lives while they become the Iron Chefs of their particular specialty.

I have been in units in which the supply sergeant was an absolute wizard of Army paperwork and could pass inspections without any worry--either to himself or to his commander.  But that same guy could not even pretend to pass the annual fitness test.  I know motor sergeants, weapons sergeants and instructor pilots who are beyond out-of-shape and are obese, yet are incredibly good at their jobs.  And they believe their technical skill means they should be exempt from the fitness requirements of their career.

When the Army cuts the force in the coming years, they will do it the way it was done under President Clinton in the 90s.  By tightening height and weight and fitness standards, many mid-career officers and NCOs will decide getting in shape and staying in shape is not the way they want to live their lives.  

As you can imagine, the SEALS, the Green Berets, the Army Rangers, Army Airborne, the Marine Corps Special Operations Command and Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery units will not be affected by the cutbacks.  But the rest of the military will be smaller in numbers and wear a smaller size uniform once the cutbacks are complete.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

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 PowerPoint screens are lit.  First Sergeant Craig Madonna calls us to seated attention saying "Good morning HHC."  To which we loudly respond, "Good morning first sergeant."  

After announcements about what we will be doing for the day and the weekend from the first sergeant and other leaders, JoAnn Tresco comes to the front of the room and leads a 90-minute presentation about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.  Her particular emphasis was heroin and alcohol.  She told us the National Guard had a drug and alcohol problem and she was there to explain the dangers of drugs to us.  

Because the Army is a socialist as America gets, we all have get any training deemed mandatory by the leaders.  And since the presenter was upbeat, interesting and had professional videos made by Accenture, the 90 minutes went by more quickly than many presentations like this.  But I could not help scanning the room and noting the people like the Brigade Command Sergeant Major, Executive Officer, First Sergeant and others who seemed at very low risk for heroin abuse.

While she spoke I took a page of notes for this blog post, wrote out the Lord's Prayer in Greek, and wrote the Russian counting numbers from one to 89  (один к восьмидесяти девяти).  I don't knit so I write out things I have committed to memory when I watch videos.

After the briefing, I met with Capt. Miller,my boss, about the events I would be covering for the rest of the day:  a change of command at 1300 hours (1 p.m.) another an hour later, and an award ceremony at 1630 hours (4:30 p.m.)

Next, I went out to my car and got my extra camera.  The army issued me two Nikon digital cameras.  The spare one is the one I used in Iraq.  The other one is newer.  I signed my spare camera over to the battalion administrative NCO in my old unit. He has the unenviable task of taking picture of all tattoos on soldiers which can be seen in the Physical Fitness (PT) uniform.  New Army regulations restrict tattoos.  And the best way to be sure a soldier is not adding new tattoos is take pictures of those he or she has as of a given date.

Again, Socialism means we all dress alike--and look alike when wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  

So I spent 45 minutes tracking down the admin sgt. and signing over the camera.  Next was records review.  The HHC full-time training NCO Sgt. 1st Class Dale Shade sat down with me and went through all my records to make sure they are up to date.  Since I am getting out within a year, this review was not terribly important to my career, but it was time for records to be reviewed, so we did.  Dale and I worked together for the last few months of the Iraq deployment.  He is a funny guy.  We made jokes as we went through the records, several of them about whether some of my orders were signed by Patton or Custer.

And with that finished it was time for lunch.

This lunch was actually Sgt. Amanda Spangenberg's lunch which she allowed me to photograph.  I had mostly the same meal, but also had the cake for dessert which Amanda skipped.  I skipped the chocolate milk.  

At lunch I sat with fueler and new father Staff Sgt. Matt Kauffman.  He had baby pictures of his second child in his iPhone.  Halfway through lunch the Echo 1st Sgt. came by and offered Kauffman a ride to the fueling site 30 miles away at Zerbe Airport, and he was off to the fuel site.

At his point I checked out my camera and flash and got ready for the first change of command ceremony.

I will write about the afternoon and evening in my next post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

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 because his birth pre-dated Christ.  This is consistent with the theology of the Catholic Church, but strikes modern readers as eternally cruel.  I can't remember which soldier said, but one said, "Virgil got screwed!"

I was surprised at the time, but have since come to agree with the group.  I will push on through the very Roman version of Heaven in Paradiso, but believing that the Virgil was, in reality, dealt with more justly than by Dante.

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...