Monday, January 27, 2014

"What did you do this weekend Dad?" Weekend of Media Training

I picked up my son Jacari after drill this weekend.  He asked, "What did you do Dad?" smiling and hoping to hear about Blackhawk helicopters or machine guns.

I told him my butt hurt from sitting all weekend in a Media Training session.  We changed the subject.  He did not really want to hear about the moment when I corrected the instructor who said we should hyphenate a compound noun.  I said if it was a compound modifier it should be hyphenated, but compound nouns should not.

It was just like knocking down the 300-meter target on M4/M16 qualification range (sort of).

Hapless hyphenation aside, it was an important weekend for the 15 months or so I have left before they will throw me out for old age.

The division commander, BG John Gronski, has made communication one of his top four priorities for the 28th Division.  So this seminar included assigned public affairs people like and the newly appointed unit public affairs people at each of the battalions in our brigade.  Instead of Captain Miller and I covering everything that goes on in the brigade (as well as we can), each battalion will have someone who can take pictures and write stories and Facebook posts.

The division commander and CSM spoke to our class for more than 30 minutes on Saturday.  Gronski has a Facebook page.  Both he and CSM Kepner have twitter handles.  But the class itself says just how serious the new commander is about communication.  Five soldiers from the aviation brigade were in the class and learning how to use social media to support the mission.

For me, it means I have a back up for promotions, awards, and other events scheduled at different places at the same time.   It also means that when there Chinooks are doing sling loads, Blackhawks are supporting air assault and the MEDEVAC is doing hoist training on the same day, we can get all three events.

Next drill we can get all the communications people together and talk about how to cover events and manage the Facebook page.  I can't wait!!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


One of the saddest, angriest soldiers I met in Iraq was a staff sergeant with the nickname "Squishy Head."  He got the nickname at the aviation hangar at Muir Field on Fort Indiantown Gap.  As I heard the story, squishy was working near the massive doors for the aircraft when the doors were closing.  He dropped a wrench, reached between the closing doors to retrieve it and got his head caught.

He survived, but was forever after called Squishy Head, mostly behind his back.

The poor guy makes one mistake, some smart ass calls him a name and he is Squishy Head from then on.  But that is how real nicknames go.

I don't have a nickname, at least not one that I know.  Except at home.  Among all my kids I am "Dude."  For the past decade all of my kids have called me Dude.  It came from my daughter Lisa.  From age 12 to 14 she was a junior bicycle racer.  She rode up to 100 miles a week between March and September to train for racing.  Some of those miles were with me on the tandem we owned back then.  Once or twice a week Lisa would ride 35 miles with me between 4 and 6 pm on the daily training race.  Six to a dozen rider, mostly men, would be on this fast ride.  Many of them called each other Dude.  Some called me Dude.  Since I was 50 years old, from the East Coast, never surfed, and did not otherwise see myself as a "Dude," I smiled at this generic name.

One night, while we ate dinner with the rest of the family after the ride, Lisa was describing the way we passed some riders down Turkey Hill (tandems are fast down hill) and addressing me said, "Dude, did you see how we passed. . ."

Everyone looked and Lauren, the oldest child, said, "Did you just call Dad Dude?"

She did.  And kept talking.  Slowly over the next week, the other kids started calling me Dude.  And I have been Dude ever since.  I still get some odd looks in public places when one of my kids, particularly my adopted kids, turn to me and say something that begins "Dude,  . . ."

But it seems to be the rule of nicknames that they are more funny than fitting.

My daughter Lauren and Lisa, like me, were called Goose by coaches on the teams the played on.  Goose never really stuck with either of them.  Lauren, who is 5'10" and was the thug/enforcer on her high school basketball and soccer teams, still has the nickname "Sissy."  Which is like calling a fat guy "Tiny."  The whole family calls her Sissy.

Some nicknames make sense.  My bunkmate in basic was Leonard Norwood from Sawyerville, Alabama, population 53.  He was, no surprise, "Bama."  In the next bunk was our mutual friend "Jersey."

An odd occurrence of nicknames was happened about the time my older daughters went off to college.  Nigel and Lisa were the only two kids in the house.  They started calling each other "Pumpkin" and "Muffin."  But the names were not for one person.  If Lisa left for school and said, "Goodbye Pumpkin" Nigel would say, "Bye Muffin."  The next time Lisa might be Pumpkin and Nigel Muffin.  They still do it occasionally now, seven years later.

Do you have an odd nickname?  Let me know what it is?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fog on Muir Field Today

The hangar at Muir Field, Fort Indiantown Gap held four change of command ceremonies today.

Here's what the airstrip looked like.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Culture--Dismissing Women Soldiers

One of the books I read over the holidays was Anthony Esolen's Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Culture.  This 357-page book is a delightful guide to western culture from its beginnings in Greece through Rome up until about the 19th Century.  At that point about two centuries ago, Esolen thinks our culture went off the rails.  The book continues through the time just before the Great Recession began at the end of the Bush administration in 2008.

This is the fourth book I have read by Esolen.  The other three I read in Iraq: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, Esolen's excellent translations of the three sections of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Throughout the book Esolen makes points for the Conservative view of politics and rarely concedes its excesses.  He does at one point admit Senator Joseph McCarthy might have been a bit much, but the entire right wing talk radio universe gets not a whisper of criticism.

Although Esolen is pro-military, he throws scorn on women soldiers.  He said that any "Private Benjamin" would be crushed by a third-string, bench-riding high school football player.  That may be true, but the modern military is not all about brute strength and Esolen, along with most leading Conservatives in America, helped to create the circumstances that made women an integral part of the modern volunteer Army.

When I enlisted during the Viet Nam War in 1972, the draft still technically existed but it was clear that suburban boys like me from the Northeast were not getting drafted.  Women were a small part of the military.

When I enlisted, Mitt Romney and William Kristol were deployed at Harvard University seven miles from my home town.  Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly and thousands of other big names in the Conservative movement got deferments and let poor kids serve in their place.  After the draft was over and military service was optional, Esolen and other men younger than draft age did not serve.  Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck or most other Conservatives in their 50s fall in this category.

Now you could say that those who did not serve had every right to avoid the draft by legal means, or choose not to enlist when the draft was over.  And you would be right.  But when draft evasion is the norm someone else has to serve.  Women stepped up while Esolen got a PhD.  And in his book, Esolen admires the Athens of Pericles where all the men were required to be fit and ready to defend their city.

In 2007 I was able to re-enlist at 54 years old after 23 years as a civilian because the Army had temporarily raised the enlistment age. I was too old to re-enlist when 9-11 happened, but I got in with a waiver six years later when the law changed.  Why did the law change?  Because right when The Surge was in full swing in Iraq, a country that claims to have nearly 100 million Conservatives could not fill its recruiting goals.  So old men like me and women filled the of the places left vacant by those who did not serve.

When I was in Iraq, I saw women take off in horrible dust storms to rescue soldiers attacked on the roads and at Forward Operating Bases around Camp Adder.

Until that bench-riding football player flies a Blackhawk Helicopter into a sandstorm to rescue fellow soldiers or jumps out of that helicopter and runs to care for that wounded soldier, like the female pilots and flight medics I knew, the fact that he could possibly beat one of them in a school-yard brawl means nothing.

Esolen and Limbaugh and other Conservatives can make fun of women in the military, but that bench-riding football player will most likely get a college education and never serve while a women steps up and takes her place in the military.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

“That Was a Wake Up Call” Optimism Bias and Death

In five months I will be 61 years old.  Each year I am alive I am more likely to hear the phrase “That Was a Wake Up Call” from someone I know, either about themselves or someone they hold dear. 

I don’t know who will say it, or the exact reason, but the person who says it will be the only one surprised about the heart attack, stroke, or other near-death experience that lead to the comment.

In November of last year, I went to a business lunch at the Yale Club in New York.  The speaker was the CEO of a billion-dollar chemical company.  His topic was how he led his company to grow nearly double in size during the preceding five years, the worst recession in the last 80 years. 

This genial, affable man spoke easily about encouraging the previous management team to “seek new opportunities.”  In a near quote of Mitt Romney, he said a couple of those people thanked him when they found better work.  He closed plants, moved production to countries with “more attractive work environments” and did what managers do to succeed in a global market.

When he talked about the key moves he made on the road to success, important hires, deals closed, these events occurred during dinners at expensive restaurants.  “Get him to dinner and I’ll close the deal,” he said with a smile about one important acquisition.  He looked the part.  Five feet, nine inches tall, a tailored suit draped over a mid-section created by many dinners and missed gym workouts.

While he spoke, I looked up his bio on the web.  He is 66 years old. Toward the end of the talk he said he planned to lead the company for two or three more years to complete plans he had then retire. 

Won’t that be fun.

Let me hazard a guess that the successful CEO currently takes a dozen prescription medicines to stave off the effects of eating too much and exercising too little—or simply of being too short for your weight.  By age 69 or 70, Mr. Success will be on more medication.  He will suddenly lose the adrenaline rush of leading a successful company. 

If he survives the heart attack, stroke, or other health catastrophe he will tell his family and friends “That Was a Wake Up Call.” 

Really???  A wake up call?  So for 40 years you overate watched your toes disappear in the shower, moved to the next waist size in you suit pants every three years, and the heart attack is a wake up call?  Were you in a coma?

It turns out that most humans have a view known in psychology as Optimism Bias.  Even when we understand risk, we think it will happen to everyone but us.  In this case, the CEO, if he took a survey, would rate the likelihood that a fit person his age would have a heart attack at something less than 20%.  He would rate the likelihood for someone with his height, weight and exercise pattern as 70+ % likely to have a heart attack.  But he would rate HIS OWN likelihood of having a heart attack as roughly the same as the healthy man his age.

We all do it.  College students who drink think those who drink to excess are more likely to be robbed, assaulted, flunk courses etc.  They think non-drinking students have little danger.  If they themselves are binge drinkers, they rate their own danger as similar to non-drinkers. 

Mr. CEO will very likely have a near-death experience within a year after he retires, if not before.  “That Was a Wake Up Call” will be what he says.  He will say it because Optimism Bias has lulled the otherwise hard-nosed man who can close a factory with no regret into a sunshine and rainbows view of his own health.

Many of the soldiers I serve with are already on the path to their own Wake Up Call.  Some are in their 20s, flunking the fitness test, overweight and building up to a sad later life.  And at 60 years old, 60 pounds overweight and 60 beers a week, that heart attack will be a shock. 

I smoked a pack a day for more than 15 years.  I stopped at 33 years old and haven’t smoked since.  One thing that helped me to stop though not immediately was writing obituaries.  Back in the 80s when more than a third of adult males smoked, obituaries of men came across my desk in two groups:  non-smokers died between 75 and 85 of various diseases, smokers died between ages 57 and 63 of heart attacks and lung cancer.  After a year of obituaries, I lost my Optimism Bias.

Military Pilots Really Have "The Right Stuff"

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