Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Popular On Line Can Be Strange

This week my YouTube video explaining the difference between Army MRE and C-Ration meals passed 50,000 views.

A photo I took this weekend has had more than 4,000 views.

And here is the most popular post on this blog by far with more than 2,600 views.

Is there a lesson?  I guess writing about where soldiers live, talking about what we eat and taking pictures of helicopters reaches a lot of people.

Not like kitty videos or anything, but a lot for me.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More Snow on the Way? Armor Still Looks Good

This weekend began with snow all over Fort Indiantown Gap, including the Armor displayed at the main intersection.  Armor looks good in the snow, as you can see below, but it is not made for snow driving.  The the 53-ton M60A1 tank I drove and commanded would slide easily in two or more inches of snow.  Wide tracks mean low ground pressure--the same ground pressure as a Corvette.

So if someone offers you a ride in a fully-tracked vehicle in the snow, say "No Tanks!" unless you want to slide.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

1984: Big Brother Never Showed Up

I am re-reading "1984" for the Cold War class I am taking.  George Orwell's tale is so completely Evil Empire and so completely wrong.  In a bleak, battered London, Winston Smith toils rewriting history at his day job and trying to remember and write down the truth at night.

As a storyteller Orwell is brilliant and chilling.

As a prophet, he is a failure.  The world he imagined is nothing like what actually happened.  Orwell imagined a future with central control of information and nearly all history wiped out.  In this gray, impoverished world everyone is starving.

Closer to the future is Ray Bradbury's 1953 book "Fahrenheit 451."  You and I and everyone who read that book 30 years ago remember it as the book about burning books.  In this terrifying world in which Firemen start fires instead of putting them out.

But when I re-read the book several years ago, the thing that stood out was the video walls and the ear bugs.  The main character's wife had a room with three walls of video and wanted her husband to get promoted in the fire department so they could afford four walls of video.  With four walls, the video became interactive and she could be on game shows.  And everyone got music through bugs they fitted in their ears.  Bigger TVs, TVs that cover walls, music direct to your ears--that sounds like the near present and near future.

The guy who got the future right is Aldous Huxley in his 1931 book "Brave, New World."  Huxley imagines the future in which no one has to burn books because no one reads them.  In the Brave New World people are so glutted with entertainment and information that they are easy to manipulate.

Any prospect of the horrors of 1984 becoming reality died with the Soviet Union.  Communist China is becoming capitalist in a way that will eventually end the communist domination of the government.

But people who no longer read, who are obsessed with music and video, who are lazy and stupid--that world is here.  Prophetic Gold Medal to Huxley, Silver to Bradbury, no medal for Orwell.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Soviet Era Propaganda Reminds Me of East-West Border, And Advertising

Yesterday was the first day of a class I am taking about the Cold War Era in books, film, and images, like the one above.  Today we saw Soviet propaganda films from 1924 to the 1960s and discussed several propaganda posters.  Before class we read a 30-page article about Soviet cartoons and cartoonists.  

Among the cartoonists, Boris Efimov story was chilling.  He lived from the beginning of the 20th century, either 1899 or 1900 until 2008.  He drew cartoons for the entire Soviet era.  

In interviews he said he drew what he was told to draw, Soviets as heroes, westerners as fat and greedy.  In his tale, I remembered both seeing Soviet posters when I was stationed in Germany in the 1970s and at home in newspapers and on TV.  

I worked at an ad agency for 13 years and have worked in marketing communications of various kinds for the past 30 years.  What stands out in the Soviet images is how well they controlled their "brand."  From the 1920s to the end of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the image of the Soviet citizen/worker/soldier was a strong, tall, clean, happy man or woman.  The capitalist enemy was fat, greedy, foolish and deceptive.
If you are going to create and impression through media, this control is very important.  And as the world changes, the brand has to stay consistent.  So with Ford, the brand image is quality, reliability, and performance though the actual product has changed from a Model T to a Ford GT.

The brand image is the coolest car on the road whether it's 1908 or 2015.  And the Soviet's controlled their image just that well--and exploited every weakness in their enemies.

Their propaganda was effective enough to keep me and 250,000 other American soldiers permanently stationed in Germany to defend Western Europe from an attack we thought could come at any time.  Our tanks were fully loaded with cannon ammunition and ready to fight when World War 3 started.  When we went to the border, we saw this on the other side of the fence.

They convinced us!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Aviation Photo Contest Photos

I entered three photos in the Army Aviation Association of America photo contest.  Last time I entered, all of the photos were of aircraft over Afghanistan and Iraq.  It's hard to compete with combat photos.  So this time I decided I would enter three photos (the maximum allowed) with no photos of aircraft in the air.  In fact all three are very much on the ground and only one has aircraft.

The first one was a photo of grounded aircraft in heavy fog in January of 2014.  All the photos have to be in calendar year 2014.  The second is of mechanics from 628th Aviation Support Battalion pulling a broken truck out of three feet of water.  The third is from Dunker training.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Politics and Freedom in "Fury"

This morning I was reading Hannah Arendt's "The Promise of Politics" on freedom and leadership.  Politics, Arendt says, should bring freedom into the world.  She wrote this shortly after World War 2.  In a big way, the movie "Fury" could be seen as a movie about men who gave up their freedom to set others free.

But reading Arendt, I thought about one of the early scenes when the column of tanks passes hundreds of German refugees.  Among this group of pathetic people carrying their meager belongs on the muddy road is a woman wearing her wedding dress.  Her head is oddly tipped.  The dress is dragging in the mud.

In any coffee shop, locker room, or restaurant, we hear people saying "Politics doesn't matter--they are all the same."  Or "I don't care about politics."

In America we have the freedom to say those things, because in America we have the Rule of Law and who is in charge does not matter in the same way as in a real dictatorship.  The scene with the refugees portrayed real roads full of German refugees at the end of World War 2.

Those men and women stumbling through the mud, hoping to get food, hoping to stay alive another day, dragging what few belongings they still had would never say politics doesn't matter.  Just 12 years before, many of those refugees voted for Hitler the only time he actually stood for election.  Because of that vote, American tanks were driving down the muddy road to kill more Germans in their country.  And the men in those tanks were making jokes about how many chocolate bars or cigarettes they would need to have sex with any of the women on that road.

We can say politics doesn't matter.  In Sudan, in Egypt, in Palestine, in Iran, North Korea, and Congo, no sane person says politics doesn't matter.

Other posts on Fury:

Fourth time watching Fury


Faith in Fury


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

When I'm 64, I Might Still Be a Soldier

Last week I signed two documents that begin my request to stay in the Army another two years.  And since the enlistment will end 29 days after my 64th birthday, if I get the extension, the answer to the Beatles question, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" will be, "Yes!"  At least for a few more weeks.

Right now, my last drill will be in May of this year.  If I do get to stay in the Army, our summer camp will be sleeping in two-man tents on the ground in northern Michigan with my M16 rifle sharing my sleeping bag.  So if the Army says yes, I will have a real Army experience right away.

When I enlisted in 2007, the waiver I needed to get in was signed by the commander of the PA National Guard, Major General Jessica Wright.  In 2013 when I got the two-year extension to stay till age 62, the waiver was signed by the current Adjutant General Wesley Craig.  This waiver goes to the Pentagon.  Waivers like this are often turned down.  Rationally, I know that at the end of May this year, I will be a civilian again, but the optimism that got me to re-enlist at 54 won't allow me to think anything except that this time next year I will still be in the Army.

In case you were wondering, even with this two-year extension, I will only have 18 retirement years, and I will not be able to retire.  If I do get this extension, I will probably be the oldest sergeant in the US Military sometime in 2016.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

French Soldier in Afghanistan Writes About His Admiration for American Soldiers

The article below was sent to me by my friend Julian Richter.  It's a real tribute to American soldiers.  Here is the link, but I am pasting the whole thing so dead links won't be a problem.

Here is the original in French.  If you read French the last two paragraphs are beautiful.

I trained with French soldiers in Germany in the 1970s.  Those soldiers were the grandsons of the French Army that lost a million dead and five million wounded in World War One.  This young man would be the great grandson of those men who defended France in the horrors of the trenches.

What follows is an account from a French ISAF soldier that was stationed with American Warfighters in Afghanistan sometime in the past 4 years.  This was copied and translated from an editorial French newspaper.
"We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while - they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy. To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army - one that the movies brought to the public as series showing "ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events". Who are they, those soldiers from abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the men of our OMLT every day? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company, and it has become the support company. 

They have a terribly strong American accent - from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever State they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other. Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine- they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them - we are wimps, even the strongest of us - and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.
And they are impressive warriors! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark - only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered - everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.Here we discover America as it is often depicted: their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by promiscuity and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley.

And combat? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all - always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks: they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the enemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting: they just charge! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask questions later - which cuts any pussyfooting short.
Honor, motherland - everything here reminds of that: the American flag floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the post parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the hearth of American cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold high and proud the star spangled banner. Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location: books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions: the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention.
(This is the main area where I'd like to comment. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Kipling knows the lines from Chant Pagan: 'If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white/remember it's ruin to run from a fight./ So take open order, lie down, sit tight/ And wait for supports like a soldier./ This, in fact, is the basic philosophy of both British and Continental soldiers. 'In the absence of orders, take a defensive position.' Indeed, virtually every army in the world. The American soldier and Marine, however, are imbued from early in their training with the ethos: In the Absence of Orders: Attack! Where other forces, for good or ill, will wait for precise orders and plans to respond to an attack or any other 'incident', the American force will simply go, counting on firepower and SOP to carry the day.
This is one of the great strengths of the American force in combat and it is something that even our closest allies, such as the Brits and Aussies (that latter being closer by the way) find repeatedly surprising. No wonder is surprises the hell out of our enemies.)

We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 AM onwards the camp chores are performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours before even knowing how dangerous the mission is - from what we have been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy heir to those who liberated France and Europe.
To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who pay the daily tribute of America's army's deployment on Afghan soil, to those we owned this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all the same band of brothers".


For much of this article, the various veterans reading will go 'Well, duh. Of course we do our 'camp chores' and stand our posts in good order. There's a reason for them and if we didn't we'd get our heads handed to us eventually. And, yeah, we're in shape. Makes battle easier. The more you sweat, the less you bleed.'
What is hard for most people to comprehend is that that attitude represented only the most elite units of the past. Current everyday conventional boring 'leg infantry' units exceed the PT levels and training levels of most Special Forces during the Vietnam War. They exceed both of those as well as IQ and educational levels of: Waffen SS, WWII Rangers, WWII Airborne and British 'Commando' units during WWII. Their per-unit combat-functionality is essentially unmeasurable because it has to be compared to something and there's nothing comparable in industrial period combat history.
This group is so much better than 'The Greatest Generation' at war that WWII vets who really get a close look at how good these kids are stand in absolute awe.

Everyone complains about the quality of 'the new guys.' Don't. The screw-ups of this modern generation are head and shoulders above the 'high-medium' of any past group. Including mine.
So much of 'The scum of the earth, enlisted for drink.'
This is 'The Greatest Generation' of soldiers.
They may never be equalled.

Military Pilots Really Have "The Right Stuff"

Tammie Jo Shults, F-18 Fighter Pilot Today I listened to the audio of pilot Tammie Jo Shults calmly speakin...