Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gun Trucks in Viet Nam and Iraq: Why Lessons Aren't Learned

Yesterday I went to a presentation at Franklin and Marshall College about Gun Trucks in Viet Nam and in Iraq.  I knew about the many variations of gun trucks assembled by soldiers in the Iraq War, especially before up-armor kits were available for Humvees and other vehicles.

But I had no idea of the extent of the Gun Truck culture during the Viet Nam War.  Nina Kollars, Assistant Professor of Government at F&M, talked for about 40 minutes about the origin of the gun trucks in Viet Nam and how they grew and spread among transport units until there were hundred of 5-ton and "Deuce-and-a-Half" trucks rolling on the roads in Viet Nam with various kinds of armor plate and heavy machine guns.

In Iraq, the chaos after Saddam was defeated left American soldiers vulnerable to IEDs and snipers--just like their brothers from the Viet Nam war 40 years earlier.  Like the Viet Nam soldiers, they welded armor on the vehicles they and mounted heavy machine guns.

One of my favorite images from the presentation was the truck above with a palletized gun platform made from a Conex box.  It has shade, armor and if the M1074 PLS truck breaks down, the gun platform can be dropped and picked up on another PLS.

One big difference between the two wars was that during Iraq, the Army centralized training and upgrading vehicles with armor.  In that way, the lessons learned in Iraq were not lost as in Viet Nam, but passed along to soldiers as they arrived.  I never got to see the Skunk Werks at Camp Anaconda, but I went through convoy training at Camp Udairi in Kuwait before going to Iraq.  By the time I went, the lessons learned had become a curriculum with classes and manuals and a lot of on-the-road training.

Nina will be presenting her research at a meeting of military historians in the UK in a couple of weeks.

One question that came up in the research was why the lessons learned in Viet Nam had to be re-learned in Iraq.  that question I had an answer for.  The U.S. Army was only too happy to turn its back on everything Viet Nam after that war ended.  We trained to fight the big war in Europe against the Soviets.  No more un-winnable wars for us!!

So when we got in another un-winnable war, we had to learn the up-armor lessons all over again.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Who Fights Our Wars: Carrie Davis Jackson

When we went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 2009, I was reluctant to use soldiers names in my blog.  So the unnamed soldier in the post below is the soldier in the photos above: SGT Carrie Davis Jackson.  While me and most of the other soldiers struggled to Zero our weapons,  Carrie walked off the range after firing the minimum 12 rounds.  Then she went to the qualification range and fired expert.

That's what a soldier looks like.
Today I had the biggest anxiety attack since this whole deployment started. It was first of two days of live fire with the M-16. Although I spent 11 years in the military back in the 70s and 80s, I have not fired an M-16 on a qualification range since Air Force basic training in February in 1972. Worse, in AF basic we did not go through the whole qualification process: zeroing the weapons, pop-up targets, night fire, firing in gas masks. In the Air Force, they handed us a weapon, we shot at some targets, they took the weapons and that was the one and only day in my Air Force career I handled a personal weapon.

When I joined the Army, I went straight to tank training. For the next eight years my personal weapon was a 45 cal. pistol. So this morning we boarded a bus to go to the range wearing our new bulletproof vests and helmets.

On the first range we zeroed the weapon. To zero, you shoot three rounds at a paper target at 25 meters. To zero the weapon, you must put 5 rounds in a 4 cm square. Since the M16A4 we use has both traditional iron sights and the new close quarters optical device, we have to zero the weapon twice, once with each sight.

So to zero the weapon with both sights, you have to shoot at least 12 rounds--six with each sight--and hit at least five out of six. Most of the 25 of us who were shooting fired 36 to 48 rounds. I fired 60. A few soldiers fired more. One soldier, a female sergeant, fired 12 rounds and was done.

We fire side by side in 8-foot-wide "lanes" with very prominent numbers. When the safety NCO told the tower the woman in Lane 6 zeroed with 12 rounds, the tower told her to walk down the embankment we shoot from and clear her weapon. As she walked toward the ammo point to turn in her unused ammunition, the tower told all the rest of us to turn around and look at the female sergeant walking to the ammo point.

The sergeant in the tower said on the PA system, "Take a look ladies and gentlemen, that's what a soldier looks like. Now turn around." 

Congratulations again Carrie!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Trading a Guitar for a Gun--Who Fights Our Wars

With more American troops headed for the Middle East and with many of my friends in NATO countries that surround Ukraine and border Russia, I thought I would repost some of my favorite stories about the men and women who risked their lives in Iraq and may be going back.

By the way, this photo is used at the Army Sergeant's Major Academy as an example of BAD SAFETY PRACTICES!

The story is here: Trading a Guitar for a Gun

Or here:

Seven years ago, then 18-year-old Nicholas Raia of Altoona, Pa., brought his trumpet to an audition for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard band. He aced the audition and until last summer was member of several performance groups within the band. Over those seven years he performed more and more with the band and ensembles playing the guitar for recruiting events and celebrations. For more formal military ceremonies he now plays the baritone—a small tuba.

After seven years in the band, Raia, now a sergeant, decided to take a year away from performing and volunteer for a combat tour. Since mobilization in January, Raia has served as a door gunner on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation Regiment.

“I felt that after 7 years in the Guard, it was my turn to do my part overseas,” said Raia.
To get ready for the transition from full-time student and weekend band member, Raia volunteered for additional training in weapons. In June 2008, Raia attended the Small Arms Master Gunner course at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. To prepare for hand-to-hand combat he completed the week-long Level One Combatives Course in July. At the end of September, he was one of 10 Soldiers in the first class trained in the new Live-Fire Shoot House also at Fort Indiantown Gap.

His transition from band member and college student to door gunner had difficulties training could not help.

“It was a decision that I struggled with for a while,” Raia said. “It’s one thing to tell your loved ones you are being ordered to leave and a totally different animal entirely when you are trying to explain to them that you are voluntarily leaving.”

Over the years he was in the band, Raia came to believe he should deploy with a combat unit.

“Our job (in the band) is unique in that we are in the public eye often, and we often get thanked for our service by people in our audiences,” Raia said. “I would find myself conflicted, because while it is true that we, as a unit, were serving our country in the way in which we were meant to serve, I also felt as if I should be doing more.”

Raia had several friends in the Guard who deployed overseas at least once in their careers. He said he felt those were the Soldiers who truly deserved to be thanked.

“I felt that after seven years in the guard, it was my turn to do my part overseas,” he said.
His final decision to deploy was met with mixed emotions.

“My unit could not have been more supportive of my decision,” Raia recalled. “They helped me get everything on the military side of the house in order prior to my deployment and have made it a point to ensure it would not affect me negatively upon my return.”

His friends, on the other hand, were confused by Raia’s decision.

“Many of my friends are not in the military and I think that makes a big difference,” he said. “People in the military think a little differently than those who are not and most of the Soldiers in the military today could probably easily understand the feeling of responsibility that compelled me to deploy.”
“My family worried about me and they were not real thrilled that I would volunteer to leave them for a year to go to a combat zone. Raia continued. “My family has been super supportive of my decision. Any previous uncertainty or worries has given way to pride in what I am doing.”

Before deployment, Raia completed all the requirements for a bachelor’s degree at Penn State with a double major in Criminal Justice and Psychology. He plans to bring together all of his training, experience and education by becoming a police officer after deployment—except on National Guard weekends when he will be back on stage or in formation at ceremonies in the 28th Infantry Division Band

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentines Day and Retirement

On Valentine's Day my fellow veterans, you might think America loves Veterans and that could never change.  But don't bet your future on it.  I enlisted during the Viet Nam War when soldiers were scum to much of the nation.  Many soldiers I know cheer for the politicians who are taking cutting retirement money for police, for firefights, for teachers and other government workers.  You may have noticed recent news reports that talk about the how military retirement costs almost as much as paying the current force.  Only 20% of soldiers who enlist stay in till retirement.

I am not writing to protect my own retirement.  I can't stay in the Army long enough to retire.  I won't get any retirement.  But I know a lot of soldiers who are staying in just to get their 20 years and retire.

Since the 80s big business has figured out many ways to drop retirees from fixed-benefit pensions.
In the past decade, local and state governments have figured out how to take retirement benefits away.
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, including all retirees are barely one percent of the population of America.  The men and women who deployed to our recent wars three, four, five, ten times or more should be ready for another fight to keep their retirements.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Soldier/NCO of the Year Selection Board

This past drill weekend, 28th Combat Aviation Brigade picked its Soldier of the Year and NCO of the Year.  The NCO of the Year is SGT Jordan Bannister, who is in my company--HHC 28th CAB.  She is also an admin. NCO and is the one who is doing all of the administrative work on my request to stay in the Army for another two years.

Congratulations and Thanks to SGT Bannister!!!

And if you wondered what a Soldier of the Year Board looks like, here is a view of the six first sergeants and command sergeant's majors who made up this year's board.

I sat in front of this panel last year.  They take up to a half hour per candidate asking questions about everything from Aviation Zip Lines.  They are tough.  They are picking the soldier and NCO who will represent the brigade at the state and national competitions later in the year.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Photos from Drill Weekend

No big events this weekend, but some good shots of soldiers training:

Putting safety wire on an air sensor on the main rotor blade of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.

Soldiers from Bravo Company, 628th ASB prepare an AH-64 Apache helicopter for installation of main rotor blades.

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...