Thursday, May 14, 2015

Leaving My Day Job at the End of June

Last July 1 I began working two days per week to spend more time at home.  I tried to do my job in two days per week, but the growing museum and library I work for decided they need a full-time person in my job.  Since that's not me any more, I will be leaving at the end of June.  I have worked here since March 2002--tied with the longest I worked anywhere.  I worked at Godfrey Advertising in Lancaster PA from 1985 to 1998.

Here's the message to the staff from my boss:

Dear colleagues,

Last July Neil Gussman shifted from working full time to working two days per week in order to spend more time with his family. But as CHF continues to grow and evolve, so do our communications needs. It’s become clear that we need a full-time, on-site public relations manager, and Neil has decided to move on. His last day at CHF will be June 30.

Neil began working for CHF as a consultant in 2002 and was hired as a staff member in 2005. He has persuaded editors and reporters far and wide to feature CHF’s work, from a 2006 CHF conference on alchemy that was covered by the New York Times and Marketplace, to the recent review of Books of Secrets in Nature, to repeated coverage in chemical-industry trades such as Chemical & Engineering News and Chemistry International.

As Neil plans his next adventures, please join me in wishing him the very best. CHF will feel a profound lack of puns when he leaves, and holiday parties will never be the same.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Army Made Me a Writer, Then a Professional Writer

The Army made me a writer.  Last year I wrote here about how six versions of letters home taught me to write and rewrite and helped to make me writer.

By the end of 1977 with 14 months in Germany, I had become a writer, but not a professional writer.  Then the Army gave me that too.  Specifically, Command Sergeant Major Cubbins gave me the chance to become a professional writer.

Cubbins was one of those Top Sergeants for whom his part of the United States Army was HIS Army.  The 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division went to Wiesbaden, West Germany, en masse in October 1976 as Brigade '76.  Cubbins took over as Brigade Sgt. Major in the fall of 1977.

Cubbins was a tall, rail thin, leathery-skinned, wrinkled veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  He was over 50 years old which we 20-year-olds thought just amazing.  He had 33 years of enlisted service when he came to our unit--11 service stripes on the left sleeve of his dress uniform and a half-dozen combat stripes on the right.

At the time Cubbins joined the Brigade, we were doing regular 4-mile runs on the airstrip at Wiesbaden.  These were brigade runs with dozens of company formations running in a long procession.  As soon as he took over the brigade, Cubbins started leading those runs.  We were amazed.  In the 70s, men in their 50s did not exercise.  But here was this old guy running in front, calling cadence too.  The world was very different then.

It was Cubbins' Army.  So just before Christmas he gathered all of the sergeants in the Brigade for an NCO meeting in the Weisbaden Air Base Theater.  I don't remember most of the meeting, but I do remember one subject he covered.  Cubbins said 4th Brigade was being ignored by The Stars and Stripes, but Armed Forces Radio, even by the Wiesbaden Post.  He wanted a combat arms sergeant to volunteer to work to get 4th Brigade in the local and regional news.

He wanted a "real soldier" who could write about training.  He did not want a "goddamned sissy journalist who could not tell a muzzle brake from a parking brake."

I noticed that Cubbins wrote with a blue pen on a yellow pad.  As soon as that meeting ended, I went to the PX and got a new blue pen.  I already had a yellow pad.  And I walked out onto the airstrip to look for something to write about.

There on the edge of the airstrip were a dozen German soldiers and as many American soldiers planning to have a partnership event that weekend.  I had my story.  Before lunch was over, the story was on the sergeant major's desk along with a biography noting that I loved to write and that I fired Distinguished as a tank commander my first time out the previous year.

I found out later Cubbins liked that I had something written the same day.  The other entries came in a few days later.  I got the job.  I was a paid journalist from then until I left the Army nearly two years later.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Big Day for Russia--Bad Date for Me

The biggest holiday on the calendar in Russia and many other former Soviet States is May 9.  These countries celebrate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany on the day the Nazis surrendered to the Russians, May 9, 1945.

The soldiers in the photo above are fighting at the Battle of Kursk in 1943.  This was and is the largest armored battle ever fought and the Soviet Army won, turning the the tide against Germany.

While this day is great for the Soviet Union, Russia and the free world, it is a bad date for me.  Eight years ago today, I had the most and worst injuries I have had on one day in my life.  If you don't know the story it is here and here.

Because there are only 365 days in a year, many days will have multiple meanings.  So the coincidence that my worst wreck and the greatest Russian victory are on the same day is just a coincidence.

So in the spirit of this day, I will practice my recently learned Russian language skills and race my bicycle at Smoketown Airport this morning.  What else would someone do on a sunny Spring Saturday morning?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Silly Punk Mother F**ker: 1st Sgt. Robert V. Baker

When Bravo Company, 1-70th Armor went to Germany in 1976, our First Sergeant was Robert V. Baker.  Top Baker was a veteran of both Vietnam and the Korean War.  He was not old enough to serve during World War 2, but none of us believed it.  Top Baker to us was REALLY old.  Nearly 50 according to the unit clerk who peeked at his records and told everyone just how old Top Baker was.

Top Baker was a very sharp guy and a very good tanker.  But this tall, thin, graying soldier had a wandering indirect way of speaking that drove us crazy on several occasions.  Once in the Spring of 1977 we were in formation on a cold morning in short sleeves because the Army said it was summer.  Top Baker told us one of the washing machines in the barracks was broken and could not be repaired any time soon.  With great gestures, but without actually looking at us, Top went on for almost 20 minutes talking about washing clothes in Viet Nam which led him to remember that the maintenance people responsible for that field laundry facility were a bunch of "Silly Punk Mother F**kers."  Once he wound himself up to using SPMF we knew he would be talking for another ten minutes at least.

I personally got the SPMF treatment once when during major maintenance of my tank.  We turned in all 63 rounds of main gun ammo.  It was during this part of my life that I started signing documents with an "N" followed by a wiggly line.  The Army required 63 signatures of the tank commander for ammo turn in and 63 signatures to reload the tank.

The trouble this particular time was one of the rounds was missing.  I was signed for that SABOT service round.  I was an SPMF and Top Baker was going to make sure that I was busted right down to SPMF Private!!!

It was a clerical error so I did not get "busted right down to Private."  I noticed to my great relief that during the period in which my sergeant stripes and my future in the Army were in jeopardy, Top Baker never referred to me as a "Non-Tanker."  Anyone could make a mistake and be an SPMF until the mistake was corrected, but a Non-Tanker was a fundamental flaw.


I heard at the 70th Armor reunion that Top Baker passed away not long after he returned to America in the early 80s.

Even when I was shivering in the cold, waiting for Top Baker to wrap a 20-minute digression on washing machines in the Army, Top Baker was one of my favorite first sergeants.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Who Fights Our Wars? Southern Men

I don't know the soldiers in this photo, but I do know that if we could find the home address of every one of them, two out of three would be from the eleven states of the Old South or from the West--between the Rockies and the Sierras.

At the reunion dinner of the 1-70th Armor last Saturday night, those who attended were mostly officers plus a few senior enlisted men.  We served together from 1975 to 1979, the first years of the all-volunteer Army following the end of the draft.

Military service has always been more honored in the South than in the rest of our country, but until the Vietnam War, the draft meant that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines came from all over the country.  I enlisted in 1972, during the last year of the draft.  Already, anti-war sentiment was so strong in the Northeast where I am from, that I seldom heard a Boston accent on a military base.

By the time the draft was over and I was a tank commander in the 1-70th Armor, the military had become a very Southern organization.  More so among the officers than among the enlisted men.

In 1980, 1407 students graduated from Harvard University.  Two of them joined the military.  Five of them took blue collar jobs.  One of them was an apprentice to a some who hand-built chairs.

But in the same year, more than 40% of the male graduates of Baylor were in ROTC and joining a branch of the military.  I served with guys from Alabama and Georgia who said almost half the boys in their graduating class joined the military.

A total of 371 students graduated with me from Stoneham High School near Boston in 1971.  A total of 12 of us ever served in the military.  Two of us enlisted during the Vietnam War.

As I met and reconnected with people at the 1-70th Armor reunion on Saturday night, everyone I spoke to was from the South or the West.  Many of them served in Vietnam.  All of them began their training to become military officers during the Vietnam War even if the war ended by the time they were commissioned.

On Sunday morning when the reunion ended, I rode northeast from Gettysburg back home to Lancaster.  As far as I know, I was the only one who would be North of the Mason-Dixon Line by the next day.  Many of the men at that reunion survived jungle warfare in Vietnam, then we all waited together for the Soviet tanks just over the East-West German border to fire the first shots of World War 3 right at us.  Some of them went on to serve in the Gulf War.  A few of us even went to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But as much as I am Yankee and would live in New York or Paris if I could live anywhere, I have spent more than 40 years admiring the way the American South has supplied our nation with soldiers and leaders, especially since the end of the draft.

I have even developed a taste for grits and gravy--but I am NOT going to go as far as eating chitterlings, trotters or listeners.  To me, pigs are ham and bacon--that's it!

Friday, May 1, 2015

One Year at a Time--Now I'm in till 2016

My friend Barry Free joined me for what turned out to be a 100-mile re-enlistment ride.  Barry enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1968 and served till 1975.  He decided to accompany a younger guy on the trip to stay in the Army one more year.

We rode together from Mt. Gretna on some back roads onto Fort Indiantown Gap, then to the Aviation Armory where I signed the re-enlistment paperwork.  Sgt. 1st Class Dale Shade, who got the paperwork ready, was in charge of Public Affairs for 28th CAB when I was in Iraq.  He said he will help me to submit the paperwork for yet another extension next year.

As we rode west on Range Road, we passed several rifle and pistol ranges.  We were talking about how the rifle ranges and the weapons we use are the same as when he was in during the Viet Nam War.  Back then, Barry and I fired the M16 or M16A2.  Now my weapon is the M16A4.  Not a big difference.

We then rode to the Public Affairs Office on Fort Indiantown Gap where I introduced Barry to the folks who do the same work I do.  He met SSG Matt Jones, who I worked with for most of the time I was in Iraq, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ted Nichols, and Majors Ed Shank and Angela King-Sweigart.

It was a great way to celebrate signing up for another year.

Military Pilots Really Have "The Right Stuff"

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