Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A World of Friends I Met in Iraq

Today is Fred Lameki's birthday.  He is my only Facebook friend from Kenya.  In fact, the only people I know personally from Kenya, Uganda and several other central African countries are people I met in Iraq.  Fred, like many people from Africa and south Asia worked on Camp Adder, Iraq, and at bases across the country making food and performing a hundred services for to keep the bases working while the soldiers patrolled the ground and the skies.

Most of the baristas in the Green Bean coffee shop were from Nepal, the affable Fred Lameki was one of the Africans who worked making designer coffee for soldiers.

As this new year begins, Iraq seems long ago and far away.  I am glad that with all the money we spent winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq, that some of it went to providing good-paying jobs for men like Fred.

Happy Birthday my friend.

I hope to see you again some day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Year End Wrap Up: Exercise Turns Civilian, Reading Tops Riding

For the first time since I started riding a bicycle again in 1987, the total number of book pages I read exceeded the number of miles I rode.


This year I rode more than 8,000 miles, probably 8,300 by December 31, but I have read more than 10,000 pages in more than 50 books.  

Also, because I had trouble with my shoulder, I stopped doing pushups.  Every year since I re-enlisted I did more than 6,000 pushups, nearly 15,000 in 2011, but this year, less than 300.  

And I pretty much gave up running after the Ironman triathlon.  I also stopped swimming in September when I took four college classes.  But in the weirdest stat for the year, I swam more miles than I ran:  87 miles swimming, 74 running.  

The most troubling, beautiful, sad book I read this year was "Life and Fate" by Vasily Grossman.  It is the 20th Century version of "War and Peace" centering on Stalingrad.  

Eleven of the 52 books I read this year were written by Russian authors, but all were in English.  I am continuing to study Russian language, but not at the point where I can read Russian.  I can still read French well enough that one of the books I re-read this year was an abridged "Three Musketeers."  

Next semester I will be taking Russian language and 19th Century Russian Literature, so I will continue to have Russian in my mind.  If I leave the Army in May, I will definitely be riding more.  My plan will be to ride 10,000 miles in 2016 to get ready for racing in the 65+ category in 2018.  It's great to be the youngest in an age group!






Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our Former Allies: Training Iranian MIssile Technicians at Lowry AFB


Until the Ayatollahs took over in 1979, Iran was an ally of the United States.  They were a very close Cold War ally, bordering the Soviet Union.  Until the Shah's government fell, tens of thousands of Iranian soldiers and airmen trained in the United States.

For eight weeks in 1972, I was part of the training.

After Basic Training in April 1972, I went to Lowry Air Force Base near Denver, Colorado, for an 8-month missile electronics school.  The first eight weeks was basic electronics.  I learned basic electronics from a Ham Radio operator in the town where I grew up, so I tested out of the course, but had eight weeks to wait.

During that eight weeks, I was a tutor for lagging students and foreign students.  During the Spring of 1972, many of those students were Iranian sergeants.  They needed help with vocabulary in addition to the electronics themselves.  It was fun to be able to teach these older guys how a capacitor worked or how to calculate resistance and power in a circuit.

The Iranians really wanted to learn.  The chance to go to school in America was a big privilege, so these guys worked hard.  It was weird to have these mid-20s and older sergeants addressing me formally:  "Airman Gussman, may I ask. . . ".

Iran has always been and still is the most sophisticated and civilized of all the Middle Eastern countries.

The guys I trained would be in their 70s now, if they survived The Revolution.

Right now, Iran is the enemy and no one wants a nuclear Iran.  But Iran was our ally until their particular group of Fundamentalists took over.  They could return to sanity.  Some day.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Cold War Tanker and Star Wars

In May of 1977 the first Star Wars movie was released in America.  Several months later the hit movie came to Armed Forces theaters in West Germany, including the theater on Wiesbaden Air Base.

But many soldiers in 1-70th Armor missed the new film.  We and most other combat arms soldiers were on REFORGER 1977.  When we got back, the next movie was in the theaters.  The only way we could watch it was in dubbed German in town.  We Cold War soldiers missed Star Wars.

I did not leave Germany until November of 1979 and was not on post when the movie came back.  I finally saw Star Wars in the spring of 1980 in an independent theater that was re-running the film just before the June release of the second (and best) of the the first three films, "The Empire Strikes Back."

But I did not see that film until fall in that same theater.  In June of 1980 I had the worst motorcycle accident of my life.  I spent two weeks in the hospital and had surgery on both legs to repair the damage from a 75mph crash.


I saw the third movie when it was released, because I was in the 68th Armor in the Army Reserve in Pennsylvania in 1983.

Friday, December 18, 2015

My Favorite Star Wars Magazine Cover--About a Real War

In 1980, just two months before "The Empire Strikes Back" premiered in America, Britain declared war on Argentina and sent a fleet 8,000 miles to take back the Falkland Islands from an Argentine invasion force.

Newsweek ran this cover.  My favorite magazine cover ever.

I have a longer Star Wars post tomorrow, but I wanted to post this separately.


Adultery and Hypocrisy in the Army


"Don't drink! Don't watch porn! Don't commit adultery!"  These warnings were at the top of the list of the many warnings soldiers received on their way to deployment in Iraq.  I got a half-dozen of these briefings during training for deployment in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and in Kuwait before we actually flew to Iraq.

These briefings were always ironic, sometimes funny.  In 2009 I wrote about one briefing by our 25-year-old company commander who told the married guys about keeping their wedding vows.  He was not married, but he did have a girlfriend.  His lecture is here.

Of course, the hookup culture on the big bases in Iraq was as vibrant as on a college campus.  What the Army was trying to stop was the very common and toxic relationships in which a young enlisted woman becomes the deployment girlfriend of a senior sergeant or officer.

More senior officers than that young commander were more gentle in their warnings.  They said don't sleep with other soldiers.  They could not say watch porn when you are horny, but twisted themselves in verbal knots to suggest the trouble you would get into for porn was much less than for sleeping with another soldier.  That lecture is here.  In that blog post, I mention General Order #1.  One of the stern briefings we received was from General David Petraeus on video telling us we better not commit adultery or it will end our careers!  Turned out it was true in his case.

For the tens of thousands of soldiers lectured by Petraeus, the general's downfall for adultery was sadly funny.  Even more funny because the title of the biography written by his lover is "All In."

But the oddest thing for someone like me who served in the 70s was how different the moral lectures were during the Cold War and the Viet Nam War.  As I wrote yesterday, the main warning on bases in Europe was "Sleep NATO."

No one expected 20-year-olds to be paragons during the draft or the post-draft volunteer Army.  

When I first re-enlisted, I called my best friend.  We were both tank commanders in West Germany in the late 70s.  I said at the time in 2007 that Petraeus and I were about the same age when we were joking about what it meant that I was a 54-year-old enlisted man.  Abel said, "That's right Gussie, you Petraeus both have college degrees, you are both in the Army, except he's a success and your 54-year-old Spec. 4."  Four years later we were joking about how I was a sergeant and Petraeus was a civilian.

But the best line I heard on this whole topic was from a 52-year-old sergeant who was missing several teeth and did not like to wear his dentures.  After one of the morality lectures this sergeant turned to me with a toothless grin and said, "This ain't about us Gussman.  It's about those young bucks."

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Speeches, Spys and Sleeping NATO


One of the first things we soldiers of 1st Battalion-70th Armor were told when we deployed to West Germany was, "Sleep NATO."

Even in the 1970s, people from Soviet-controlled nations were fleeing for the West and prosperity.  And among the immigrants were spies.  Spying is a profession with both men and women, but our leaders were mostly concerned about female spies.

Men are most likely to forget their inhibitions and talk too much when their egos are inflated and they are feeling adored and impressive.  In my work in corporate communications, I have occasionally dealt with the aftermath of a CEO or other top executive who gives a speech then answers a reporter's questions afterward saying way too much.  Once in Singapore the CEO I worked for gave a speech that got a resounding ovation in Singapore.  A reporter asked him about a plant we were building in China and our proud, happy CEO told the reporter, "Yes, it is ahead of schedule."

We had never admitted in public we were building in China.  The next day, our CEO wanted to know who had leaked the information.  He did, but post-euphoria amnesia made him forget what he said.

A female spy can do exactly the same thing by asking questions at the moment a guy rolls over on his back and smiles at the ceiling.  And he may not remember that he told the spy who just loved him when his unit will be leaving for the border.


I watched the show Alias with my family.  We also watched the series Nikita together.  Sydney Bristow of Alias (Jennifer Garner) and Nikita (Maggie Q) of the series of the same name, are both married to handsome co-stars and manage to conduct successful spy operations around the world without sleeping with their targets.



The Army never expected that of the soldiers living in Germany during the Cold War.  But the Cold War was not a family TV show.



Thursday, December 10, 2015

Flight Medic Article on Defense.gov

The article I wrote recently about Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Kwiecien just got published on here "Faces of Defense" on defense.gov.  Jeff is a great guy.  I'm glad the story got republished.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Μολων Λαβε: The Tattoo and the Myth


When I re-enlisted in the Army in 2007, I saw several soldiers with Μολων Λαβε tattoos and Μολων Λαβε stickers on their pickup trucks.  I can read Ancient Greek so I looked up the phrase and found it attributed to Leonidas of the Spartans, the leader of the 300 defenders of Thermopylae.

According to one version of the battle, when Xerxes, King of Persia demanded the surrender of the vastly outnumbered Spartans (100,000+ Persians against 300 Spartans), Leonidas answered "Μολων Λαβε" or "Come and take them."  The phrase has come to be seen as the inspiration for the sentiment "I won't give up my guns until you pry my cold, dead hands from them."

 I am currently taking a course in Ancient Greek in which we are reading the Histories of Herodotus.  Right now we are reading the account of the Battle for Thermopylae.  Herodotus wrote about 50 years after the battle and does not mention the exchange between Xerxes and Leonidas.  I asked the professor.  The only account directly mentioning Μολων Λαβε is in Plutarch written more than 500 years after the battle and centuries after Greece was conquered by Rome.

So the historicity of the account is in some question.  And Sparta was a state ruled by tyranny in which the majority of the people were slaves.  There was nothing like the 2nd Amendment in Sparta. If Leonidas said these words, he said them as a man who represented a warrior class, an upper class caste of warrior, nothing like armed common people.  Since the only mention of the phrase is five centuries after the battle, it could well be a myth.

Getting tattooed with Chinese characters that turn out to mean something else is a current joke among tattoo-loving Americans.  The Chinese character you thought meant "Courage" might mean "Chicken Wing" or nothing at all.

Μολων Λαβε, if Leonidas said it, are the brave words of a King facing certain death.

Leonidas was a king, he would roll over in his honored grave to think his words would be used as a rallying cry for rebels and anti-government conspiracy theorists.  Leonidas was the government, just as every soldier in every army, especially the "well regulated militia" our founders envisioned in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

For Greek Geeks:  The two words in the phrase Μολων Λαβε are verbs.  The aorist participle Μολων can be translated "having come or coming" and Λαβε is the imperative singular "Take."
Inflected languages can say much with few words and this phrase is a beautiful example of that.  You can parse it yourself in context here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How to Lose an Empire


Bill Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard, 
NeoConservative, Hawk, Never Served, Avoided Draft

When you hear Conservatives bemoaning America's loss of power, prestige and leadership, the blame will be somewhere other than in themselves.  

The problem is in full view on every Republican debate and and from the top down in the most recent Bush administration.  NOT the previous Bush administration.

The reason the Roman Empire fell will be the same reason we eventually collapse.  Rome went from city to state to ruler of the known world with an Army in which every citizen served.  To be a senator, to be a noble, meant fighting for Rome.  From the founding of America until the end of the first Bush administration, American leaders were men who served their country.  Some were great soldiers, some just showed up, but everyone served unless, like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, they could not even walk.

The beginning of the end for Rome was when the nobility stopped serving in the Army.  Further deterioration came when the Army went from being mostly Roman to mostly Gauls and Goths and others.  Later the Army was really a mercenary Army.  The Empire split.  The Empire dissolved.

Among the more than 20 candidates of both parties, all of the actual veterans have either dropped out or are barred from the debate:  Rick Perry is gone.  Jim Webb, the only actual combat veteran, is gone.  Lindsey Graham and Jim Gilmore were barred from the "kids table" debate on the eve of Veteran's Day.  

At the center of the debate stage are Donald Trump with five deferments and Ben Carson with three. They actually dodged the draft and let someone else serve in their place.  John Kasich also avoided the draft.  The rest of the candidates simply chose not to serve.  

When the leading citizens of the a country avoid military service and the poor and minorities and immigrants are overrepresented in the Army, then the reason for decline is clear.  Draft dodgers like Rush Limbaugh can make up a thousand other reasons for America's decline, but Rome fell when its leading citizens acted just like America's leaders now.