Monday, January 25, 2016

Sunset on Muir Field After the Big Snowstorm

I took pictures from several angles of the sun setting on Muir Field, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., after the big snowstorm.  The angles and blades of a Blackhawk helicopter do wonderful things to the light.  I hope I captured a little of that.

One Soldier's Trash is a Teenager's Treasure!

Yesterday I was walking through the Flight Facility--the big hangar for helicopters--at Fort Indiantown Gap and saw a box lunch sitting on the corner of a recycling bin.  Inside were the various packaged treasures below.

In our household, we do not buy snack food.  Really.  My wife blogs about frugality.  This post for instance. No bags of chips, no cookies, nothing processed and printed with pretty faces.  So while many soldiers simply toss these packaged meals, for my sons they are blessed manna from the Army Gods.

So I brought the box home.  My sons ate it almost instantly.

The Army gives soldiers many benefits--and gives a few to my teenage, snack-limited sons.


Smuckers Peanut Butter &Jelly Potato Skins – Sour Cream & Cheddar Chocolate Chip Cookies Peach Cup Bottled Water Cutlery Kit Moist Towelette

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Armor in the Snow: A Cold Day for Cold War Armor

A year ago, I took pictures of the static display Armor at Fort Indiantown Gap after a snowstorm.  Today I took pictures of the same tanks and howitzers after the big storm.

M203 8-inch howitzer

M42 Duster 40 mm Anti-Aircraft

M60A1 and M46 Patton tanks and M3 Sherman 76mm

M60A1 Patton

M3 Sherman 76mm

M60A1 Patton

M1A1 Abrams

M203 8-inch howitzer

Friday, January 22, 2016

Cold War Reheated: Resurgent Russia and Vladimir Putin

At the end of the Cold War, Russia fell into poverty and almost fell apart.  Whether you date the end of the Cold War as the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the crumbling of the Soviet Union in 1991, post-Soviet Russia was in a dismal state in the 1990s.  The collapse of government at nearly all levels made Russia a third-world economy with an enormous nuclear arsenal, as well as thousands and thousands of tons of nerve gas in rotting containers in rotting storage facilities.

I just finished reading Steven Lee Myers book "New Czar: Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin." This excellent book brings together many of the details of the life of the most powerful autocrat on the planet today--and is especially good on how a mid-level KGB agent went from the shadows to the heights of power and to enduring popularity with the Russian people.

Before I say any more about the book itself, reading the book gave me a huge feeling of a lost opportunity.  The circumstances of Putin's rise made me think, "It did not have to turn out this way."

In 1945, Germany was ruin and squalor with every level of government operating on totalitarian principles.  Yet America rode to the rescue with the Marshall Plan and set Germany, at least West Germany, on the road to democracy.  After we spent billions and billions trying to defeat the Soviet totalitarian state, why did we leave it to be run by a drunk selling off the assets of the state to his cronies?

The grinding poverty of the vast majority of Russians coupled with Yeltsin's cronies becoming billionaires put Putin in the presidency and kept him there.  Putin was unknown in 1999 when Yeltsin put him in power.  Ironically one of the reasons for Putin's rise to power was his honesty.  He worked very hard in government and did not take bribes like so many others in government.  Yeltsin put him in the presidency because no one had bought him off.

Myers makes very clear that Putin has been in charge since 2000 and could well continue in power till 2024, or even beyond.  Putin is, as Myers makes clear, on the way to being a new Tsar.  And he is popular.  Even with sanctions and the current crash of oil prices, the average Russian is far better off under Putin than in the 1990s.

Which brings me to another irony I felt reading this book.  The US did not rush in to prop up and bring order to Russia in collapse as we did with post-war Germany and Japan.  Yet in 2003, we went into Iraq saying we could do "nation building" in a state seething with sectarian hatred.

We may have won the Cold War, but the current state of Russia and other former Soviet states says that we lost the peace.  In the depths of its 1990s collapse, Russia was fending off Islamic extremism inside Russia and along its borders.  In the same way Germany became an anchor in the NATO defense of Europe, we could have worked with Russia as a front-line state in the fight against Islamic terror.

Putin was born just seven months before I was.  I grew up in a suburban house near Boston: safe, warm, happy and well-fed.  Putin grew up in the wreckage of Leningrad, arguably the most ravaged city in World War 2, under Nazi siege for almost three years.  Putin grew up hearing stories of the Great Patriotic War and the sacrifices his family, city and nation made to defeat the Nazis.  Putin is a patriot.  Restoring Russia's place as a world leader is and has always been part of his program as president.

A strong Russia could have been, should have been, our ally in the War on Terror.  Myers book is a great read, but it ends on a somber note of repression, deception and the tragedy of an airliner shot down either by Russian soldiers or separatists armed by Russians with advanced missiles.  If Myers writes a sequel in another decade, I hope it is about a Democratic Russia and not a 21st Century Tsarist Russia.  But the trend lines all point to a New Tsar.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tank Vs. Citroen 2CV: Polezei on German Roads


Versus This:

During the three years I was a tank commander in West Germany during the Cold War, we rolled through towns, down country roads and along the autobahn in miles-long columns.  Our battalion, the 1st-70th Armor, put 54 tanks and nearly 100 support vehicles on the often narrow roads for field training exercises.  

Most of the time, the local drivers fell in line behind our columns and waited for us to get out of the way.  Sometimes they got impatient.  

One night as Bravo Company rolled along a narrow country road near Fulda, a blue Citroen 2CV started passing tanks in the column, swerving back between the tanks to avoid head-on collisions with oncoming traffic.  

You would think it is easy to avoid hitting a tank, but in the dark, the edges of a tank are not clear--no marker lights like a semi.  And the drive sprockets are in the rear of a tank.  The 1750 cubic-inch engine propels the tank through those sprockets.  

Here is a view of the sprocket.  Smoke from the V-12 diesel engine pours through the center grill, obscuring the back of the tank more.

After passing a half-dozen tanks, the driver of the Citroen misjudged the seventh.  He drove into the track at the rear of the tank.  The sprocket tore the front of the car off and flipped the rest of the it into the adjoining farm field.  The column stopped.

Two medics following the column ran to check the driver and passenger of the car.  All columns also had a jeep following with a German and an American officer and a lot of cash ready to pay claims for damage on the spot.  That jeep drove to the crash site.  Within another minute, the Polezei, German police, were at the scene.  The driver of the tank was a mess thinking he was in trouble for the accident.

The Polezei looked at the driver, waved off the settlement officers and the medics and said, "Betrunken."  Drunk.  They marched the driver to their car and took him away and told us to move on.

The driver was drunk.  It was his fault.  We moved on.  No breathalyzers, no legal niceties.  Justice is swift on German roads.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Father's First Command: A Black Supply Company

Louis Armstrong Played for My Father's Soldiers at Camp Shenango, Pa.

My father, George Gussman, enlisted in the Army at the end of 1939.  He was 34 years old and at the end of his career as a middleweight boxer and a pitcher for the Reading Phillies.  He was the fourth of six sons of Jewish immigrants from the Russia.  They arrived at the beginning of the century.  My father and his older brothers only went to Boston Latin school until the 8th grade.  The younger boys got all the way through high school--business was better by that time for grandpa.

Dad was a warehouseman in a bad economy and the Army was a steady job.  He took a two-year enlistment which was to end in mid-December 1941.  Dad was packed up to go home in the second week in December.  He never left.

On December 8, 1941, all discharges were cancelled and enlistments extended for the duration of the war.

With war declared many rules changed and the Army sent George to Officer Candidate School.  In 1942 he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and sent to Camp Shenango, Pa., near Erie.  His first command was a black company, a supply company that also repaired stoves for camps and bases across Pennsylvania.

Dad kept a scrapbook of his soldiers which I am hoping to scan and post later this year.  Among those pictures is a picture of Louis Armstrong signed with a a note saying "To My Boy Guss."  It is one of the many pictures my father carefully kept from his first command.  Dad kept in touch with several of the soldiers he served with long after the war ended.

After more than a year in charge of the company in Shenango, Dad went to Fort Indiantown Gap where I serve now.  Then as a captain, he took command of 600 Afrika Korps German prisoners in what is now the Reading Airport.

It hadn't occurred to me until today, but it is possible my sons are related to one of my Dad's soldiers.  Most of his men came from Pennsylvania.  My adopted sons were born in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.  It's not likely, but in a world so different from the one Dad lived in, there might be a direct connection between his first command and his son's family.


Monday, January 11, 2016

My People: Real Americans, Refugees Running from Killers

Millions of Americans came here from around the globe running from torment and death. They came here as my grandparents did, running from persecution and wanting a place where they could live and raise kids without being suddenly murdered in God's name or the Tsar's name.

My grandparents, Hyman and Esther Gussman, came to America from Odessa, Russia, in about 1900, coming ashore in Boston.  The picture above is one of the big reasons they left--pogroms by the Cossacks that killed at least a million Russian Jews.

It is clear when you look at other countries around the world that America does a better job of assimilation, of making immigrants into Americans, than any other country.

The reason, I believe, is that we have a common culture that is easy to understand and easy to adopt.

For good or for ill, the common culture of America is success and money.  To become American is to leave extremism and make money.  It used to be called making good.

In a cruel parody of faith, America even assimilated Christianity.  We lead the world in millionaire preachers.  Hellfire has almost disappeared from our pulpits.  Now the most popular Churches preach some version of health, wealth and success.  These Churches love celebrities and millionaires, and set them up as the Blessed, replacing the martyrs of the suffering Church.

My grandparents went from being oppressed Jews in Russia to being Americans.  In Russia a million Jews were killed for being Jews.  America takes people suffering under radicals of all kinds and gives them the possibility of health and wealth.

My father was the fourth if six boys born to Esther and Hyman Gussman.  In the names of the six boys you see assimilation. Beginning with the oldest they are Abraham, Emmanuel, Ralph, George, Lewis and Harold.  Every time my father spoke of his oldest brothers they were Abe and Manny.  The Gussmans lived on Blue Hill Avenue, a street known as Jew Hill Avenue at the beginning of the 20th Century.  In the 1920s, the Gussmans had 14 cars, trucks and motorcycles parked somewhere in the vicinity of the family home.  Hyman had a successful fruit business.  And his one return trip to the old country turned into two years of being hunted by the Russian Army.  He never left Boston again.

Although all of my uncles married Jewish women, none of my relatives were particularly religious. My mother was not Jewish.  Growing up we had a small tinsel tree Dad called a Channukah Bush.   My father stayed home from work on some Jewish holidays because the warehouse where he worked was owned by Jews from the old neighborhood.  But we never went to Synagogue.  We went out to eat.

My father's family are real Americans.  They went from a place where religion meant death, and they embraced life in America.  Grandpa ran a successful business most of his life.  My uncle Lewis went into the same business and became a millionaire when that was a lot of money.  Lewis, like my grandmother Esther, lived to be 100. All of the the other brothers had houses in the suburbs and families.

Of all the uncles and cousins in the Gussman clan, only my father and I ever served in the Army.  We both were very old soldiers.  The rest of the family, like nearly all well off families in the northeast, did not join the military.  I enlisted partly because I had heard my Dad's stories from World War 2 all the time I was growing up and it was clear they were the best years of his life.  I also enlisted because my favorite uncle, Jack, my mother's half brother, was on his third tour in Viet Nam when I graduated high school.  Jack was the coolest guy in our family by far.

My aversion to Fundamentalism in any form, to religious extremism especially in politics, and to religion masquerading as science comes from my upbringing.  Because my family has kids later than most, I am just one generation away from people who escaped the Pogroms of Tsarist Russia.

My people run away from religious radicals.

When real Americans see fanatics, they change the channel.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Who Are My People?

When I was in Iraq, I started writing under the general title “Who Fights Our Wars?” when I wrote about the soldiers I served with.

At the end of June last year, I retired as a civilian.  In May of this year or next year I will leave the Army.  When I leave the Army, there will no longer be anyone in my life I am paid to hang around with.  Everyone in my life will be a friend, a family member, or someone I chose to associate with.

Which has led me to think about “Who are my people?”  So in the same way I have been writing about soldiers I served with, I will write about people with whom I share some activity, which means we share time and space together.  Some of these people are or were soldiers.  Some are not. 

I decided to write about these people because one of the reasons I had for going back in the Army at 54 years old was how much I missed the deep connection I had with some of the people I served with on active duty in the 1970s.

It turned out this ability to connect with people had to do with the circumstances we were in.  The regular Army puts people close together for weeks and months on end.  The National Guard brings people together for just one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer.  When we trained for and deployed to Iraq and really were jammed together, it should be no surprise to anyone that a 55-year-old guy does not quite blend into a group of 20 year olds.  Socially, I blended in like a Vegan at a Bull Roast.

So I have been thinking a lot lately about who my people are, what they do, what we do together. 

In his book “The Four Loves” C.S. Lewis writes about Friendship.  The key moment in finding a friend he says can be the moment of “You too?’  That moment in which we find someone else interested in something we thought no one else loved the way we do. 

So in addition to writing about the people who fight our current wars, or were ready to fight the Soviet Union, I am also going to write about people with whom I share one particular interest, even if the rest of our lives are very different.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Grace Got Married Yesterday

Today I got a wedding picture on Facebook posted by Grace Pak, front row, left.  She was married on December 31.  Earlier this month Lisa Vines was married. She is 6th from the left, next to the Marine, Tyler Giguere.  Ben Simon, fifth from the left, back row, next to me, got married last year.

I know it's not a crazy number of people getting married.  But almost half the class was married when we showed up so 30% of the class got married in just two years.  For that matter 20% got married since December 12.

Being in school with this group was a lot of fun.  I still am in contact with most of them through facebook, even Bill Howard who may or may not actually exist!

Congratulations to Grace and Cris:

To Ben and Heather:  

And to Lisa and Chris:

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...