Tuesday, August 30, 2016

After 1,500 Posts the Top Ten Topics? Not Helicopters!

Command Sergeant Major of the Army National Guard Christopher Kepner

Today marks 1,500 posts on this blog since August of 2007 when I re-enlisted after 23 years as a civilian.  Last night I wrote to the soldiers who are the subjects of the most popular and the 11th most popular posts on my blog: Christopher Kepner and Pamela Leggore.  In between my stories about the current Command Sergeant Major of the Army National Guard and a flight medic who just returned from her second tour in Iraq, are stories Army life, but not about helicopters.

Pamela Leggore, Flight Medic

After Kepner, the most popular story I wrote was about CHUs, our homes on base in Iraq.  These sun-baked metal boxes were Home Sweet Trailer Home for most deployed soldiers and a lot of people wanted to know how we lived. 

                                            A Containerized Housing Unit in Iraq

After the CHU comes a post comparing Soviet and American Armor in the 1973 Arab-Israel War.  The tenth most popular post is also about tanks--a drunk German driver crashing into one of the tanks in my unit near the East-West German border:  Spoiler alert, the tank was undamaged.

Also popular was about about firing machine guns, about barracks liars in the Facebook Army, about "Military Privilege," a Tough Mudder competition, and one about the use of war language outside of war called War Metaphor.  

I posted a lot of helicopter pictures, but those posts were never as popular as the posts about soldiers' life and about soldiers, which makes perfect sense.  

My favorite post to write was "Shit as a Pronoun."  

Thanks for reading.  And thanks for sharing my 1,500th anniversary!!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Tanks of the World Spreadsheet

Here is the link to a Google Doc spreadsheet with my list of all the tanks in service in the world according to Wikipedia.


I just found a source that said France has just 200 LeClerc main battle tanks and 206 in storage as of 2015.

If anyone has sources and is interested in helping to update the spreadsheet, the link should be open to updates.  Once I have the best current info, I will update the Wikipedia page.

Contact me if you have questions:  ngussman@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My Love-Hate Relationship with Russia and Ukraine

A Map of the Former Soviet Union. 
Ukraine is the yellow country on the far west.

The kind of person we are inside shows itself both in what we do and how we react.  I had a soul-revealing moment when I heard the news in 2014 of Russia invading Eastern Ukraine and taking Crimea. The summary of the thought that raced through my mind:  “You Go Vladimir (Putin)!”

Cheering for Russia in a military dispute with Ukraine is like cheering for the New York Yankees against a high school team.  Nevertheless I had a vivid moment, not of loving Russia, but hating Ukraine.

The face that came into my mind was my grandmother.  She and my grandfather escaped Ukraine, then part of Russia, at the turn of the 20th century when more than a million Jews were slaughtered in Ukraine in a series of attacks called pogroms. My grandparents had the double good fortune of making it all the way to America.  Many other Russian Jews fled to Eastern Europe.  Those who fled to Eastern Europe and their children were killed by the Nazis 40 years later.

The Holocaust in Ukraine

My grandparents would have described themselves as Russian Jews, not Ukrainian Jews.  For the last thousand years Ukraine has been Russia a lot more than it has been an independent country.  Mark Schauss covers the sad history of Ukraine and Russia in The Russian Rulers History Podcast, available on iTunes. 

While Russia, Poland and much of Eastern Europe has a long history of hating Jews, Ukraine is the most anti-semitic country in a very nasty region. 

Next August, when I ride across what my grandparents called Russia, my trip will begin in Odessa, Ukraine. I won’t be in Ukraine long, but I expect to have the same experience arriving in Odessa that I had when I first set foot in Germany:  “Can this beautiful place really be home to those who slaughtered so many of my people?”

I am re-reading Vassily Grossman’s “Life and Fate,” a haunting book that is “War and Peace” set in World War II, particularly in Stalingrad.  Currently I am reading the letter a Jewish mother in Ukraine is writing to her son in the Russian Army.  The Germans just took over her town.  The Jews are being rounded up, robbed and will soon be killed.  Most of the neighbors are happy and cheer the Germans on, taking the possessions and houses of the Jews.  The mother writing the letter describes women who were friendly for 50 years suddenly turning on her with venom. The neighbor thinks the Jews are getting what they deserve. 

My love-hate relationship with Ukraine and Russia extends through my whole life.  My first military job was live-fire testing of the US Air Force missile inventory, everything from the Sidewinder wing rocket to the Minuteman multi-stage nuclear missile, the main weapon delivery system in the US Cold War arsenal.  Then I was a tank commander on the East-West German Border waiting for World War III to start. 

When I went to college after the Army, the literature of Russia and the literature of Florence, Italy, became lifelong passions.  Chekov, Dostoevsky, Lermontov, Pushkin, Tolstoy and later Solzhenitsyn wrote the books I loved most, along with C.S. Lewis, Dante and Machiavelli.  Now I am studying the Russian language so I can read the authors I love most in their language.  Russia is currently home to many brilliant authors, but who knows when they will be forced underground. 

From my grandparents persecution, to my Cold War childhood and military life, through finding the beauty of Russian literature in college, to my current plans to travel across Russia and neighboring countries, I continue to intensify my love-hate relationship with Russia and all of its sad and brilliant history.  At this age, my love-hate relationship with Russia and Ukraine is a permanent part of my life.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Who Fights Our Wars? Flight Medic Returns from Another Deployment

Staff Sergeant Pamela Leggore on her second deployment to Iraq

When Task Force Diablo first deployed to Iraq in May of 2009 most of the unit was setting up facilities and operations after a last-minute base change.  We were slated to be at Balad Air Base, we were switched to Camp Adder, also know as Tallil Ali Air Base.

While the transport and maintenance operations moved into new facilities, the MEDEVAC unit was on site and in full operation.  Charlie Company, 1-52 Aviation, an active Army MEDEVAC unit, was already on site and in operation at Tallil.  Pennsylvania pilots and medics joined Charlie Company operations.

Dust storms grounded many flights during the summer at Tallil, making the daytime sky a so thick with dust, it was hard to see the next truck in a ground convoy, let alone fly.

Soon after we arrived, Leggore was on a MEDEVAC mission to rescue soldiers badly injured in an attack on their convoy.  The mission was successful and it was a very fast start to what has become a long career in Army medicine.  In the years since 2010 when she returned from deployment, Leggore has earned a nursing degree and has recently returned from another deployment to Iraq.

Between deployments she trains other medics with the skills she learned in combat and through advanced education in the Army and as a civilian.

Staff Sergeant Pamela Leggore training medics 
under simulated combat conditions at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Video Comparing Russian and US Army Field Rations: Beef Stew from Both Countries

Earlier this year, I ordered Russian Army field rations (Индивидуальный рацион питания/ИРП) from eBay.  This video compares the Russian ration rations with US Army MREs.  I compare the contents and have my kids compare the taste.  

Thanks to Teb Locke of Franklin and Marshall College for filming the taste test in the studios at F&M.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Like Watching a Dinosaur Sit in a High Chair

The Refueling Crew at Camp Garry Owen in Iraq in 2009.
Soldiers from Echo Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion

I made two trips to Camp Garry Owen during my deployment to Iraq in 2009-10.  This small base was close to the Iran-Iraq border and was hit by rockets regularly.  When I flew up it was on a Blackhawk helicopter taking carrying a team that was looking for smugglers along the border.

When I got to the base, I took a tour of the tiny facility and wrote about it here. Matt Kauffman (3rd from left, 2nd row) took me on a tour.

When we got back to the fueling area, I watched a Chinook helicopter land in the tiny space between the blast walls of the base.  When I say a query on twitter from Maiken Scott of WHYY's The Pulse about moments of Awe, I called right away.

The lead pilot on that Chinook was Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jeff Hatt.  At minute 14 on the link below, I describe as best as I can remember the watching Jeff Hatt land that big bird in that small space by turning 90 degrees at the last moment.

He made the same maneuver on take-off.  It was just as impressive to watch in either direction.

Seeing any expert do their best work is something I love.  Whether it is sports or flying or racing or dance or writing, seeing the best at work is wonderful.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Going to the Top of the Chain of Command

Today I talked with one of the soldiers I served with during for the last several years.  I told her about asking Congressman Joe Pitts to help me get the 11 months and 9 days of service I need to complete 20 years.  He couldn't help.  So she suggested I write to the President.

So I did, on www.whitehouse.gov

Here's what I wrote.  I will let you know what happens:

On May 3 of this year, I left the Army at age 63.  I first enlisted in 1972, served for 11 years on active duty and in the reserves then left the military to pursue a civilian career in 1984. In August of 2007 I re-enlisted at 54 years old, made possible by a temporary increase in the enlistment age.  I knew the mandatory age for ending my enlistment was 60.  I deployed to Iraq for a year in 2009-10.  I volunteered to go to Afghanistan in 2012 with the 55th Brigade of the PA Army National Guard, but the deployment was cancelled.  I got two extensions past age 60, in part because I scored maximum on the fitness test and was in a shortage job skill.  Earlier this year, I asked for, but did not get an extension to serve another year.  As a result, I left the Army with 19 years and 21 days of service.  As you are aware, military retirement requires 20 years.  I am a bicycle racer and finished an Ironman Triathlon at 61 years old.  I am physically able to serve and good at my military job. I live in the Congressional district of Joe Pitts and asked for his assistance.  He was unable to help.  At this point, I believe only President Obama could help me.  I would be happy to serve and know that medical personnel get waivers up to their late 70s.  Since I have six kids, three adopted and three the old fashioned way, the retirement income would be put to good use.  But I also would like to maintain my connection with the soldiers I served with in Pennsylvania and in Iraq.  Without an official connection to the military, I cannot go on military bases.  My service and all of my discharges were honorable throughout my career.  I have many awards and decorations.  My tour in Iraq was with the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  While I did not serve in the Vietnam War, I served during that war and was temporarily blinded in a missile explosion in Utah.  Thank you in advance for anything you could do to let me complete my long career.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BFFs Army Style: My Platoon Sergeant 32 Years Later

Army version of BFF: Best F#ckin' Friends

Ron Lamm, Command Sgt. Maj. Retired

In his book "The Four Loves," C.S. Lewis said one mark of friendship is that after any passage of time, the conversation between friends picks up right where it left off.  I have not seen Ron Lamm since I left Alpha Company, 6th Bn., 68th Armor in May of 1984.

Last weekend, in one of those coincidences turbocharged by Google, I met Ron at the reunion of Charlie Company, 6-68th Armor.  On Friday of last week, I was looking up when 68th Armor was deactivated and found a Facebook link to the reunion.  The reunion was the following day.  I showed up at the Charlie Company reunion and found a few people from Alpha, including my former platooon sergeant, Ron Lamm.

My son Nigel and I were in Pottsville that morning at the city's annual bicycle race.  After the race we drove to Fort Indiantown Gap and went to the reunion. I met several people I remembered then found Ron.  We sat at one of the picnic tables for a half hour and talking about our mutual interest in World War II.  We talked about our fathers' service during the war and then talked about Ron's recent ride in a restored B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.  Ron told me about a project to restore the original "Memphis Belle" one of the most famous B-17s.  Ron was talking about how they used staggered waist guns in the 1990 movie, but the actual Memphis Belle was a B-17F waist guns opposite each other, not staggered as in the later G model.  We are both the kind of guys who know that staggered waist guns and chin turrets are modifications made in the G model of the B-17.

Ron told me about the rest of his career after I left Alpha Company.  He made Command Sgt. Major in 1990 and stayed with 68th Armor until the unit was disbanded in 1995.  He also volunteered for the Gulf War, but would have had to take a reduction to E5 to go, so he turned it down.  Ron has been retired 21 years.  In a few years he will be retired longer than he served.

Talking with Ron reminded me how very sure I was that I should leave the Army in 1984.  I really liked Ron, I liked the unit, I had the papers for OCS filled out, but was sure I needed to move on.  I have Ron's email now and we have tentative plans to go to an airshow.

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...