Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2016

Russian Soldiers/Mothers/Wives Talk About Afghan War

I left the U.S. Army in November of 1979, discharged at Fort Dix, New Jersey, after 6-1/2 years of active duty service.  From 1976 to 1979 I was a tank commander in West Germany, waiting for a war that never happened in Cold War Europe.

Less than a month after I got out, the Cold War got hotter when all NATO forces in Europe went on high alert because the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. There were worries at the time that this invasion was a feint and the Soviets were about to invade western Europe.  Neither the Soviets or NATO could know the Afghan War would help to bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet War in Afghanistan lasted ten years and became their Vietnam War.  After ten long years, 50,000 dead and hundreds of thousands more wounded the Soviet Union lost that war, as we did the Vietnam War.

The similarities go sadly further.  In her book Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghan War, Svetlana Alexievich publishes interviews with soldiers, mothers, wives…

Proud Draft Dodgers Can Now Sneer at Veterans

I was going to write a different post about working with draft dodgers throughout my professional life from the mid 80s to 2015. During that time, draft dodgers who I worked with were deferential to me or avoided me. Because the men I worked with in multi-national companies, especially energy companies, did not serve, but were Conservatives.  Although it was only my word, I began to think of them as NeverServatives.  Some changed their political allegiance with the election of Ronald Reagan, some were always Conservatives, like Dick Cheney who famously said he had better things to do than serving in the Vietnam War.

But this evening a man driving a black Lexus like the one above parked in front of a local Starbucks in a way that blocked both the handicap ramp in the sidewalk and the fire hydrant.  The arrogant SOB at the wheel of this expensive car jumped as much as a 250+pound man can from a drivers seat when I pointed out the error of his ways.  He was belligerent and said he would…

Who WILL Fight Our Wars? People of Color

My youngest son Nigel is a very proud member of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) chapter at McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pa.  We went to a military ball on Friday night for his chapter and two other chapters in nearby York and Reading.

More than 100 students and their families attended the event which concluded with a really tough drill and ceremonies competition.  Looking around that room, I saw mostly Hispanic boys and girls. Of the 100 or so students, about 75 were Hispanic, 15 were African-American, 8 were Asian and two were white.

These students are training to get a head start into College ROTC programs and become military officers.  Nigel said ten of the students in his chapter are Hispanic, three are African-American and three are from Nepal.  No white kids.  There are three girls in the program, all Hispanic.

At both ends of my career, during the Vietnam War and in Iraq, the active duty military is overrepresented with Hispanics and other immigrant …

Three Books About Before and After War by Kazuo Ishiguro

[I am reposting this essay because some ten of my posts are getting odd traffic. Just an experiment.]



This summer I have read three more books by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I have just two books to go to read all of his seven novels and a collection of short stories. 

The first novel I read, and still my favorite, is "The Remains of the Day." Like the novels I will talk about below, it is about life in the years before and after World War II.  We see the world change and we see the effects when great men make great mistakes in all of these novels.

In the three novels I read recently, World War II is in the background, but we see very little fighting.  We see lives changed, relationships made and ruined and the horror of war lurking somewhere just beyond the page. 

Ishiguro's first novel,"A Pale View of Hills," is set in Nagasaki just after the War.  The narrator is Etsuko, a young woman who has a troubled friend who is a single mother.  The narrator eventually marries, has …

Recruiter Update and ASVAB Scores are No Help for Old Men

On Friday last week, I visited Army National Guard Recruiter SFC Doug Kicklighter.  We were talking about one of my sons possibly joining the Army.  Doug also let me know that I had mixed apples and oranges on the scores I used in my previous post on drill sergeants and recruiters.

A recruit must have and AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test) score of 31 or better to enlist.  But that score is on a 99-point scale.  I said it was on a 160-point scale like all the individual scores on the ASVAB (Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery).  So the 31-point minimum is out of a possible 99, not 160.

Of the ten scores that make up the ASVAB, the one most often referred to is the GT (General Technical) score.

A GT score of 110 or above allows a soldier to qualify for any job in the Army.

I took the ASVAB test on April 18, 2007, to re-enlist after a 23-year break in service. I was 54 years old.  When I finished the test at MEPS (Military Enlistment Processing Station) in Mechanicsburg, th…

Drill Sergeants and Recruiters: Enemies Forever!

Drill Sergeants and Recruiters:  Enemies Forever!
In popular culture around the world, drill sergeants or training sergeants are powerful and terrifying. 
Recruiting sergeants, on the other hand, are the sales reps of the military: deceptive, pliable, apt to promise much and deliver little. 
These two types of sergeants are in permanent conflict, but the real power, surprisingly, is on the side of the smiling recruiter, not the screaming drill sergeant. 
The job of recruiters is to fulfill their quota of new soldiers, the raw material the drill sergeant then turns them into the soldiers who will be the army for the months and years to come.  
For the drill sergeant to do the best job, the recruiter should entice fit, smart, eager, aggressive teenagers well brought up by loving parents.  These new soldiers will be mentally and physically ready to become the best soldiers on the planet, striving with each other to be the best at running, shooting, studying, cleaning and crawling through the…

Does the Economy Suck? My Army/Civilian Pay Comparison Says YES!

In the early 1983, I was a 30-year-old Army Reserve tank commander and a dock worker at Yellow Freight Systems in Lancaster, Pa.  For a drill weekend, I earned $180.  At Yellow Freight I earned $12/hour with full medical, dental and even retirement if I had stayed longer.

Thirty years later in 2013, I was an Army National Guard sergeant and earned $360 for a drill weekend.  My Army pay had doubled.  Yellow Freight's Lancaster terminal closed years ago.  But similar work in the Lancaster area pays $12/hour with fewer or no benefits.

In the 1980s, major trucking companies employed thousands of workers to transfer freight from one truck to another.  Computers now consolidate freight in a way that needs far less handling and far fewer workers.

Most of the soldiers I served with in the 68th Armor in 1983 had blue collar jobs and earned a decent living, as I did, with their hands and backs.

Many of the soldiers I served with in the Army National Guard 30 years later were unemployed…

Deer Pays Tuition for a Semester at Penn State

1976 Chrysler Newport, 2-door with 400 CI V8 engine.
The first deer I killed in Pennsylvania payed a full semester's tuition for me at Penn State Harrisburg.

When I left the Army in 1979, I needed a car.  High gas prices made gas guzzler used cars ridiculously cheap.  So I bought the car in the picture above for $800.  This 22-foot-long, six-passenger car got 9 milers per gallon in town, maybe 17 on the highway at 55mph on cruise control.

A year after I bought it, I was driving north on PA Route 230 at night when a deer jumped from the side of the road into the path of my two-ton car.  The white-tailed doe flipped into the air.

I stopped as fast as I could and walked back to the carcass.  Within a minute, a blue pickup truck pulled of the road and stopped ten feet from the deer and I.  Two big guys in coveralls got out.  They looked at the deer, looked at me and said, "You want that?"

"No," I said.

The one on the right picked up the deer, carried it to the be…

Oh Deer! Another Hunting Season Story: Skinning a Deer in Missile Test Bay

Sometimes the best tool for a job is a tool that is not yours.So you borrow it.That’s why the first time I skinned a deer was in a U.S. Air Force missile test bay on Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah.
Four miles north of the main area of the base was the missile test facility on Hill.We had equipment to shake, bake, heat, freeze, and simulate high altitude.We stressed missile engines (not warheads) then test fired the engine bolted to racks.The smaller missiles, like the Sidewinder, we fired right on post.When we fired one of the three engines of the three-stage Minuteman missile, we fired on a range on the west side of the Great Sale Lake.
To shake, we called it vibration test, the missile engines we used a 300,000-watt electro magnet—essentially a really big speaker driver.Bolt an engine to this vibration machine and it could be shaken back and forth, up and down, left to right fast or slow, soft or hard, smoothly or with jerks.Then we fired the missile on a test pad to see if the…

Gutting a Deer in the Driveway in 1980

Today, my kids are home from school because in Pennsylvania, school is closed on the first day of deer season.I grew up in Boston and spent most of my seven years on active duty in the western United States or in West Germany.In those places, deer hunting was something you did away from towns and cities, often quite far away because the deer were up in the mountains. Or you just could not hunt close to populated areas.
In Pennsylvania, the city and borough lines are sometimes where the hunting begins. After I left active duty in November 1979, I lived in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.My apartment was two blocks from the eastern edge of the E-town marked by the PA Route 743 South.
One day, I got home from work at noon.As I went up the outside stairs, my neighbor across the alley, Jimmy, drove into his driveway with hooves sticking out of the trunk of his Ford Falcon.I stopped and looked.
He jumped from the car and yelled, “Gimme a hand, Guss.I have to gut this thing.”He pulled a big blu…

Sergeant Bambi Killer: Nicknames Happen as Fast as Machine Gun Fire

From 1982 to 1984 I was a Staff Sergeant and tank section leader in Alpha Company, 6th Battalion, 68th Armor.  For the last few months I was in that unit, I was "Sergeant Bambi Killer."

In the 80s, Army Reserve tank units fired twice a year.  We had a full tank gunnery at Annual Training and a three-day weekend tank gunnery at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., in the fall.

We fired both day and night on these ranges.  In 1983, I was the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge) of the range for night fire.  At dusk on that October evening, I was in the tower above the range.  Below the tower, our 17 tanks were lined up fender to fender waiting to test fire their machine guns before night fire.  The crews got to check their guns in the fading light before firing at night with searchlights, both white light and infrared.

Each of the 17 tanks had 50 rounds for the M-85, .50-caliber machine gun and 50 rounds for the M240 coaxial "coax" machine gun next to the main gun.

As …

Movie Review: "Prisoner of the Mountains" "Кавказский пленник"

Last night I watched the 1996 movie "Prisoner of the Mountains" loosely based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy called "Prisoner of the Caucuses." We read an abridged version of the story in Russian for the Russian class I am taking and watched the movie for the class.  
The movie is set during the bloody Chechen War of the mid 1990s shortly after the Soviet Union had collapsed. This is not an action movie in the American mold: no special effects, no big explosions.  But the relationship between the main characters is as good as I have seen in a war movie.  The captured career sergeant and draftee private are the center of the film.  Sasha, the sergeant, maintains his authority throughout their capture.  Even when they are chained together and facing death, Sasha lies to the young recruit Vanya in a way that made me laugh out loud.    
The movie also gets right the experience of an Army made up of draftee soldiers led by career soldiers.  The tension between those w…

This is My Shit: Why Army Language Makes Sense

While I was in Iraq, I wrote about the word Shit as a pronoun. The post is here. Earlier today I was reading a book called The Zone by Sergei Dovlatov about life in Russian prison camps. Dovlatov wrote about a prisoner correcting a new camp guard about the guard's improper use of the word fuck.

When I wrote in 2009, it was about the difference in how soldiers use shit and bitch as a pronoun.  In that post, I noted that anything that will fit on a bunk is shit.  Anything larger is a bitch.

But I neglected the reason for the use of these pronouns.  From the moment a young soldier begins the process of enlisting, she is showered with acronyms and awash in the Latin-derived words of government bureaucracy.  Normal human beings cannot hear and retain hundreds of opaque new words and terms, so each soldier remembers a few new terms and for the rest says, "The sergeant told me some shit I was supposed to remember."

Then the soldier actually goes to basic training.  On the fir…

Obama Will Take Our Guns

The 28th Combat Aviation Brigade mobilized for Iraq in January of 2009.  My battalion flew to Fort Sill for training at the end of the month, just a week after the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.  From the time we mobilized in Oklahoma to our demobilization in 2010 in Fort Dix, New Jersey, I heard earnest soldiers who were sure that "Obama will take our guns while we are deployed."

These devotees of Glenn Beck, Alex Jones and other batshit purveyors of lies on the right had emails from the NRA proving confiscation was imminent.

And now just 2,850 days later, President Obama has just 70 days left to send thousands of United Nations black helicopters swooping down from Canada to the homes of gun owners across America and begin the tyranny he planned all along.  Because as a Kenyan socialist, Barack Obama's plan all along was to turn America into a socialist state.

It is sadly funny in retrospect.  Among Obama's failures are his years of thinking he could work…

Riding in 2017--A Story

“Shane, Shane is right as rain,” Shane sang to himself as he drove north on Pennsylvania Route 74 from York.He saw dark clouds to the north. He was driving Grandpap’s ’74 Chevy C10 Stepside pickup truck listening to President Trump talk about how he was going to get all the Mexicans out of the country.The old truck only had an AM radio. That was fine with Shane.Trump was on WHP-AM.Really, he was on every station now.
“Shane is right as rain,” he sang to the open windows on this April afternoon.All those Lib’ral bitches that made fun of him weren’t laughing now.Trump was Making America Great Again and Shane was part of it.He was on his way to a Klan rally in Grantham.Christians can’t be Lib’rals and they were going to march across the Messiah College campus and let them know what’s what. Shane dropped out of York Area High School.Shane knew Trump would put all those college bitches in their place.
“Here’s a Trigger Warning bitches!” he said as he patted the AR15 in the rack behind his…