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Showing posts from July, 2016

Worst Retirement Plan Possible

In May of 1984, I had a total of eleven years and two months of active and reserve service.  At the time I was a staff sergeant, a tank section leader and had just filled out the application for Officer Candidate School (OCS).  
At that critical point, I had to decide whether to stay and finish 20 years or more of service, or get out, grow a beard and be a real civilian.
SPOILER ALERT!  I grew the beard.  
How did I make this momentous decision to leave the military with nine years till retirement? 
Because of advice from my uncle Jack, the only other recent veteran in my family.  Jack retired in 1978 from the Air Force after 20 years of service.  He had three full tours in the Vietnam War and three temporary duty (TDY) assignments to that war that stopped short of the 180-day line of counting as a full tour.  He flew back seat in an F4 Phantom fighter and was also a navigator in a refueling plane.  When he was not in Southeast Asia, he was often assigned to Thule, Greenland.
Jack sa…

Soviet Armor vs. American Armor, Israel 1973

In July and August 1975, I went to the U.S. Army Armor School in Fort Knox, Kentucky, after three years in missile weapons testing.

We learned the basics of armor and about our tank, the M60A1.  We also learned about a serious flaw in our tanks that was fixed at great cost by the Israeli Army.  The Israelis fought and defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan using the M60A1 among other tanks.  It turns out the hydraulic fluid in our tanks was prone to catch fire.  After the Israelis lost crewmen to these fires, the hydraulic fluid was changed.

We also learned how important mechanical reliability is to combat tank crews.  The Arab countries used Soviet tanks, primarily the T-55 and T-62 main battle tanks.  We learned the difference between "live" and "dead" track.  Soviet tanks used dead track, like bulldozers that does not use rubber bushings.  In hard use, especially at high speeds, dead track is more prone to break.  According to one report, the Syrian A…

Laurus, Book 19 of 2016: A Tale of Old Russia that Stretches to Florence and Jerusalem

Eleven of the books I have read so far this year are by Russian authors writing about life in Russia from the present back through the last two centuries.This book goes several centuries further back into Russian history.
Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin showed me a Russia that I have seen only in fleeting glimpses. We follow the title character, Laurus, from when he loses his parents as a child until the end of his long life as a healer and a holy man between the mid 1400s to the 1520s.
This is a medieval book by setting and by the parade of wretched, reverent, hopeful, fearful and foul characters that people the pages of this wonderful book.After Laurus (Arseny in his early life) loses his parents he moves in with his grandfather, a healer named Christopher.Arseny follows his grandfather and becomes a healer, but as his life progresses, Arseny relies less on the herbs and lore of Christopher and more on the healing gift he has from God.
Arseny becomes adept at healing plague victims.He h…

"Wrong War" Conservatives: “Patriots” Who Dodged the Draft

Just 99 years ago, this was America's view of draft dodgers. 
Many strange things make America unique in the history of the world.One of the strangest to me is that Draft Dodgers can let another man serve and maybe die in his place, and yet they can be “Patriots” later in life.And more ironic than that, they can be patriots in the conservative party.
I know a guy who is a life-long conservative, is three years older than I am, and never served in the military.He said the Vietnam War was the “Wrong War.”  (Really?  Who decides what is the "Right War?" You?) In his mind, those who have the means to avoid the war are free to do that.  So he went to college and got four deferments that got him through the effective end of the draft in 1973.  He considers himself a true conservative and a patriot and has no lingering guilt about avoiding the Vietnam War.
More importantly, he believes if it was the "Right War" he would have served.  Usually with this kind of asserti…

Army Times Reports Army is Downsizing Public Affairs

I had a good laugh this morning reading an editorial by a career public affairs sergeant bemoaning the fact that the Army is downsizing Public Affairs.

When I spent a year in Public Affairs on my first enlistment in the late 70s, most PA soldiers wanted to be journalists.  We wanted to be writers, photographers, broadcasters and film makers.  We wanted to be journalists or artists.  Our heroes were the best journalists.  We saw ourselves as storytellers who were sharpening our skills in the Army to go out and use out skills in the big, wide world.

The current Public Affairs soldier, as I noted recently, hates the media as a rule.

This is partly a matter of who is in the career field.  During the draft era and immediately after, the military was a place to learn a skill before moving on to "real life."  Career soldiers were much more rare than the current force.  So the PA soldiers I knew on my first enlistment were in their early 20s.  And they planned to get out.


Military Privilege: The Camouflage Exception to Rules

Privilege of any kind is when you get to bend and break rules others don’t.I have enjoyed many aspects of Military Privilege since I re-enlisted in 2007.But I got the best part of this type of privilege when I returned from Iraq in 2010. I went a title and tag company with proof of my deployment and paid $20 for an Iraq Veteran license plate.Since then, the Return on Investment of this $20 has been like owning the first shares of Berkshire-Hathaway or Apple.
Until last year I worked in Philadelphia.I only occasionally drove to work, but also I regularly made trips to DC and New York in my car for business.I drive fast.In addition, rolling through thousands of stop signs and traffic lights on a bicycle leaks over into car driving some times.Did I mention that I occasionally park in the wrong place?
I am not justifying any of this.But given my inclination to make up for lateness by speeding, the Iraq Plate is like an enabler in a bad relationship.Since getting the plate I have seen a p…

My Next Adventure: Ride South to North Across Russia and Former Soviet and Warsaw Pact Countries

In mid-August of next year I am planning to ride north from Odessa, Ukraine, to Helsinki, Finland, by way of several former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states.

The trip is in honor of my paternal grandfather.  He escaped the Cossack slaughter of Jews under the Tsar at the end of the 19th Century, got to America, then returned to Odessa in August of 1914.  The biggest mistake of his life.  He was going to drafted into the Army and only escaped by walking from Odessa to Finland.  It took six months and he barely got out of Russia alive.  The story is here.

I am hoping for an easier trip, which is why I am not traveling by the shortest route north through eastern Ukraine and western Russia. Currently, my route has no active conflicts.  But I am going to write to every U.S. Embassy along the route to let them know an American tourist will be riding through these countries in August of next year.

Here is the route:  From Odessa, I will ride northwest through Moldova and eastern Romania.  Then…

Book 18 of 2016, "SIN" by Zakhar Prelepin

Zakhar Prelepin
Among the many praises of Leo Tolstoy is that he was a real combat soldier who maintained the sensitivity to write about both war and peace.  Which he did most grandly in a famous novel with that very title:  War and Peace.  Tolstoy fought in the bloody Crimean War in the 1850s.

One hundred and fifty years later Zakhar Prelepin fought in the War in Chechnya in a Russian Special Forces unit.  In 2007, barely three years after returning from the war, Prelepin published the Novel in short stories, "Sin."

Amazon has a excellent summary:

In the episodes of Zakharka’s life, presented here in non-chronological order, we see him as a little boy, a lovelorn teenager, a hard-drinking grave-digger, a nightclub bouncer, a father, and a soldier in Chechnya. Sin offers a fascinating glimpse into the recent Russian past, as well as its present, with its unemployment, poverty, violence, and local wars – social problems that may be found in many corners of the world. Zakhar …

"Obama's Going to Take Our Guns" In the Army Paranoia is Normal

At the end of January 2009, my unit mobilized for deployment to Iraq.  We trained for two months at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before flying to Kuwait then Iraq.

From the day we landed in Oklahoma, I heard "Obama is going to take our guns."  I heard it in the barracks, I heard in the mess hall, I heard it in the motor pool and especially in the lines we stood in to draw equipment and gear.

The majority of the soldiers I deployed with either fully believed or had some inclination to believe that President Barack Obama was going to begin confiscating guns while we were deployed to Iraq.

At first I thought they had to be kidding, but it quickly became clear that between what they heard from the NRA, Fox News, and Conservative Radio, many of my fellow soldiers sincerely believed Obama was coming for their guns.

Now more than 2,700 days later, I just heard a Conservative saying that Obama will be "coming after our guns" before he leaves office.  In the Army paranoia is nor…

Soldiers Hate the Media, Even When They Work in Public Affairs

Almost every soldier I have ever worked with, even soldiers in Military Public Affairs, hate the media.  I could understand it when I first worked in Army Public Affairs in Germany in the late 70s.  Most of the public hated the military and many reporters made careers pointing out every flaw in the military during and after the Vietnam War.

But when I returned to the Army in 2007, I joined an Army that was loved by the public and covered by reporters who reported good news at a rate I found incredible as a Vietnam-era soldier.

And yet just as during the Vietnam era, every soldier I spoke to at any length about the media, hated the media.  In fact, once I picked up a camera in Iraq and started writing a newsletter within our own brigade, half the soldiers in the unit regarded me as part of the media.  Everything I wrote for that newsletter was reviewed by battalion or brigade headquarters.  But I was the media.

In 2013 in one of the many ironies of my career, I actually went to the

Every Thursday, I Shave My Legs--Even in Iraq

Since one of my first big bike crashes in 1994, I have shaved my legs every week, usually on Thursday before racing on the weekend.  I started riding seriously in 1989, but resisted shaving my legs until the crash at the Tuesday Night Training Race. I continued to shave my legs throughout my deployment to Iraq in 2009.  I rode 5,100 miles on Camp Adder, Iraq, so it made sense to keep removing my leg hair.

So why do bicycle racers and most serious cyclists shave their legs?


In 1994 I crashed at 25mph on a rough road surface. I had deep cuts on my right side from my shoulder to my ankle.  The worst was almost two square feet of shredded skin on my right thigh.  Inside all of those cuts was the shaggy hair from my hirsute legs.  I cleaned and disinfected my injuries, but within a few days, the big red mess on my right thigh was oozing green.

My doctor, General Internal Medicine, rotates many residence through the practice.  That day I had a young, fit doctor doing a month-lon…