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Showing posts from February, 2017

Courage and Fear: Weapons for Wives

Five years ago I was eating lunch in the Aviation Armory at Fort Indiantown Gap.  I sat with a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and a Chinook helicopter flight engineer.  Both are Iraq veterans who flew many combat missions. Both are tall, strong men who regularly scored the maximum on the physical fitness test and were very good at their respective jobs.

They both live in rural Central Pennsylvania. The topic of conversation when I sat down was rapid opening cases for automatic pistols.  They were discussing the relative merits of biometric locks versus RFID locks. They were talking about the relative merits of the gun case each had put in their bedroom for themselves and also for their wives while they are away from home.

Both men own more than 20 guns which they keep locked in elaborate gun safes.  But the pistol case was for immediate access in case of a home invasion.  Neither man wanted his young children to have any access to the guns, but did want to be ready to defend their homes …

Courage and Fear: My Father on Fist Fights and Doctors

The ideal of the courageous person is one who can and will face any threat and pain in any situation with equal grace. That ideal person could go to war, find out they have cancer, or get a root canal with equal and undisturbed equanimity. Senator John Glenn and Major Richard Winters seem the closest to the ideal of hero who is brave in every circumstance.

But most real people don't work that way.

My father was a professional boxer.  Every time he stepped into the ring, he knew he was going to be hurt.  But he climbed between the ropes, raised his hands and got punched by another guy who could hit--hard.  The courage that got him in the ring led him to enlist in the Army and serve through and after World War II.

But he was afraid of doctors and hospitals.  His fear was partly inherited from his Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. For a Jew to enter a Russian hospital in the 19th Century meant they had the most dire illness.

Dad lost that fear of doctors in the last decade of his l…

Russia and America: Destined to Conflict

Nearly 200 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and wrote one of the most important books on America and American politics ever written: Democracy in America. In its nearly 1,000 wonderful pages is Tocqueville's assertion that conflict between America and Russia would dominate the 20th Century. It is not the point of the book at all, but a very French grand prediction about the future, that turned out to be right.

Tocqueville wrote this when America was just 24 states, when Mexico included the territory from Texas to northern California including what is now many of the states of the southwest.  A that time, Russian owned Alaska and a big chuck of western Canada.

In 1831, when Tocqueville visited America, Andrew Jackson was President. America and Russia were both big and crude and isolated when compared with the major European countries, especially as regards slavery.  America enslaved millions of Africans under terms and conditions harsher than any of the Ancient emp…

Barracks Talk, Locker Room Talk and Old Soldiers

A few short years ago, when I was 59 years old, I was assigned to a field barracks in Northern Michigan with a unit I had never trained or deployed with.  The young men in the barracks were mostly mechanics and mostly under 25 years old.  The barracks was not full so I had a bunk to myself off in a corner.

One evening I was reading in my bunk. Five young men sat in a circle in the middle of the floor and began sharing stories with the topic, "Worst [sex] in my life."

I tried to keep reading but left the building after storyteller really got going.  I could read in the mess hall.  I stayed away for an hour. When I returned they were still going and the group now had eight story tellers.  I went to the duty shack near the airstrip and stayed there for a while. After another hour, they had exhausted their deep well of bad sex, the group broke up, and I returned to my bunk.

On fitness tests and obstacle courses, on the firing range and waiting in long lines, I was just anothe…

Volunteer Army Consolidated Mess

Consolidate Mess line, or German prisoners marching out of Stalingrad?
In almost every way, I liked the draft Army and the Cold War Army better than the 21st Century Army, but that is not true of food.More specifically, that is not true of the way the food was served at Fort Carson, Colorado, in 1975-76: The Consolidated Mess!
In the consolidated mess, up to 4,000 soldiers were expected to eat lunch and return to their duty—which meant eating lunch in two minutes or just skipping lunch altogether.The cost cutting wizard who decided to subject an entire brigade to the rotten routine for food delivery should spend a thousand years in Purgatory in a metal pan on steam table—stuck and burned on the bottom, cold and squishy on top.
My father was a company commander in World War II.The mess sergeant worked for him and cooked the food for his men.That mess sergeant worked for his commander, not for a faceless Army bureaucracy.One odd thing about the consolidated mess operation is that we al…

One Last Haircut: World War II Vet Shares a Story After Forty Years

Elias King learned to cut hair while serving as a gunner’s mate on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II.When I met him in 1982, he was planning to retire and sell his barbershop.After getting my hair cut a couple of times in his shop, I could not believe Elias would ever retire. In the days before talk radio, he was the local source for the true conservatives that were the core clientele of his shop.
He was loud and funny and had opinions that the John Birch Society might think were too far right.He did not think women should work outside the home unless they were widows and their families abandoned them.For Elias, the Soviet Union was the enemy, forever. America needed to stop them everywhere.
I got a hair cut there once a month just before my Army Reserve weekends.I was close to thirty years old at the time, and by age, any of the customers and barbers could have been my Dad.Elias liked me because I served during the Vietnam War, then Cold War West Germany and was a tank …

"...No Time for That, Gussman:" Book Report 2016, Fiction

Lt. Col. Scott Perry, Blackhawk Pilot, Battalion Commander, in Iraq, 2009
In December of 2009 Scott Perry, my battalion commander, burst into my office in his headquarters.  He was sending me on a mission the next day. When he finished the instructions he gave me, he looked down and saw a copy of "Aeneid" on my desk. We had a brief exchange that shows why fiction dropped from its high place in the world to its niche place in the busy, media-saturated world of the 21st Century.

"I've got no time for that Gussman," Perry said. "I've got so much to read, I just don't read fiction."

I knew that night the officers were having a movie night. So I asked him, "Which documentary are you watching tonight?"

"Documentary?" he said. "What are you talking about. We're watching Godfather, Part 2."

"You mean you watch fiction, you just don't read it."

"Shut up Gussman. Be on the ramp tomorrow at Zero Seven…