Thursday, May 26, 2005

Success At Last

Ok, so I've been pretty hard on the Air Force here recently, and now I feel I have to eat a bit of crow, a wee bit mind you, sauteed in the glow of success and seasoned with a bit of gloating.

I arrived at the terminal in Salerno right after breakfast yesterday about 2:00 A.M. Dublin Pub Time and the Secret Squirrel Flight Decoder System indicated 4 flights, 3 for Uzbekistan and 1 for Bagram. I asked the Warrant Officer on duty to ask the Secret Squirrel what was going from Uzbekistan to Bagram later that I could hitch a ride on and it chattered out 3 different options, so heeding the aviator's advice, I signed up for the first thing smoking.

Ten minutes before the first plane was supposed to land, I pulled on my body armor and was quickly informed that the pilots had just called and diverted to Bagram. Bad weather over the mountains. Surely the Air Force Flight Planning Voo-Doo Witch Doctor couldn't have seen through my intra-theater inter-national flight connection scheme could he?

I remanifested for the second flight and waited. 20 minutes before second plane was due, there was no bad news. Hopes began to rise again. Rain began to fall and my hopes fell again with it. Ten minutes to go. I pulled on my body armor again and looked at the warrant officer. He shrugged his shoulders and I walked out to the flight line again. To my amazement, I saw a C-130 bank into the light rain and descend towards our little dirt runway. 20 Minutes later, I was being pushed sideways in my seat as the Hercules accelerated into the sky and Salerno dissappeared behind us.

2 hours of light to moderate turbulence later, we touched down in Uzbekistan and I quickly shlepped all my bags to the terminal to, in accordance with what is now the First Commandment of Air Force Travel, "Sign up for the first thing smoking". I was politely informed by the Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, that there were 3 flight going to Bagram, and I had just missed the first one. Undaunted, I manifested for the second one. 2 Hours later, all the pallets were loaded on my new ride, and I strapped in to the web seat only to be informed that the airplane was broken and wasn't going to fly.

"No Problem Sir," delared the cheery co-pilot from North Carolina, "We're switching all the cargo to the airplane next to us, and we'll call the terminal and have you manifested on that flight as well."

The forklifts drive back out to the flight line. The pallets roll off the broken plane and migrate to its neighbor. Once again I drag my bags across the flight line and strap them onto the floor of the cargo area. I sit in the seat, pretending to read but watching the crew out of the corner of my eye. The pallets were tied down but there was still some serious discussion going on with the loadmaster. This wasn't a good sign. One of the crewmembers squeezes between the pallets and the fuselage of the aircraft making her way from the rear of the aircraft to the front while the loadmaster flips through a manual.

"We've called passenger services to come and get you." The female crewmember says after she makes her way up to me, "We can't carry passengers with this load."

"Why not, is it hazardous cargo? Fuel? Amuunition?"

"No, it's laundry detergent, but the pallets are so big that there isn't enough room to get by in the event that you have to make an emergency exit out the back of the plane."

"You just did."

"I'm a crewmember. I'm trained for this."

"I'm trained as a crewmember on a few different aircraft." I said pointing to my wings, "I'm pretty sure that if this plane is on fire, I'll be out before you."

"They requested a waiver and it was denied." said the navigator who had walked in on this discussion.

"Are you sure?" I asked him "Because last time I was in this situation, they were going to grant the waiver, but didn't because there was another plane leaving 6 hours later. You guys are the last ride out of town."

"Uhhmm, well, I'll check on that again."

5 minutes later, the pilot emerged from the cockpit and escorted me to the Flight Ops building where I was manifested as an Additional Crew Member.

Once again, the loadmaster started throwing a fit, but eventually stormed off muttering something about people shoving stuff down his throat.

After we finally got off the ground, the navigator came down to where I was really reading this time, and invited me up to the cockpit since it was "Just us crew-members on board." The visual impact of crossing the Hind Kush mountains at sunset was magnificent from that vantage point. An hour and a half later, we landed at Bagram without need for me to demonstrate that I could conduct an emergency egress from the aircraft faster than the loadmaster.

I am grateful to the Crew for getting me where I needed to go, and with the opportunity to see and hear them perform their duties in flight I was struck by their professionalism. I truly appreciated the pilot taking the time to manifest me the way he did, but it was the attitude of the loadmaster that still sticks in my craw. There was no additional effort required on this guys part to have me on that aircraft, yet left to him alone, I would have waited another day to catch a flight. He would have denied me the seat just because he could and without regard to my need or my mission.

Be that is it may, thanks again to the crew for the great ride in the end.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

No Flights Today

OK, so we got another on of those 3 Stooges finger-in-the-eye tricks from the Air Force today. I'm trying to get to Bagram, so around 3:00 P.M. Dublin Pub Time yesterday, I was faced with a dilemma. The Air Force's Secret Squirrel Astrological Flight Decoder System showed 2 flights for today going to Bagram, 1 leaving at 1:00 A.M. DBT (5:30 A.M. local) and one leaving 6 hours later. Now I know the vindictiveness of the Air Force Flight Planning Voo-Doo Witchdoctor, and I know that once he saw my name on the manifest he would unleash all his unholy powers to perpetuate my miserable track record of reliable air transportation in theater.

Now the 5:30 A.M. flight doesn't sound real bad until you take into consideration that the Air Force somehow feels that it is necessary for all passengers to show up 3 hours before the flight with all your bags ready to fly. I've done a little bit of traveling in the past couple of years, and I'm fairly certian that I could negotiate the ticketing, check-in, and baggage procedures at Chicago O'Hare on Thanksgiving weekend in somewhat less than 3 hours, but the crowds on FOB Salerno might be a bit too much to handle, so catching that first flight would mean that I'm waking up around 1 A.M. I played out the scenario in my mind of waking up at 1 A.M. shaving with an electric razor, going without a shower until sometime in the afternoon, shlepping all my bags across the FOB and finding the terminal door locked because the Air Force canceled the flight then waiting for another 5 hours for the next flight. I decided to just cut to the chase and take the 2nd flight.

I thought the genius of this plan lay in the fact that I was relying on a single airplane to land, load, and depart in accordance with the Secret Squirrel. The Witch Doctor would never suspect that I would do this, he knows that I've been burned too many times and would never rely on only one flight. I figured that all the evil powers of flight disruption would be channeled towards the first flight and I could slip out undetected freshly showered and with breakfast in my belly. Little did I know that his unholiness had devised even more diabolical and perverse ways to torture me.

From the comfort of the Bucksnort, I heard the first plane land and depart exactly on schedule, and I knew I was in deep trouble. I had tempted the powers of the Evil Air Force Flight Planning Voo-Doo Witchdoctor, and I would pay dearly.

So after spending all morning cleaning out the Bucksnort and shipping off all excess baggage through the post office, I shlepped all my bags to the terminal 3 hours before the second flight. The flight was still scheduled. The weather looked good. We loaded the baggage pallet and waited. I asked for and update and everything was still on schedule. One hour before departure, there was a roll call. It was now carved in Jello that the plane was coming and I was getting on. 15 minutes before scheduled arrival, myself along with 7 mishappen travel partners put on our body armor and helmets, picked up our bags and trudged to the flight line and waited for the distant humming of our ride to BAF.

SSG Griffin pulled up in an ATV and said "I'll take your bag back to the TOC Sir."

The look that I gave him must have asked the question for me.

"The flight was cancelled Sir"

I laughed and looked over his shoulder for the plane that was surely descending from the sky at this very moment.

"Sir, I'm serious, the flight is canceled."

"How can that be?" I asked "The tower was just talking to the pilot on the radio. The have to be close."

The terminal attendant nearby clarifies "They called and asked what the load going out was. We told them 3 pallets and 7 passengers and they said 'No'. We don't have time, we have to get back to Bagram before the weather closes the airfield there."

It was then that the brilliance and purity of the evil struck me. Through years of practice at stranding people in remote locations, my genius plan was about as transparent as a little kid closing his eyes so his Mom doesn't see him. I was now left with no one to complain to, no flight crew to plead with, no amount of begging could conjure up another plane. All I could do was succumb to the evil ones master plan.

The Secret Squirrel tells of more planes tomorrow though, I only hope I have paid my penance.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Privileges and Responsibilities

I've been sitting on this Newsweek issue for a little bit, trying to control what I say here.

Continuing a bizarre string of luck that continues to place me in close vicinity to infamous incidents, I caught a ride to the FOB at Ghazni on Monday. After taking care of some business, I found myself sitting in the chow hall watching Fox News. Of course the story of the day was Newsweek's apology for their story on the desecration of the Koran that they now said may not have been accurate.


I watched the video that Fox was running while they concurrently talked about the story. "That's Ghazni!" said the Operations Officer of the unit that is stationed here. Sure enough, it was Ghazni City, just over the wall from where we were sitting. Rocks were being thrown at policemen and Afghani troops who were answering with automatic weapons fire. Cars were in flames and buildings were being looted.

"We [Newsweek] regret that we got any part of our story wrong...".

"That's Rocky!" excalimed the Operations Officer. General Rahkim (sp) was the Chief of Police in Gahzni. On the television, his image staggered forward a few paces, began to fall, and was caught by two of his policemen. "They brought him in yesterday," the Ops officer told me "the bullet went traight through him, back to chest. The medics managed to save him."

"...and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence..."

Later, I was talking to one of the US troops that lives with and trains the Afghan National Army in the area, the ones that had to respond to the rioting. The US troops were directed to remain in the compound for fear that their presence would inflame the tensions even more, so the Afghan troops were required to wade in without the assistance of their US mentors.

"...and to the U.S. Soldiers caught in its midst."

Bullets zipped over the compound where the US troops huddled around radios attempting to advise and assist their protoges anyway they could. They received reports that the district governor had been hit. Vehicles and weapons were loaded, as the US troops prepared to wade into melee.

"We believed our story was newsworthy..."

Pressed by the rioters, the first of three concentric rings of Afghan Army troops which had been formed around the governor's house, cracked and the troops fell back into the second ring. The riotors pressed forward. The US Troops prepared to mobilize, they were not going to stand idly by while the troops they had trained for months were overrun by the rioters.

"...the issue here is to get the truth out, to acknowledge as quickly as possible what happened [at Guantanemo in 2002] ..."

The second ring held. The governor, having been hit in the face with a rock, but fortunately not shot, knew the Americans would come and reiterated the call for them to stand fast. Frustrated, they stood by and listened as the turmoil gradually subsided.

16 people died in these demonstrations across the country ignited by this reckless reporting and fueled by extremists using any opportunity to destabilize the fledgling democracy. It's a bit surreal watching this occur in a country where the freedom of speech is newly re-discovered. Even when it turned violent, it was a more honest and above board exhibition of free speech than what I saw in Newsweek. Hiding behind the freedoms of the first amendment, Newsweek will never admit to their overt, "progressive", "liberal", "enlightened", or anti-Bush agenda, while publishing an incendiary article under the guise of getting a 3 year old truth "as quickly as possibly".

I would venture to guess that if these 16 people died as a result of erroneous U.S. military action, the peacable lives the victims led up until the time of their deaths as well as the grieving of their families would be considered newsworthy. I guess it's a matter of perspective.

I imagaine that if anyone from Newsweek were ever to read this, they might grumble a bit or experience some passing irritaion, but they won't have to rush their bleeding comrade to get medical attention because he had been shot over it. I don't think that they will see any cars set ablaze or buildings being looted around their workplace because the population of lower Manhattan saw this on the internet. I seriously doubt they will have to make the life or death decision of remaining in sandbagged bunkers or coming to the aid of comrades under fire because this writing meets it's intention of being inflammatory.

Perhaps we have grown so accustomed to the privileges of our freedoms that we forget the responsibilities that accompany it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

LT Burt, the Godmother of Operation Walk Tall. Posted by Hello

After a hot day of deliveries, SGT Mitchell tries to translate "Sweating like a Snowman in the summertime" to the elders. Posted by Hello

A show of gratitude from the village elders. Posted by Hello

That's a toy firetruck this little guy is cradling, a gift from PFC Wayne Keaton. I don't think he'll be letting it go anytime soon. Posted by Hello

We've got some for these rough looking guys too. Posted by Hello

Even by the truckload, there's always a need for more. Posted by Hello

Spreading the wealth Posted by Hello

Our first customers Posted by Hello

Ready to deliver Posted by Hello

LT Mahoney shows the power of networking Posted by Hello

PFC Aranzemendi unloads more donations Posted by Hello

SSG Harris receiving donations Posted by Hello
Operation Walk Tall Delivers!!!

Operation Walk Tall made it's first successful delivery of shoes and clothes to Orphanges and schools in the local area.

Members of LTF 191 rolled out the gates Monday morning flanked by security elements of 2/504 Parachute Infantry Regiment and in conjunction with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in the area successfully delivered over 800 pairs of shoes to children in the local area.

The good news is that thanks to the overwhelming response we have received from contributors it will take several more excursions just to deliver what we have received so far.

To date we have received more than 1,600 pairs of shoes and more than 100 boxes are yet to be opened.

I'd like to again thank everyone for their outpouring of generosity. I can not begin to convey to you how greatly these contributions are appreciated not only by the children but by us as well. It is these bonds of friendship and caring between the people of our nations that will deliver a lasting independence to this country and eventually eliminate the need for our continued presence here.

This will be an enduring program. We continue to accept and process donations, as will the units that follow behind us. Donations of children's shoes and clothing can be sent to:

Operation Walk Tall
APO, AE 09314

Monday, May 16, 2005

MG Willams visits Salerno FOB Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 15, 2005

What We Fight For

There we were sitting around the table in our conference tent a little while back, the commander, the staff and I, pondering in detail, all the mundanities which seem to govern our lives now, when the question was asked “What exactly is covered under General Order 1?”

USCENTCOM General Order 1, is a blanket order issued by the CENTCOM Commander, General Abizaid, which, among other things specifies all the prohibited activities of US service members while deployed in the region.

“So what exactly is covered under General Order 1?” the question was repeated.
“No sex.” Someone threw out.
“No alcohol.” Someone else added.
“No pornography.” said another.
“You know,” some smartass chimed in “all the things we fight for.”

OK, so I was the smartass, but I was only joking….kind of.

We are deployed in a country dominated by a population that prescribes to the Muslim religion under which these things are prohibited, and in the course of winning their hearts and minds, we find it a prudent courtesy to refrain from these activities ourselves. I completely understand both the letter and the spirit of the regulation and whole-heartedly support it.

What simply boggles my mind though, is the minor furor that erupted recently over an unfortunate placement of articles in an edition of Stars and Stripes distributed throughout both Afghanistan and Iraq. On one page of this particular edition was an article discussing the military’s continuing plan to deal with sexual assaults and on the opposite page another article proclaimed an upcoming free distribution of Maxim magazine throughout the combat theater.

Articles and letters to the editor popped up in newspapers, websites, and blogs almost immediately vilifying the military for our insensitivity and outright stupidity. I read a particular letter to the editor in Stars and Stripes later by a German Reverend implying that it was no small wonder the US military was replete with sexual predators when we distribute free porn to all our service members and whip them into a hyper-sensitive state of sexual frustration.

Now I have flipped through a few copies of Maxim magazine as well as similar publications that are sold by AAFES here in country. Are there photographs of attractive women? Yes. Is the intended to be provocative? Yes, without a doubt. Is it pornography? If you have either been freeze-dried for the past 30 years or living in a cave without access to daily newspapers, network television (let alone cable), video games, or any one of the mainstream women’s magazines that promise better bodies and secrets on “How to drive him wild in bed.”, then yes, you might consider it pornography.

Whether he considers it pornography or not, the good reverend’s implication was: “Show soldiers pictures of scantily clad women and their minds will turn to thoughts of lust.”

Reverend, the people you are talking about are young men who have been separated from their families and friends for months. Show them a picture of a brick and their minds will turn to lust.

“However comma” as my friend Jim would say, that isn’t the point. At the very core of a self-ruling democratic society are the underlying principles of freedom of choice. The right to choose the religion I subscribe to and the right to speak and write what I choose being two of the critical tenets. I can’t begin to describe the hypocrisy that I see in statements that imply that the American society as a whole can legally imbibe in alcoholic beverages and download pornography from the internet to their heart’s content and still be trusted to act as a decent and responsible member of society while a soldier or Marine can not be trusted to view printed material that is veritably puritan in comparison to what’s available on the rack in any corner convenience store, without succumbing to some Mr. Hyde transformation into a rapist. It becomes even more ironic when you consider that the service member is ingrained with a value system dictated by discipline and because of this they are charged with the defense of our constitutionally protected democratic way of life.

Be that as it may, I still find it difficult to accept criticism of our nation’s collective value system from someone who resides in a country where the drinking age is 16, the national beverage of choice is beer, and both gambling and prostitution are legal. I, however, will continue to remain sober, celibate, and literally wholesome for the foreseeable future. So even though it's a bit of a stretch to say that we fight for sex, alcohol, and pornography, if our actions are supporting the American public's constitutional right to these things, so be it; it's their choice, and I'll fight for that every time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

9 Lines

Sunday’s are usually a pretty slow day around here, there are no morning meetings, troops get a little extra rest, and both the message traffic and the workload are usually pretty light. Understand, this is for the FOB where you can usually find us loggies and most of the support personnel, the combat units are still out and about. We are acutely aware that the cave-dweller doesn’t take Sunday off.

This past Sunday wasn’t shaping up to be any different than most of the others we have experienced here. I had slept a little later than normal, then stopped in the TOC after breakfast to catch up on a few things and check the message traffic. It was a hot clear morning then the thunderstorms rolled in and by early afternoon it was raining pretty solid. The comforting patter of light rain gave way to an increasingly heavier downpour, and when the wind began to shake the heavy canvas and make the metal poles creak, it became down right ominous.

When the hail started, I stopped what I was doing at my desk long enough to peek outside and make sure it wasn’t big enough to cause any damage. I had just gotten back to trying to concentrate on my work when LT Mahoney, my operations officer, came by and said “Sir, we’re tracking a TIC with Trinity. They’re sending a 9-line.”

TIC is an acronym for “Troops in Contact” and Trinity is the call sign for the 3/3 Marines who had just moved off the FOB last week (see “Farewell to Trinity” post) after being relieved by 82nd Airborne units. They had established operations in another area and were continuing to do what they do best, take the fight to the cave-dweller. TICs are more common than we would like them to be but that isn’t what caused the sense of urgency. A 9-line is a standard radio format to request medical evacuation.

The big flat screen television in the operations center resembles a teenager’s compute monitor with multiple text chat message windows open at any given time and even though they are all encrypted and secure, most of the time the messages that flicker across are just as benign. Not this time. I read the last message

“TRINITY: Stand by for 9 line.”

We in the LTF aren’t in the medevac business, and no longer supporting Trinity, we had no part, but the people gathered at the screen because we had worked with these guys for the past 3 months and we had made a lot of friends. Absolutely powerless, we stood and waited for the next message to pop up.

“TRINITY: Line 1 – ##A, AA, ########” The series of numbers and letters that popped up reflected the grid coordinates of where the marines wanted the medevac to land.

SPC Stogner copied the coordinates and began to plot them on one of our wall maps.

As we waited for the following lines, I scrolled back through the messages to see what had brought them to this point.

Having taken some fire from a hillside, the marines had pursued and seen the attackers disappear into a cave. Close air support was called, but the A-10s aren’t built to flush thugs out of a hole in the mountain, nothing is, except Marines.

“TRINITY: Line 2 - ####, Trinity.” It was the radio frequency and call sign of the Marines at the landing site.

The smoke cleared, and of course the Marines had to go in. The firefight ensued, the TIC was reported and soon after word came that there were 2 US WIA. 9 Line to follow.

“TRINITY: Line 3 – 2 critical.” Now I was worried. This line was supposed to be the number of patients by precedence.

It wasn’t only the word “Critical” that concerned me, but the fact that they had used it. There are only five different words that should be used here, each with a specific meaning to the medics as to the severity of the injuries; "Critical" isn't one of them. It was a break from protocol and uncharacteristic of the consistently professional, by-the-numbers behavior I had always witnessed from these guys. I could only imagine what was happening on the ground, and I prayed that it wasn’t a sign of panic.

I looked to the map where SPC Stogner was plotting the coordinates. My heart sank. The dense contour lines around the point he had plotted indicated a viciously rugged terrain.

I returned to the monitor and waited. The minutes stretched. In another break from precedence, higher headquarters had already approved the medevac. Normally all 9 lines of the request are received and the mission is evaluated before the approval is given. Two critical marines was analysis enough in this case, but I also knew that the helicopter couldn’t take off until at least 5 lines had been received. The crew needed at least that much information to know if any special equipment would be required and how to configure the cargo area. The minutes continued to stretch and I tried not to think about what was happening on that mountainside.

“TRINITY: Line 5 – 2 non-ambulatory”

“Where is line 4?” I asked to no one in particular. I scrolled up and checked again. It hadn’t been sent. I looked at the time stamps on the messages. 20 minutes and some change. The pilots would be in the aircraft and the blades would be turning. They would be looking at maps trying to find the best approach and calling for the weather. The crew was configuring the patient area to accommodate 2 patients on litters, but they couldn’t go until they had line 4.

Higher headquarters broke in with the weather “Broken000, wind 35G55, thunderstorms and hail.”

I looked from the big screen to the computer terminal and back hoping I had misread this. I hadn’t, and a wave of resignation swept over me. A broken ceiling with 000 meant that the clouds were coming down to the ground in places. The wind had a sustained speed of 35 knots and was gusting to 55, near the limitations of the aircraft. Throw in the thunderstorms, hail, and mountains, and it was a recipe for disaster. There was no way they were going to fly.

“MEDEVAC: Send line 4.” I stared at the screen with a bizarre mixture of awe, pride and disbelief. They might die trying, but they were going to go after these marines and they needed to know what special equipment was needed.

The minutes ticked by.

“TRINITY: Line 4 – Ventilator. 1 Marine isn’t breathing.” My mood turned to despair again in the time it took me to read the message.

I watched the other 4 lines gradually pop up on the screen as I tried in vain not to think about these Marines lying in the mud with their life slipping away.

No sooner had the Marines sent the 9th line than they followed up with “Please advise when medevac is wheels up.”

Even from my disassociated vantage point, the minutes seemed to stretch interminably. It was impossible for me to fathom what it was like on that muddy hillside with marines trying everything they possibly could to save the lives of their comrades waiting for help that would take a veritable eternity to arrive, if it came at all.

“MEDEVAC: Send patient status..update vitals.”

We waited, staring at the immobile screen as if at a telephone that refused to ring. I remembered talking to Trinity’s executive officer a few weeks prior. They were entering the home stretch of their deployment and the fact that they hadn’t lost any Marines up to this point made him proud, nervous, and hopeful.


And just that quickly, all of our hopes vanished.

Overcome with frustration and helplessness, I stepped out the back door to collect myself. The rain had stopped and the wind had died down where we are, but the mountains in the distance were still obscured by storm clouds.

I wondered who those Marines were, if they were someone who I had passed any number of times on the FOB, or seen laughing with their buddies in the chow hall. Were they part of that ever present group of Marines on the volleyball court or in the gym? I wondered what their plans had been upon their redeployment which was at hand, and I wondered about their families whose perception of Mother’s Day would be changed forever.

I felt my eyes well up. I said a prayer, then went back to work.

It didn’t seem to make much difference later, when we saw the reports that the Air Force AC-130s and A-10s had caught remnants of this group of attackers in a nearby valley and gave the Marines 19 less to worry about the next day.

The whole incident didn’t seem to make much of a difference to the world in general as the Reuter's report was barely longer than the 9 lines it took the Marines to call for a miracle that wouldn't come.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A Birthday in the Wilderness

I’m sure I wasn’t any different than any other kid in the fact that I looked forward to my birthday for months before hand. The prospect of people gathering around the dinner table for cake and ice cream and giving me presents would have me tingling with excitement in the days before it actually arrived. I’m not exactly sure when the thrill of the birthday celebration began to change, but it was somewhere between my 10th when I remember telling my mom, 2 days before “Tomorrow, I can say tomorrow is my birthday!”, and my 14th when I found it embarrassing to be seen by my friends going to a movie with my family. Of course you make it through your party years when, even though the celebrations get progressively bigger, they can never quite overcome the consternation of youth slipping away.

And so begins the balancing act of enjoying the experience but despising the age that is required to get it. I don’t think I have ever been more cognizant of this duplicity than this year as I once again approached that annual milestone. I look forward to everyday as another day closer to home and family and then I feel remorse for wishing away time that I will never see again. So as the day approaches, I tend to take stock of what I have managed to do with the time that has been allotted me this far. Have I spent the time, or have I invested it, passed it or used it? So I add up all the years that have led me to this one, the good along with the bad, the productive with the wasteful, and I try to make a fair assessment. No matter how many times I go through this exercise though, I always seem to come up with the same answer: While all are necessary, the time spent with family is better than the time spent with friends. The time with friends is better than time alone. When time is spent alone, it’s best spent with God.

I have spent much of this past year alone and not enough of it seeking God. I enjoyed the times with friends, relished those with family and simply treasured that time spent with both. So I want to thank all those who gathered around me this year, and with gifts from family allowed me to celebrate with friends and, even if only for a time, made me feel that much closer to home.

Friday, May 06, 2005

This is what happens when you leave your staff unsupervised. The Avalanche reference is to a slight penchant I have for the Colorado Avalanche. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Operation Walk Tall Update

As of last count, Operation Walk Tall has received 861 pairs of shoes with 30 boxes yet unopened. We are on schedule to make our initial distribution to the orphanage within 2 weeks. I'd like to thank all the readers for this tremendous response and outpouring of charity.

More to follow.

Military BLOGS on NPR

I received a message the other day alerting me that NPR's show "On the Media" was airing a segment on Military Bloggers.

Given NPR’s track record with the military and the Bush administration in general, I didn’t have very high hopes about the equitability of the interview process, and I was neither surprised nor disappointed. I’m glad the Mil Bloggers received the recognition that they did, but I am severely disappointed in the manner that one of the bloggers allowed himself to be manipulated into supporting NPR’s thinly veiled liberal bias against the military.

I like NPR. I like they manner in which their stories are written, I like the way they are presented, and I even like some of the content. What I don’t like is the fact that they refuse to admit to any political bias when the content they produce so eloquently is so clearly to the left of the political spectrum. I use the word “they” not for any purpose of non-specific attribution, or to build in the reader’s mind an image of a monolithic, singular organization capable of broadcasting only a pre-ordained party line, but rather because there is no other specific person, or committee to attribute it to.

If you take issue with the content of NPR, you are always free to write into the website. In some of their obligatory magnanimous moments, they read dissenting views evenly balanced by favorable ones. If that is not enough to satiate those who are incensed by some of the homespun, cutesy, progressive ramblings, they can write to the ombudsman. The ombudsman whose job description requires him to detail the official position of the organization will write back to you saying that NPR is strictly a “News” organization.

With the MilBlogger interview, after a precursory shot across the bow about difficulties in mainstream media covering the war, implying lack of access by the military, they started with a feel-good piece on "Ma Deuce Gunner". Now I like CPL Bautista’s blog. I think it is well written, poignant, and honest. I think his writing is exceptional and far beyond his years. NPR agrees, and this is where they set the hook. NPR Then used Michael’s interview as a segue into the military’s censorship of the bloggers and by extension, infringement of their first amendment rights.

After a short transition piece into the rules that govern Milbloggers as seen by, of all things, a reporter for the Army Times, Brooke Gladstone introduces Jason Hartley’s blog, Just Another Soldier, with a tremendous amount of fanfare and then directs the line of questioning to achieve precisely her own end. Sadly, it sounded as though Specialist Hartley was all too willing to lead her there. Jason relates how he was ordered to take down his blog, and then admits that 2 months prior to redeployment, he put it back up and he sounds surprised that he was punished under article 15. Failure to obey a lawful order has always been a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and I daresay it always will be. If then Sergeant Hartley didn’t believe that the order was lawful why didn’t he discuss it with his chain of command, or the commander himself under the open door policy? Why didn’t he seek legal advice from the Inspector General or the Judge Advocate General during those 10 months? These are not things that are foreign to an E-5, I was well aware of my ability and resources to voice grievances when I was an E-3, let alone a non-commissioned officer. With a lot of soldiers surfing the net for entertainment while in the desert, the chances were pretty good that, after putting the website up just prior to going on leave, the chain of command was going to know it. Either he thought about that, or he didn’t. Whether he was looking to become a martyr or not, whether he was looking for trouble or not, I don’t know. What I do know is that his description of the article 15 process was not only completely off the mark, it played precisely into NPR’s script, and NPR either felt that it wasn’t important enough to research, or they were afraid of the answers that they would find if they did.

Jason says that “An Article 15 is a non-judicial form of punishment where basically you just, you, you're given a punishment, and that's the end of it. There's no jury; there's no legal process. It's a way of immediately punishing a soldier. “

Given Jason’s articulate grasp of the English language, it’s hard for me to believe that he didn’t understand his commander when during the reading of the article 15 he was informed not only of all his rights under article 31 of the UCMJ, including the right to see an attorney appointed at no cost by the military, or one of his choosing, but also of his right to demand trial by court-martial. He was correct in saying that it was non-judicial, but it is, in every essence, a legal process. Given NPR’s thinly veiled contempt for the military in general, it’s easy for me to believe that they didn’t research that for fear of finding the correct answer.

As for Jason saying that the only thing MIlbloggers can post is “insipidly agreeable and conspicuously patriotic content that is reviewed by [their] leadership..” and that the only Milblogs that are still up are insipid, well, no offense taken. I kind of doubt that Jason has ever read this blog and in the event that he has, his opinion of insipidity is his own and he is entitled to it.

Jason is also entitled to his opinion that “Army leadership can’t grasp that a soldier can be critical or satirical about the Army, and still love the Army”. Just because he is sounding more like a made-for-NPR piece than I am comfortable with though, if he should ever browse through here, I would like to know just who is the “Army leadership” that can’t grasp this elusive concept. I’m a Major, and I hear critical and satirical comments about the Army all day from people whose love for the Army could never be questioned. I don’t think he meant the Army leadership at the Pentagon, they had nothing to do with his article 15 or removal of his blog. If it’s Army leaders at all levels on an individual basis, doesn’t this include Sergeants, one of which he used to be and hopefully will be again?

Sadly, I think the pieces come together when you can almost hear Brooke Gladstone smiling as she thanks Jason then announces the publication of his book.

I’m glad that Jason is back home safely, and I’m truly am glad for his success and hope that his book does well, but I hope he will forgive this part of the Army leadership who maintains an insipid blog, if I feel a little sold out.

Farewell to Trinity Posted by Hello
In a ceremony much like the one that brought us into the Salerno fold, 3/3 Marines, America's Battalion passed their torch and then just kind of melted away into the Afghan countryside. While I'm sure we'll still see them around now and then, I'm going to miss the Marines. The gave operations here the "Joint Forces Operation" flavor and, to the person, they were every bit the professional. While I don't think the cave-dwellers are going to get any kind of a break from Task Force White Devil, the elements of the Army's 82nd Airborne that replaced them, it was easy to see why so many people are enamoured with the corps.

Semper Fi, Trinity, and Good Hunting.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Sorry folks, we are experiencing some technical difficulties with connectivity. I should be back to regular posting in a couple of days.