Monday, May 21, 2007

Better Bombs Vs. Better Armor

I've been maintaining an ongoing skirmish of words with with a small segment of the population of Glenwood Springs, CO and the encompassing Roaring Fork Valley through the editorial pages of the local newspaper there, Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

The entire Roaring Fork Valley has become decidedly more liberal in it's political views since since my upbringing there and while there is no intent or desire to sway that through my prosiac jousts, it does make for good debate from time to time and I mainly continue the sparring because my mother likes to occasionally see my name in the paper.

There was a recent letter that I think deserves a bit more widespread scrutiny though, that from the mother of a new soldier apparently in or on his way to Iraq. Among other things, Ms. Nicholls states that sustaining casualties from IEDs in Iraq is preventable. All we need to do is provide up-armored HUMMWVs to every soldier in Iraq.

What concerns me about this is that the letter was published on the 8th of May and there have been no rebuttals. Is this the generally accepted point of view in America, that is is all just a matter of money and the only reason troops are dying from IEDs is that we don't care enough to simply provide them with up-armored hummers?

The reality is that the Army hasn't been allowed to send unarmored hummers to Iraq (or Afghanistan for that matter) for more than 2 years and any unarmored vehicle already there is certainly not taken off the FOBs. The sad fact is that the lethality of IEDs has increased far faster than armor technology and it always will (see Michael Yon's "Jungle Law" dispatch).

Deaths of American troops by roadside bombs may very well be preventable but when we are seeing IEDs in Iraq with enough lethality to detstroy Stryker vehicles and M1 tanks, conventional wisdom tells us that throwing more armor on a Hummer isn't the method that is going to achieve those ends. Adding more armor to HUMMWVs has a diminishing marginal utility. More armor is not only expensive but the additional weight reduces the performance and handling of the vehicle which plays its own factor in endangering troops. Additionally, adding more armor requires upgrades to not only the electrical system and air conditioning (putting the windows down on an armored vehicle pretty much defeats the purpose) but significant upgrades to the suspension, all of which gets vaporized when the bad guys simply wire one more artillery shell into their IED.

Militarily, we can't stop the lethality of IEDs from increasing, nor can we achieve a high rate of success in preventing those intent on emplacing them from doing so (see Michael Yon's "Rattlesnake" dispatch). The solution lies in removing the desire to emplace them and that solution is not, primarily a military one, but a political one.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Farewell Tour

So after arriving back in Germany following our whirwind tour of the US, I find myself once agina counting days until I leave a country. I began the process of clearing the military installations as soon as we arrived back and also started trying to squeeze in all those things that we said we would have to do before we left Europe. Good luck with that.

One thing that we did manage to do was finally get to a home game of 1FCK, who are trying to work P5060149 theur way back into the top flight of the Bundes Liga after gettign bumped out last year. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm, the bear was cold, and the fans were boisterous, and although the game ended in a tie, the experience couldn't have been any better. The game did coincidentally fall on my birthday and the C-17s that frequently whined over Fritz-Walter Stadion P5060148 on their approach to Ramstein were a constant reminder of a birthday recent past where I endured incessant harassment from my staff in FOB Salerno, and reminded us also of those still spending important occasions far from home and in harm's way.P5060158

Friday night found us at the opening night of the Lauters Kerwe, the annual spring festival in Kaiserslautern. I paid 3 Euro for ten chances to bounce a ping-pong ball towards a large display of beer steins and much to the proprieter's chagrin, ball #10 rattled home into a stein in the back of the top row. Now the proud owner of a limited edition Zoller & Born beer stein, the next logical step was to try it out. So after P5110172 shouldering our way to a table near the band in the fest tent, Pam promptly received lessons for the proper hand and arm gestures for the music, something to do with cowboys, a lasso, and totem poles (hard to believe that its a German folk song).Dscf3587

We have had BBqs and dinners with friends, CPT Parrish, whose departure coincides with ours, will be having multiple parties before she leaves the active Army in favor of grad school at Georgetown, and we will be able to squeeze in Memorial day weekend at the Bodensee on the German, Austrian, Swiss border.

So while we may not complete the "Everything We Wanted to do in Europe" list, I'm sure that by the time we are wheels up for JFK we will have completed enough items to be satisfied with tucking the list away and calling it a win.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Back in Deutschland

We have returned from a 6 week excursion in the States and are now preparing to permanently depart Germany.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pfczizumbo There was a lot of furor two weeks ago when a sucide bomber struck the front gate of Bagram Airbase while Vice-President Cheney was visiting. Most of the uproar was predictable about a resurgence of the Taliban, security lapses and so on. The truth about this incident is that it was an anomally. The Taliban do not have a base of support in the Bagram area and it is more likely than not a mere coincidence that the Vice-president happened to be there when the attack occured. Mr. Cheney was never in any danger and security was not breached, but what is being lost here as everyone grasps at straws as they attempt to validate their own point, is the sacrifices of those who perished.

PFC Daniel Zuzumbo was the U.S. soldier that was killed in this attack. He was a member of the 251st Cargo Transfer Company, a subordinate entity of my old unit, the 191st Ordnance Battalion.

I didn't knDscf2149ow Daniel, he rotated to Afghanistan after I had returned to Germany and given the XO position. I didn't know Daniel, but I know that after serving 4 years in the Marines he struggled with civilian life in Chicago before joining the Army. I know that he was aware of the risks associated with his job and he accepted them. I kDscf2141now the job that he was doing in Afghanistan, and I have walked the ground where his life was taken from him, here where these children gather every day to talk to soldiers. I know that more than 20 other people died along with Daniel that day.

I know that Daniel was honered by thousands in Afghanistan as he began his final trip home. I know that he was honored by hundreds here in Germany in the chapel right across the road from where I work. I know that he was honored by thousands at home in Chicago.

I know that he was a hero. I know that he will be missed.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fait Accompli

I would truly like to believe that our judicial system has not completely collapsed. I write this because it is one of the branches of government that is established in our constitution, the document that I have taken an oath to support and defend. If we were to judge solely on the basis of the Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial, I think we should be seriously concerned about the fairness and equitability that can be expected from juries of our peers.

I wasn't so much surprised that Mr. Libby was found guilty, I hadn't really followed the trial and I surmised that there were any number of facts that could have come out during its conduct that could point to his incontrovertible guilt but I was stunned at what I saw in the post trial press conference. Not the press conference by the defense attorney or even the prosecuting attorney but rather a juror. Did you get that? A press conference from a juror.

Mr. Denis Collins, juror #9 was apparently so overwhelmed by his sense of civic duty and sympathy for those in the press (his own former profession), that he took it upon himself to explain in nauseating detail the deliberative process of the jury.

I use the word nauseating here because this was such blatant display of pandering to the public eye by someone so desperate for their 15 minutes that you half-expected him to be accompanied by his publicist and agent.

There was feigned sympathy, a stated vow of the entire jury's political ambivalence, and a step-by-step account of the deliberative process that was supposed to lend credibility to the findings. In the midst of all this it seems that only two things were forgotten; facts and the law.

Mr. Collins stated that there were some very good managerial types on the jury who broke the whole process down into building blocks so that in the end all they had to do was look at a monstrous pile of Post-it notes and say "Hey, there it is." Of course at the same time he mentioned that the categories they used in evaluating Mr. Libby's guilt or innocence were "motivation to lie", "motivation to tell the truth", "believability", and "state of mind".

I would hate to think that if I were to find myself in a similar situation as Mr.Libby, the only thing that could separate me from a federal penitentiary would be the ability of 12 people who don't know me to subjectively determine what my frame of mind was 3 1/2 years prior. Here's a radical idea Denis; how about deciding guilt or innocence by facts?

I also understand that during the deliberations, the jury sent a note to the judge asking if one of the charges against Mr. Libby was "lying to a reporter". Talk about "believability". I wonder which one of the "really good managerial types" on the jury asked that brilliant question or even allowed it to be asked. What confidence it must give the new convicted felon that he now knows that his fate was decided by people who, a) weren't absolutely crystal clear on the crimes he was charged with and, b) possessed a collective mental capacity that believed lying to a reporter is even a crime, let alone a felony to be tried in federal court.

The whole thing comes together though when you learn that in spite of the jury's stated political ambivalence, Mr. Collins provided a 7,500 word account of the entire deliberation process within hours exclusively to "The Huffington Post".

So in the end, we have really good apolitical managerial types building a mountain of Post-it notes, idiotic questions being asked of the judge, a person spending the entire deliberation writing memoirs for instant publication by a liberal columnist, Mr. Libby apparently headed for federal prison, and the rest of us wondering what has truly happened to justice in our nation as it is provided for by the constitution.
Americal Idol?

After a 42 year wait, LTC(R) Bruce Crandall received the nation's highest honor last week when he was awardeed the Medal Of Honor for actions as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Then-Major Crandall's heroism was immortalized in the LTG(R) "Hal" Moore's classic book "We Were Solidiers Once...and Young" and later in the Mel Gibson movie of the same name.

I had the opportunity to see this ceremony broadcast live and it was moving to say the least.

The tragedy is not so much that this took 42 years to accompllish, but that so few people even know that it occured. We have been able to see almost live updates of the Anna Nicole debacle and we are promptly informed every time Britanny Spears checks into and out of rehab, shaves her head, or "forgets" to don underwear, but Mention the name "Bruce Crandall" and you will get stares like you were doing card tricks for a dog.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised to find this article in the Wall Street Journal:

"The Real American Idol March 1, 2007; Page A12
Amid the mad jumble that makes the news in our time, the White House on Monday held a ceremony for a Medal of Honor recipient. His name is Bruce Crandall. Mr. Crandall is 74 now, and earned his medal as a major, flying a Huey helicopter in 1965 in the Vietnam War.

The Medal of Honor is conferred only for bravery in combat. It is a military medal, and it is still generally regarded as the highest public tribute this nation can bestow. It is also very rare.
Still, the Medal of Honor does not occupy the place in the nation's cultural life that it once did. This has much to do with the ambivalent place of the military in our angry politics.

In the House debate just ended on a "non-binding" resolution to thwart the sending of more troops to Iraq, its most noted element was the Democratic formulation to "support the troops" but oppose the war. We will hear more of this when the members of the Senate debate their own symbolic resolution.

In last November's congressional election, the Democrats picked several military veterans as candidates to mitigate the notion, a burden since Vietnam, that an endemic hostility toward things military runs through the party's veins. Those Democratic veterans won.
Notwithstanding the bitter divide over Iraq, the presence of these veterans in Congress should be a good thing, if one thinks that the oft-publicized "divide" between the professional military and American civilians is not in this country's interest. It surely cannot be in the country's interest if over time more Americans come to regard the life of U.S. soldiers at war and in combat as an abstraction -- as say, mainly Oscar nominees or as newspaper photographs of scenes of utter loss at arms.

Two men have received the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq: Army Sgt. First Class Paul R. Smith, who died defending some 100 fellow soldiers, allowing their withdrawal; and Marine Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who died after he dove atop a live grenade to protect his squad. (Cpl. Dunham's act was the subject of a 2004 Wall Street Journal story by reporter Michael M. Phillips and later a book, "The Gift of Valor.")

Bruce Crandall's Medal of Honor, at an emotional remove of 42 years, offers a chance to ponder just where the military stands now in the nation's life. The particulars of Lt. Col. Crandall's act of heroism, and what others said of it at the awarding of the medal on Monday, offers we civilians a chance to understand not merely the risks of combat but what animates those who embrace those risks.

Mr. Crandall, then a major, commanded a company with the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, carrying soldiers to a landing zone, called X-ray, in the la Drang Valley. An assault from the North Vietnamese army erupted, as described at the White House ceremony Monday. Three soldiers on Maj. Crandall's helicopter were killed. He kept it on the ground while four wounded were taken aboard. Back at base, he asked for a volunteer to return with him to X-ray. Capt. Ed Freeman came forward. Through smoke and bullets, they flew in and out 14 times, spent 14 hours in the air and used three helicopters. They evacuated 70 wounded. The battalion survived.

A Medal of Honor requires eyewitness accounts, and an officer there attested, "Maj. Crandall's actions were without question the most valorous I've observed of any helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, spoke at the ceremony of what he called "the warrior ethos." Look at his words and consider whether they still stand today, or whether as a matter of the nation's broader ethos of commonly accepted beliefs, they are under challenge. Gen. Schoomaker said: "The words of the warrior ethos that we have today -- I will always place the mission first; I will never accept defeat; I will never quit; and I will never leave a fallen comrade -- were made real that day in the la Drang Valley.

At issue today is the question: Is that ethos worth it, worth the inevitable sacrifice? And not only in Iraq but in whatever may lie beyond Iraq.

The secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey, went on in this vein: "The courage and fortitude of America's soldiers in combat exemplified by these individuals is, without question, the highest level of human behavior. It demonstrates the basic goodness of mankind as well as the inherent kindness and patriotism of American soldiers."

An American soldier in combat demonstrates "the basic goodness of mankind"? And the highest level of human behavior? This was not thought to be true at the moment Maj. Crandall was flying those choppers in Vietnam. Nor is it now.

To embrace the thoughts of Gen. Schoomaker and of Secretary Harvey is to risk being accused of defending notions of American triumphalism and an overly strong martial spirit thought inappropriate to the realities of a multilateral world. This is a debate worth having. But we are not having it. We are hiding from it.

In a less doubtful culture, Maj. Crandall's magnificent medal would have been on every front page, if only a photograph. It was on no one's front page Tuesday. The New York Times, the culture's lodestar, had a photograph on its front page of President Bush addressing governors about an insurance plan. Maj. Crandall's Medal of Honor was on page 15, in a round-up, three lines from the bottom. Other big-city dailies also ran it in their news summaries; some -- the Washington Post, USA Today -- ran full accounts inside.

Most school children once knew the names of the nation's heroes in war -- Ethan Allen, John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, the Swamp Fox Francis Marion, Ulysses S. Grant, Clara Barton, Billy Mitchell, Alvin York, Lee Ann Hester. Lee Ann who? She's the first woman to win a Silver Star for direct combat with the enemy. Did it in a trench in Iraq. Her story should be in schools, but it won't be.

All nations celebrate personal icons, and ours now tend to be doers of good. That's fine. But if we suppress the martial feats of a Bruce Crandall, we distance ourselves further from our military. And in time, we will change. At some risk. "

While it is impossible to do now because of the ongoing Congessional debacle over the President's troop surge, I hope that at somepoint in the not to distant future we can begin to embrace our soldiers and all those who have placed them selves in harms way at the call of our nation. I hope that we can collectively honor them for their bravery and sacrfice without worrying that we are sending the wrong message to a politically correct world. I hope that we stop running from the debate.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Closing the Loop

Okay, so I know I've been AWOL from the blogosphere for an intolerable amount of time but I 've had good reason...really...okay not so good, and not really "reason" as much as "excuse" and since it's not so good, I won't insult you by giving you a bad one.

My duties in Germany are, for all intents and purposes, complete. I have orders to Saint John's University in my hot little hands and we are busily preparing to (in Army slang) un-ass the AO. We will take off for Colorado on leave next week where we will help Mollie and Al clean out the house in Springs as they head for the Azores, then we drive to NY. After spending a few weeks house hunting and familiarizing we're off to Virgina for a couple weeks of school then back to Germany at the end or April. We'll be back here just long enough to see all our stuff get packed up, sweep out the house and say "Auf Wiedersen" before landing back in NY to report by the 1st of June.

Most people refer to leaving an assignment as "bittersweet" and while that may just be pandering to political correctness for the sake of those assembled, I have to honestly say that our leaving Deutschland will be much more sweet than bitter. There are certainly things that we love about Germany and a lot of great people that we've known here, but the last 3 1/2 years have been so turbulent and demanding that we will be glad to see it in the proverbial rear-view mirror.

To put things in perspective; during the first 14 years of my Army career, my most exotic TDY locations were Fort Chaffe, Arkansas; Fort Monmouth, NJ; and Fort Lewis, Washington. I never once left the country.

During the last 1,200 days I have been through 17 countries on 3 different continents, been shot at 6 different times, earned 1 badge and 4 different medals, celebrated Christmas mass in 4 different countries and been separated from Pam for 425 days.

Enough. It's time to trade the solitude and silence of the German village for the hustle and bustle of New York, the surliness of soldiers for the enthusiasim of cadets, and the suffocating bureaucracy of a command headquarters for the enlightened elitism of academia.
With that in mind, it is time to start closing down this blog. I still have a few more posts that I will make here regarding recent happenings, but I have opened a new blog, Red Storm Rising,(St. John's "mascot" is the Red's a blatant rip-off of Tom Clancy for the sake of a cute little play on words there) which will be more appropriate for our continued adventures in the Big Apple.

Thank you all for your support over these past many months and I hope to hear from you there.