Archive for October, 2008


The time has come

I’m back from my ten day field training exercise. It was tough,but fulfilling. 16-18 hr days, 12 of which were spent inside the Tactical Operations Center with several other intelligence analysts. Daily, we reviewed computerized message traffic from real-world situations that have occurred in Iraq. Always, I monitored with reverence those messages, remembering that real soldiers had died when the words told me so. My shift started at midnight and ran to noon the next day. I had one shower in ten days.

Along with huge amounts of coffee, I took an herb, called Rhodiola Rosea. It has been used for decades by Russian olympians and cosmonauts and has nothing short of miraculous effects. It virtually eliminates the effects of stress, both physical and psychological. Everyone should check it out.

Our time in the “TOC” was supplemented with 2-6 hours of Warrior-Skills Training.

My time here at Ft. Huachuca is for all-intents-and-purposes, finished. TRADOC threw everything they had at us for this final exercise and the soldiers performed well.

I’m starting a new blog, called: Soldier-Citizen. It’ll be on the blog links here and will focus on more military issues. I haven’t written there yet,but I will soon. Hope everyone takes a look….

I’d like to take this time to thank everyone who has supported me through this, and through the very tough past two years that have been mine. To friends and family, to the soldiers serving abroad who fight against those whose god knows only retribution void of love and who hatred can only be matched by the hopelessness of the acolytes who carry out His wishes. To my father: I hope you’re proud. To my grandmother: I owe more than I can repay. My three best friends, Jaimie, Mike L. and Mike R. You helped me when I was so down I could barely see straight; I won’t forget. And I won’t forget those at the Bangor Police Department, where I got my first “real” job. Don’t stop fighting that war that will never end: the war on crime, against the lawless. Finally to the sergeants, some of whom I learned what I must become, and others what I never want to become.

To all of you–Hooah!


Why I’m an existentialist

I know–some of my blogs have been far too serious of late. But it’s the mood I’m in, so I’ll let my demon carry me.

Perhaps I inherited my nature from my mother. She was a pessimist in my estimation. I haven’t seen her in almost twenty years, so maybe she’s donned rose-colored glasses–but I doubt that.

My life experiences have I think, to a greater degree affected my thinking than my genetics. After all, genetics would be the easy way out, something to blame for my own glass-half-empty ethos–and that just wouldn’t be existentialist of me.

What is existentialism? Well, I’m no expert, like my friend, Dr. Michael LaBossiere, but here’s a quick overview:

1) Personal choices and responsibility reign supreme. The blame game is counter-productive (enjoying one’s self at the expense of progress, as Ralph Peters puts it) and quite often wrong. It’s the mere avoiding of the painful truth that our own choices often get us into bad spots.

2) No set of hard and fast rules can make everyone happy all of the time.Technology cannot and will never save humanity from itself.

3) At times there are difficult or downright horrible truths to be faced. But face them we must. Many times the universe is illogical–which brings into question science AND religion–neither can escape the existentialist’s questioning mind with easy answers. But ultimately we must choose something.

4) There is no magic way of avoiding pain and each of us must find his or her own path and define ourselves through our personal experiences. We have no inherent value except that which WE build through our actions.

5) To sum it up, existentialism is about the individual, which is why Nietzche said (I’m paraphrasing) that he despised systems and systemizers.

Interestingly, existentialism has been the philosophy of people who’s beliefs would seem to be diametrically opposed: Dostoyevsky (Christian); Nietzsche (Anti-Christian), Kierkegaard sp? (Christian); Sartre (Atheist). But they all had many things in common too. They did not believe that a system or government could make individuals happy. It’s personal and up too us to find what does that.

Before I went into the Army, my friend Dr. LaBossiere told me I was Nietzschean. I disagreed at the time, primarily because Nietzsche was an atheist, and I’m not. But in many cases Mike was correct. As Nietzsche believed, so do I: The universe is a big, oft-illogical place with no easy answers. Sweet lies will not relieve us of our burden of choice and personal responsibility. And finally, sometimes things go really, really bad, no matter what we do.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky is one of my favorite authors. Reading his books, though sometimes a literary chore because of the dozens of characters and psychological complexity, is like looking into a mirror. I see my own thinking on those pages.

Nietzsche’s writing is the same. Though his themes are dark, I find myself feeling energized by his works. I’m less familiar with Kierkagaard, but from the little I’ve read I like what I see.

My time in training with the Army has revealed something to me. I’m not being true to my self if I’m overly and senslessly positive. I feel like that kind of thought is at once disarming and a lie.

Last week, someone told me that I’m too serious. I shrugged my shoulders, because, for one thing, they’re wrong. For another, if by too serious they mean–seeing the world the way it really is– then I’ll accept the brand.

Besides, paradoxically, I’m happier being a pessimist! Too bad girls do hate a pessimist….


Be careful what you put into your mind

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”~ Plato

Of all the things that effect us as humans, I think that music is the most powerful and reflective of ourselves. Not only can music change the way we act–it’s also like a mirror, revealing what is already in our minds. Music has for thousands of years been used to motivate troops in war, charge up athletic teams for sporting events and calm the wounded soul.

Music is power. And we must always be careful with power.

I’m sure you can look back at times in your life when you wanted to listen to music that agreed with how you felt inside. When we are depressed, we listen to depressing music; when inspired, we listen to uplifting tunes. This can be a trap though, and can keep us on negative life-tracks.

More and more I realize the existence of feedback loops in our minds and bodies. Studies have proved that the act of smiling can make us feel joy. The feedback loop is reversed. So it is with music and anything else we put into our minds. We can choose to edify ourselves or tear ourselves down. I fully believe too that we can make ourselves dumber and or smarter. Some of the younger troops I work with think I’m smart. I think that virtually anyone can be “smart”, at least in the way my comrades use the term. Why? Because, using the feedback loop idea,  I decided to be intelligent. I told myself that I was going to build my mind on my free time, and I prayed for wisdom. I told myself I would become a good writer. I’ll let others decide how good I am, but I can tell you that after my decision, and after writing in my journal about it, I became much better and I think I’ve gotten better every single day since. My powers of reasoning have improved too.

Nowhere is the effect of music so evident as in our children. Most music now is very negative and dark, and by exposing our kids to its mind-altering effects, we’re setting some of them up for failure. The cognitive model of psycho-therapy proves this. We are what we think… And the more often we think a certain way, the more difficult it can be to change that thinking, and thus our results in life–positive or negative. I feel sad when I hear young kids listening to music advocating violence or hyper-sexuality. I think they’re in for a struggle. We’ve done harm to our society by allowing this, and the greed of the music industry stomps out any consideration of right and wrong.

Obviously, literature and television can have serious effects too. I’ve pretty much stopped watching television, finding most of its subjects inane or damaging to my well being. I do watch sports and the news, but that’s about it. There has in the past, been certain books that I had to put down before finishing because I found them affecting me in ways I didn’t want them to.

Like most things, changing the way we think is a process. That process moves slowly and only with a full-spectrum attack on all of the things that hold us back. Negative thoughts, dwelling on aspects of our past that hurt us, outside influences such as music or television that destroy our potential–all of these must be dealt with and it’s a daily effort.

Recently, a study revealed that antidepressants are no more effective than sugar pills for all but the most severely depressed. This confirms what I’ve believed about the subject for some time. We cannot remove the effects of our choices when it comes to how our minds function. At this point it seems, even modern medicine cannot catapult us over the hard work needed to get our thinking right…

If we want to be happier, smarter or physically stronger, then begin with what you may have thought was the end. Be happier, smarter and stronger. Remember–feedback loops.


Have we learned nothing?

The testing is done here, for my platoon at Ft. Huachuca. We have only a 9 day field training exercise to overcome before we move onto a short vacation and then to our duty-stations.

Last week in class we participated in a wargame called “Red Vs. Blue.” The class was split in half and one side was assigned blue (American Forces) the other, red (insurgents). The diceless wargame simulated American forces conducting stability operations in the town of Sierra Vista, where Ft. Huachuca is located.

I won’t go into needless detail abut what happened, but know that I was assigned to the American side and then assigned as the 101st Airborne targeting analyst. My job was to non-lethally or lethally target high value targets as they appeared through recon and surveillance assets. This could be done in a number of ways.

One of the students is an E-5 Sergeant. He is re-classing his MOS to become a Intel Analyst. Though I’m student class leader, the Sergeant is the actual class leader, being a permanent party member and of course, out-ranking me. We are very different kinds of people, he and I. He’s OCD in the extreme. I’m messy. He’s a liberal Democrat from New York. I’m a conservative from Maine. He’s reluctant to use force in situations that I believe it’s needed.

The final round of our wargame had commenced. As an analyst, I’ve been trained by a former Marine Captain to give my superiors my educated opinion on what needs to be done, even if I know he won’t want to hear it. In the previous turns, Red Cell had managed to assassinate a city council member and blow up Wal-Mart, while we’d managed to kill several insurgents and capture one of them for interrogation at a traffic control point. Blue Cell (us) was conducting what is called phase IV operations, or stability ops. In other words, the primary full-spectrum military assault was over and our mission was to stabilize the local government and encourage rule of law.

The insurgent controlled areas had been identified on the map and we’d narrowed the possible location of the insurgent safehouse to a 2 square kilomter area at the south-eastern portion of Sierra Vista.

I knew what had to be done this late in the game. We had to kill and capture the terrorists, not sit back and hope that we’d deployed security forces at the right locations each turn, while the terrorists picked targets of opportunity. It was only logical and in line with military doctrine of seizing the initiative–and never giving it back.

The Sergeant didn’t see things my way. He was afraid of friendly casualties. I explained to him that it was the Army’s job to fight the insurgents, and thus gain the trust of the local populace by protecting them from harm. To do this we had to place troops in harms way so that we could win the fight the only way it can be won: By inflicting more pain on the enemy than he inflicts on you.

I knew I was in for a fight not only with Red Cell, but with my Democrat Sergeant and one other analyst who didn’t get it. The other analyst advised that we place traffic control points away from the border of the insurgent controlled area of the city. Originally, I had placed them along the border of a neutral area and the insurgent’s zone. I knew that we had to gain the trust of the populace in the neutral zone–because as the saying goes in counter-insurgency ops: The populace is key terrain. By moving the TCPs away from the insurgent controlled border, we would allow the insurgents to freely move into the neutral area, bend the populace to their will and then conduct ops from their new terrain into the area that we controlled.

I argued my case, and the Sergeant reluctantly agreed to go with my plan.

Last turn: I advised that we organized a door-to-door sweep of all populated areas in the insurgent controlled zone. I pointed to the map and noted that there were only about ten small streets in the 2×2 Km area and that 2 battalions of infantry with Stryker infantry fighting vehicles and Humvees could clear each house in about 6 hours. That was 300 men, going to each house, kicking the doors if they had to and verifying the location of the terrorist safehouse.

The Sergeant really hated this. He said he wouldn’t put the soldier’s lives in danger. I argued that it had to be done, and that this kind of straight-up fight was the last thing insurgents want. They prefer hit and run tactics because of inferior training and numbers. The Sergeant said that we’d make enemies of the local populace by invading their homes. I told him that they were already our enemies, hence the insurgent controlled label the area had. We had already established marshal law, and in order to make the populace in that area ours we needed to control it. Most importantly we needed to kill or capture those conducting the attacks. We would deal with the populace’s opinion later, but for now we had to show that we were in control.

It wasn’t to be. Our team played for the tie and that’s exactly what we got in the last turn according to the game’s arbiters.

Lesson: This is exactly what happened in Iraq after the invasion and things went to hell as we allowed insurgents free reign in places like Fallujah. We were afraid of CNN and Newsweek, even as terroists continued to bomb us and the Iraqi government until the camels came home. Then came Patraeus, who knew that the war had to be fought on every level. You do hand out soccer balls and candy, but you also continue killing the enemy. Things will get broken, but as we’ve seen, it works.

The hearts and minds campaign got headlines in this war. War hasn’t changed though. There were several reasons that Patraeus’ surge worked, not the least of which was more infantry with more guns… please admit that Mr. Obama.


Never Quit

I can taste the end of all of this now. Six months of tough training is nearing a conclusion. Long hours, restricted freedoms and challenging academic and physical tests; almost done.

This weekend is a 4-day weekend for my platoon. Then it’s back to class for the final surge. I’ll be getting plenty of sleep, drinking plenty of beer, and finishing a few books I have in my locker, in particular Niall Ferguson’s, War of the World and Marcus Wynn’s, Brothers in Arms. Lots of Outback steak and football too.

Free time tatses so good now. The Army’s version of Stockholm Syndrome has me appreciating the little things in life. It also has me missing things like friend’s and family.

This is Columbus Day weekend. I hope that people take the time to browse some history on Columbus, even if it’s just a wiki entry. Whatever people think of him, he had some qualities that are of benefit to everyone. The man simply wouldn’t quit. In the Soldier’s Creed, one of the first things an American soldier is required to commit to memory, are the lines: “I will never quit, I will never accept defeat.” Neither should we, neither should this country.

In the past, I’ve quit too often, I think. I learned at an early age that quitting works to alleviate pain in the short term. I ran away from abusive homes five time, slept in bus stops, on sidewalks, in abandoned cars, on some of those nights where the chill of autumn in Maine was preferable to domestic strife. That was a long time ago and it’s certainly no “Million Little Pieces” story, but those times make me who I am now, because I remember them more vividly than things that happened last week…

I quit high school too, before getting a general education degree and then going to college. At that age, and to some extant even now, I was searching for something, more appropriately someone, to fulfill me and make me feel of worth. This was a huge mistake on my part. Our sense of value cannot come from others. Mine comes from my own view of what is right and wrong and my faith in God. We must consider how our actions affect others, but ultimately the best men do what they know to be right. Honesty with self is the most prized of attributes–and that’s called wisdom.

I quit in marriage too, though of course it takes two to tango. There’s regret about almost everything that I’ve quit, and a sense of pride in all of the things that I’ve toughed out.

There’s a character in my novel: Cliff Harding. Cliff wrote a cheesy book called, The Meta Life. He sells it on paid ads. That book, though filled with foolish anecdotes, presents the theme of my novel, and it’s a lesson we can all use: Nothing good is easy.

Don’t quit worthy causes. Never give up the fight. After 37 years, this slow-learner has finally learned that lesson.


Army considering replacing M-4 carbine

Colt’s M-4 carbine contract with the US Army is near expiration. Since 1994 Colt has been contracted with the Army, supplying our troops in Iraq with the M-4, a cut-down version of the M-16. The M-4 also provides modular capabilities.

Recently though, as a result of some troops experiences in the dusty conditions of Iraq, the weapon’s performance has come under fire in its own right. The Army has conducted testing at its laboratory in Maryland, pitting the M-4 against newer weapons systems. All of the weapons were sprinkled with talcum powder in an attempt to simulate conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Things didn’t work out well for Colt.

The M-4 finished last in weapons jams. Its competitors were the FN Herstal SCAR, H+K 416 and the H+K XM8. The M-4 experienced more jams than all of the other weapons combined. The other weapons are comparable–or even slightly cheaper–than the M-4: About $1,500 a piece.

Brig. General Mark Brown defended Colt’s system by stating that the testing was not an exact replica of the conditions in Iraq and that soldiers need to clean their weapons regardless of the system; muzzle-loader or assault rifle.

At the risk of destroying my new career in the army, I think General Brown is ignoring an obvious problem. While 89% of polled troops in Iraq stated that the M-4 performed adequately, 19% percent of 2600 troops that were veterans of firefights said that their M-4 jammed during the shooting. This is a horrible ratio of good performance to weapon’s failure. Nearly 1 in 5 of troops involved in shooting their weapon at enemy forces can expect their weapon to fail them, if only until they can conduct clearing measures.

Anecdotally, I can say that the M-16’s performance is far below what I would expect from my weapon in combat. Even in training, I’ve experienced numerous stoppages, as has every soldier I work with. Some can only fire one or two rounds at a time before clearing a jam and continuing, only to have to repeat the process a few rounds later. This is from weapons right out of the armory–not new–but nonetheless very clean.

One of the problems that I see is the weapon’s breach. It’s called a “star chamber.” It is shaped like a star and is designed to funnel a 5.56 round up and into the barrel. The star chamber has grooves that, when slightly dirty, can grab rounds before they are seated in the barrel. Not good. More reliable assault rifles, such as the AK-47, merely have a polished chrome ramp that rides the bullet to its home.

The M-4 does have some excellent qualities. It’s super light, compact and accurate. It’s modular rail system allow soldiers and operators to modify the weapon to their immediate preferences and needs. The Army wants a rifle with an effective range of about 600 meters. The M-4 is about 500.

With all of the good qualities noted, it’s a shame that none of them matter if the weapon doesn’t work when it’s most needed. The Army has already been through this in Vietnam, when the first generation M-16 cost American lives by repeatedly failing in the muddy, wet conditions of Indo-China.

The Army has changed a lot in the years since the Iraq War began. New body armor, up-armored HMVVs, new tactics and technology for defeating IEDs and insurgents. It would be a shame if we deny our warriors their most important asset: a reliable personal weapon.


The fear factor wore off

Here’s how to tell when the Democrats are scared: They obsess about things. They begin the personal attack campaigns.

Recently, the Democrats and their allies in the Got-cha! media were feeling a chill in their spine. Who is the woman, Sarah Palin? How can McCain usurp our hegamony of “I am Woman–hear me roar!” They panicked and made themselves look foolish by targeting a 17 year old girl who’s engaged and pregnant. And they paid for it in the polls.

I wish I were a fly on the wall in some of the back rooms of CNN. I’m sure there were some phone calls made when Obama’s campaign took a popular nose-dive. The attacks backfired because they were aimed at a problem that many Americans–mothers, most importantly–deal with everyday. The media demonized Obama’s base with their fearful temper-tantrum.

Someone made the pundits, magazine writers and Democrat politicians take a deep breath. We can bet that the calls were made directly from Obama’s campaign administration. Obama himself stated publicly that the attacks needed to stop. It still took weeks though, and the damage was done. Had the media remained calm, the public would have seen Palin for what she is: A relative unknown. Instead the public sensed Democrat fear and believed that there must a be a reason for it.

Obama’s campaign is back on track, for better or worse. Americans are restless in these days. Wars, economic difficulties (The world markets are unstable, not just ours), and a media that needs disaster, have convinced many of their need for a messiah.

Whatever Obama’s strengths are, I remain convinced that he is utterly naive about our world, and I need only look at his voting record, a record that without fail displays a unwavering devotion to abortion-on-demand, to know that he’s not for me.

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