TV Made the Old Way

Left to myself, I don’t think I would have watched Enlisted, but Blondie insisted, saying it was pretty darned funny a show, and had the right ‘feel’ for a comedy about the present-day military. Or at least – the US military as it was a couple of years ago. (What it is becoming as of this very moment, I have no idea.) So, I we watched the first three or four episodes together, and darned if she isn’t right. It’s a funny, rapid-fire comedy about three brothers at an Army post in Florida, which is affectionate, respectful and knowledgeable about military life … something that I swear hasn’t been seen on network television since Gomer Pyle, USMC or No Time for Sergeants, although perhaps Major Dad took some detours through that route.

Blame me for being jaded, as regards television; a couple of years ago I realized that most shows were just the same-old, same-old, served up one more time. Same old doctor-lawyer-cop triad, same old mystery twist I had seen twenty times before, same old cliché characters, dressed up with a few 21st century attire and attitudes…

All in all, Enlisted is well worth watching – and with luck, perhaps it will last more than just one season. There haven’t been any sudden nasty thwacks of conventional political correctness, so far. And we appreciate a nice little grace note at the end of every episode; service pictures of various kin of people having something to do with show production. Who would have thought it – people working on a TV show about the military life actually having a familial connection to the military? Seriously, that alone is worth a mention.

By the way, I am not the least interested in the Academy Awards. Although … I do have a mild academic interest in what is awarded Best Picture (purely for trivial knowledge points in future), and which actress wears the fugliest dress on the red carpet. Other than that – the last picture I went to see in a theater was the latest installation of The Hobbit, and the last before that was the first installation of the Hobbit.

PS – Enlisted does have a Facebook page. Go ahead and like. You know you want to.

5 PM Follies

Sigh – now that the story of this particularly classless young Army troop has gone all the way around the world, mayhap it’s time for me to weigh in. Look, young Private Torkwad – having to stand at attention at 5 PM, or whenever the official end of the duty day is marked with the lowering of the flag and the sounding of taps – is an established custom on military bases. If caught in the open at those times, stand and render, if in an automobile, pull over and sit at attention. This is the proper procedure, and those who are cognizant of it are pretty well hep to the timing of the day. No, there is no particular shame to neatly time your errands while around and about on post/base to be indoors at 5 sharp; most sharp young troops figure this out within a year or two of going on active duty.

(My daughter figured it out within days of her first overseas at Iwakuni, where the 5 PM retreat involved not just taps, but also playing the US national anthem, the Japanese national anthem, the US Navy anthem and the USMC Hymn. Twenty minutes at least of rigid attention, facing in the direction of the flagpole.) They also figure out that making a flagrant dash for the nearest door at the first notes is obvious, crass, and extremely disrespectful of custom and tradition. Being observed to do so will draw an attitude adjustment session, either impromptu and on the spot by any NCO or officer observing that action, or in your commander/NCOIC’s office later. But going to far as to post pictorial evidence of this on social media goes way beyond all that into unexplored depths of witless self-regard.

See here, Private Torkwad, let me explain it to you in simple terms. When you are in uniform, you are seen as a representative of the military. You are essentially on duty – even if it’s your own Facebook page. Even if you are not formally assigned to the post public affairs office, you still represent the military in the eyes of civilians. Your actions reflect upon the military no less than yourself … and believe me; you have outed yourself as immature, borderline illiterate, extremely self-centered, and appear to take more care of your makeup than your responsibilities as a member of the military. In the pre-social media era, no one would have been aware of this outside your immediate chain of command, and frankly, no one else would have much cared. You would have been reprimanded, and perhaps learned from the experience and gone on to become a stellar young troop and a good example of what the American armed forces can be. Probably just about everyone who ever put on a uniform has done things – reckless, potentially embarrassing and ill-considered things – which by the grace of god, were not a matter of public record.

Console yourself, Private Torkwad, with the knowledge that you are not the only troop ever to screw up. However, now that the matter of your particular screw-up has become of passing interest outside your immediate chain of command, the repercussions will be if not more severe, possibly more personally embarrassing. The internet, dear Private Torkwad, is forever, and everywhere, so do consider this, the next time you post a picture of yourself in uniform to the internet. My own advice to you in this matter is to say no more to anyone (especially in your chain of command) than, “It’s my fault, I screwed up, I’m sorry, and it won’t ever happen again.” Repeat as often as necessary. You’ll be a better troop for it.

Counting the Blessings

Among the blessing that is about biggest in my inventory of them – aside from finishing out my final military tour in Texas, which I didn’t much like at the time, since it was third on my list of choices. Dammit, the personnel who dictated broadcaster assignments were supposed to turn themselves inside out, giving retiring broadcasting personnel their first choice of a final assignment location since they could then do things like buy a house and work up local connections to facilitate the post-retirement second career which the customary long stretches of overseas/remote duty tours usually didn’t allow an opportunity to do. It turned out for the best, although I certainly didn’t see it so at the time. The main thing is that not only am I now glad that I am retired and long past being recalled to active duty (like they couldn’t get enough military broadcaster talent that they have to recall a slightly overweight lady of certain age) but I am glad that Blondie is also long past recall. And that she didn’t sign up for Reserve duty, either.

There, I said it. I am glad both of us are no longer on active duty; and I am also glad that the handful of friends that I kept in touch with post-retirement are retired. The hints and portents which have emerged from the military machine over the last year or so do not give cause for assurance; a portion of the tippy-top echelons in the service being forced by convenient circumstance to retire at the top of their game is, I think the most obvious harbinger. God knows how many other of lesser rank, or long-experienced NCOs are also seeing the writing on the wall and walking away. Certainly note won’t be made in individual cases. Military operations in Afghanistan appear to be going about as well as every other historical foreign military operation ever did – and I should like to point out here and now that I never really expected much else, even back in 2003. Keep the money flowing, and a couple of units of Special Forces to thump the obvious Talibunnies when they got too obstreperous, secure Kabul and some of the other population centers, and generally administer to the theater with a very light hand. Let the indigenes sort out their own salvation and keep them from damaging anyone else. Of course, our current administration, not known for any other political and international savvy than it needs to keep the Chicago political machine functioning, thought otherwise. Now there is a steady trickle of metal coffins coming back, to practically no notice in the news media than that in the hometowns of the deceased. (Anyone know if the current president has a private meeting with every family/next of kin to those killed in combat? The usual search engines are … unproductive of answers in this regard.)

Then of course, there is the one-two punch of allowing openly gay personnel to serve also openly and with every prospect of the same benefits and courtesies as the heterosexual, and the ever-green question of permitting women in direct, full-frontal infantry-style combat specialties. Both of these moves by the current administration were immensely popular among that portion of the civilian population which didn’t actually have to deal with realities on the ground as experienced by serving military. Believe me when I tell you this – it’s a great deal more complicated than it appears when discussed in the faculty lounge. Really-oh, truly-oh.

Allow a slightly overweight and defiantly non-combat-specialty retired career AF NCO to provide enlightenment. Firstly, at the grunt-level, my own service and specialty didn’t give a rip about what you did with your significant other in bed, as long as you weren’t doing it in the road, or on the base commander’s front lawn. No, really – we didn’t care all that much. Just – don’t demand rapturous approval of your life-style, which from my own personal observation and the best figures available, only involves about 2-3% of the general population. No, really – a dismayingly large proportion of the public thinks that a quarter to a third of the population are gay, but that’s because they are only so LOUD about it. I don’t know which percentage of that 2-3% are confrontational to the point of hysteria about demanding that the rest of us line up and clap like a gaggle of performing seals – but I suspect there are actually not many, and very few in the active and serving military.

No – some deep dark secret-revealing here; I am about 96% certain that the true reason that the military didn’t go out and embrace the rainbow agenda is that administratively, they barely had a lock on heterosexual harassment; mostly of males doing it to females, but now and again the other way around. It was about as much as they could do to keep the heteros from jumping each other and using upper rank to exploit the lower. The last thing that anyone in authority wanted to see was even more sexual harassment cases on their personal docket – or because the military is still a preponderantly male preserve – to see it turn into something like a state prison, only with snappy uniforms for all, not just the prison guards. A lot of military life is lived in confined quarters, and with a severely authoritarian structure in place. The scope for abuse of the lower-ranking is incredibly wide. Again – turning a large structure inside out and upside down for the benefit of a microscopically small but vocally outsized minority – only a community activist and former college lecturer could think it a good idea, or that there wouldn’t be problems down the line – including morale problems. More about the morale problems later.

As for women-in-combat; back in my day the Air Force was pretty ecumenical about it all. Because it was … the Air Force. Technical and brainy and all that stuff; no very great degree of upper body strength required for most of the AF specialties. After the Vietnam War (say from about the early 1980s), the only Air Force specialty confined to strictly XY Americans in good health and medical fitness for military service was that of para-rescue specialists, and if memory serves, of advance AC controllers and spotters. One required a great deal of upper body strength and a tolerance for dealing with dead bodies in variable states of decay, and the other with Special Forces-degree skills at humping a heavy pack through the brush while avoiding or dealing with hostiles who didn’t have your best interests at heart. Other wise, most of the Air Force military specialties could be performed as easily by women as men. Not so your basic grunt rifleman, although there have been women – especially Marine women who had the basic fitness, were taught the skills and could very well cope with incidental combat when it came their way. But full-time, all the time and round the clock for indefinite periods of time … er – no. This is not to downplay the courage and skills of women who have served as such in the most recent round of wars, especially those who performed heroically when the hot lead was flying; but they are a small percentage and self-selected. In the long run, about all that we can count on is that training standards will be loosened to accommodate women, the guys will resent the hell out of them, and very likely women will die … to prove a point upheld by academics and politicians who will never in a blue moon come anywhere closer to the military than a base open house.

I am also hearing rumblings regarding balancing the rights of atheists with regard to Christians in the military, and frankly I am a little perplexed at that. Looking backwards at my own career, it didn’t seem to me as if believing and practicing Christians of whatever denomination were a big enough percentage of the force to give anyone who wasn’t any kind of heartburn, even overseas. Anecdote is not data – but those of us in the habit of attending weekly services, or going as far as regular Bible study were pretty much in a minority, considered against the non-observant. Making a habit of proselytizing your peers was considered bad form – and frowned on, for one of higher rank to proselytizing those in lower ranks. I did know a couple of atheists or people who claimed to be, and there was one young man whom it was whispered, belonged to a Wiccan coven – which was no sweat off mine, since it meant that he had a social life after all. I suspect that it is the attitude of believing Christians with regard to gays that is driving the sudden upsurge of hostility to the openly devout.

These four things – the purge of the upper ranks, dropping of don’t ask-don’t tell, women in combat specialties, Afghanistan – are all affecting morale in the services, to one degree or another. Morale, in an individual or in a unit of any size, is a delicate thing; hard to build and easily destroyed. I’ve been in units which had good morale and a sense of mission, a leadership cadre whom we trusted and in turn trusted us. I’ve also been in units which didn’t have good morale, where we scraped by from day to day just hoping to escape being made a scapegoat for a leadership-created disaster. At those units, I counted the days until I rotated out. I expect there are a fair number of serving NCOs and officers now doing the same.

(cross-posted at chicagoboyz.net)

What We Have Here

. . . in the words of Strother Martin, from the old Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke, “is failure to communicate.” Although, in the case of one Private Nasser Jason Abdo, one really does wonder how much of that deliberate non-receptivity is on the part of the receiver; firstly – being eighteen years of age. Most eighteen year olds are idiots. I was one, and I remember thinking that yes, most of my peers were drooling morons. (Most of them did grow out of it, so there is hope.) Secondly – he willfully and with aforethought enlisted in the Army. Enable routine, inter-service slam here: oh, yeah, he enlisted in the Army. Any brains, you’d pick the Air Force or Navy, any balls, you’d go for the Marines. Disable routine, inter-service slam, and for the record I have known many brainy and ballsy Army troops, it’s just that . . . hey, opportunity presents and custom demands.

Anyway, our young hero decides to join the Army, go through Basic and probably tech school, and oh, wow – suddenly discovers that he has enlisted in a wartime military, where . . . umm . . . they kinda expect you to go out there and kill the enemy and blow up their stuff, routinely and regularly, in exchange for a paycheck, PX privileges and the burden of not having to decide to wear what to work each morning. This war thing, in Afghanistan – it’s a thing which has been going on since 2003. I know it doesn’t make the headlines every damn day, but really . . . if you were deciding to join the military in late 2009 or early 2010, it’s one of those things that I would have hoped that a bright young enlistee would have noticed, even if his recruiter failed to point that out. And if his recruiter had not made it relatively clear, I’d have thought Army basic training would have. So, anyway, upon receipt of notice that he is bound for deployment to Afghanistan, our your hero suddenly gets in touch with his inner Muslim and discovers that he is, in fact, a contentious objector, and the requirements of religion forbid him to kill other Muslims. Note; historically and in current events this particular stricture would come as rather a surprise to . . . say, participants in strife between Sunni and Shia, between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s . . . and in Afghanistan itself, where the local Muslims seem to kill each other, frequently, bloodily and with every evidence of keen enjoyment. And also – past times in the US military, declaring yourself to be a conscientious objector in the US military did not automatically relieve one from an obligation to serve in uniform. During WWII many conscientious objectors served as combat medics, and in fact, there were two Medals of Honor awarded for having performed heroically in that role.

So, on the basis of his suddenly-discovered pacifistic inclination, our young Private Abdo is made much the pet and prize of the anti-war movement, such as it exists in these strange days, but just as the Army is about to wash its hands of him metaphorically speaking, investigators find kiddy porn on his government computer . . . which is either very convenient for the investigators, or the abyss of stupidity on Private Abdos. I’m kind of torn on this one, but our young hero doesn’t exactly strike me as Mensa material – note above, regarding joining the Army in time of war and then being horrified to discover that participation in said war is obligatory.

And to crown the whole farrago of self-serving stupidity to go AWOL and be captured in Killeen, Texas . . . for trying to purchase guns and bomb-making materials, with the apparent intent of setting off explosions in an off-post eatery popular with the local troops. Okay, then . . . Private Abdos apparently does not grasp that whole conscientious objector concept, as we in the wonderful world of the military – and possibly even most of those on planet Earth – understand it , and in a fairly comprehensive way. This is an irony so dense that it threatens to drop through the earth’s crust, all the way through the molten core and come out the other side, and having a particularly dark and ironic sense of humor, I am getting at least a few chuckles out of this from watching the anti-war organizations dropping him as if he were made of plutonium, nearly as much as I did from the unmasking of Jesse McBeth.

(re-edited to permit comments)

I Can Hear GWB Facepalm From Here

Or so is one trenchant comment on this discussion thread, with regard to Obama’s more-than-embarrassing confusion while visiting the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, between a living recipient of the Medal of Honor and one who was awarded it posthumously . . . You know that the MOH is not handed out like tricker-treat candy, and to be the one presenting it to a soldier/sailor/airman/Marine who has survived . . . one would have thought a few details, like the name of the first living recipient since the Vietnam War would have stuck in the presidential mind. (Note to the president: the living MOH recipient is SSgt Salvatore Giunta, and he was and is a 173rd Airborne troop.) Really, one would have expected better of the mind of one so frequently lauded by a lickspittle press as being so intellectually superior. Back in the day, Sam Houston was absolutely legendary for his recollect of the name, service and exploits of just about every man who had ever enlisted and fought under his command in Texas; he, of course, had at best only a thousand or so to keep in mind. Still – one would like to think that the names of those awarded the MOH during his administration could be kept in mind, if not by the commander in chief himself, at least one of his flunkies.

Stuff like this – the names of heroes – is one of those things that military members are expected to know. It’s kind of a core-knowledge thing. We used to have a special category of spots to air on military TV and radio about heroic deeds, and the names and faces of those who went above and beyond, and that’s the kind of history included in our basic training, promotion testing, and professional development courses.

So – here we have a CinC who either can’t be bothered to get it straight – or doesn’t care, and goofs it horrendously in front of a lot of people who did and do care, very much . . . and possibly could have served with the late SFC Monti. It says a lot for the self-discipline of the 10th Mountain Division troops that there seemed to have been no overt reaction, other than a lot of poker-faces going rather more poker-faced. Very likely this would be seen by ordinary civilians as . . . well, really, one of those silly and quite understandable goofs. But to military members, this kind of mistake is not seen in that light at all. At best – inexcusably careless, and at worst contemptuous of those who serve in the US armed forces.

Because You’re Pissing Us Off

I saw an online headline in the past couple of days that read, “Teachers wonder:  Why the scorn?”  Had a similar question pop up from an old friend from high school on Facebook.  It also came up up last election season when yet another old friend was running for some position in California (he’s a teacher by trade) and wanted to know why military people seemed so dismissive of “Teacher’s rights?”

I can’t say it’s the right answer or the only answer, but it is my answer:  Military people teach every day.  We train our subordinates, in and out of the classroom.  We help them develop their careers.  We act as mentors, counselors, teachers, friends, parental surrogates, and boss.  We don’t think it’s all that big a deal.  Yes, some people are better at teaching in a formal situation than others, but the passing on of information is not magic.  Not in 2011 when people actually get degrees without interacting with a teacher other than via email or online forum.

One old friend argued that because she has more formal education than most lawyers, and certainly more than “most idiot Republican” politicians, she’s entitled to more money.  I asked if she were teaching MORE as a result of that education?  No.  Was she teaching harder material as a result of that education?  No.  I asked her how her level of education effected how well she taught a standardized curriculum and she got downright pissy.  “There is NO such thing as a standardized curriculum, if you’d ever REALLY taught, you’d know that.”  I ignored that entirely and drove home my point:  A teacher’s level of education has little to no effect on their ability to communicate a set collection of information to their students.  Follow up questions, in-depth subject background, oh-by-the-way-you-might-find-this-bit-of-minutia-interesting, THOSE all benefit from you’re having an advanced degree IN THE SUBJECT YOU’RE TEACHING.  Your advanced degrees make YOU a more informed person, but you’re not doing my kid any more good than the fresh faced youngster with a new BA and teaching certificate who may actually still CARE about teaching.

“Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have.”  ~The Wizard of Oz to Scarecrow.

Unions:  At this point, unions aren’t helping teachers one bit.  When teachers’ unions were formed, they were necessary to ensure that teachers could make a living wage.  And they ARE making a living wage.  They don’t get paid a lot, in most cases, but they now have pay and benefits that are above the poverty line by a good margin.  Good teachers, exceptional teachers, get paid exactly the same amount as really crappy teachers.  Why?  Unions.  The unions are for equality, across the board, no matter how much you suck.  They are a beast that must be fed and to be fed, they must get more for their union members so the union members can feed them more.  They’re like many another bureaucracy, the initial reason for their existence has LONG passed, but they must justify their continuation and the way they do that is to insist that their members are some sort of victims, insist that only the union can keep the evil political machine at bay, only the union can “fix” what is broken.

The problem is that these days we’re all victims, we’re all not making enough, we’re all working harder for less money and teachers unions trying to argue that they’re still worse off than most of the rest of us, just isn’t flying.  If you’ve got a salary AND insurance these days, you’re doing pretty damn well.  We’re broke too, and for you to ask more of us while we’re still struggling to get back on our feet, is just damn insulting.

THAT’S why the scorn.

Bwaaaahahahahahahhaaaaaa

From FoxNews:

HAMPTON, Va. A drill sergeant at Fort Eustis in Hampton is accused of forcing a male trainee to dress as Superman and submit to sexual acts.

Officials say Army Staff Sergeant Edmundo Estrada also faces charges of indecent assault, having an inappropriate relationship with a trainee, and cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates. The 35-year-old was arraigned in January and is scheduled to appear April 17 in a military court. He remains on active duty but is no longer a drill sergeant.

A search warrant affidavit filed in Hampton Circuit Court says officials began investigating Estrada in August after a soldier reported Estrada mistreated and sexually assaulted him.

I know it’s wrong, but it’s killing me thinking about all my Army friends being subjectd to, “Look! It’s a bird, it’s a plane…”

News Flash: Military Health Care Sucks

You would think that the absolute cluelessness of the American Media, and many bloggers I might add, would fail to shock me. You’d be wrong.

Anyone who thinks this is going to do more than cause some hospitals to paint a wall or two, raise your hands.

For almost 23 years I’ve mostly been given Vitamin M (Motrin) and/or Flexoril for just about every ache and pain that I’ve ever had. I’ve been to a physical therapist twice even though I’m supposed to see one every other week…he’s usually so overbooked here he actually says, “When it hurts bad enough, come in, I’ll crack it again.” After 20 years of rather constant “shin splints” they finally figured out I had compressed compartments. The only reason they decided to operate was that they’d become chronic and were “getting ready to blow.”

And most of my crap is just muscles and nerves not doing what they should. I can’t imagine being in need of any real treatment.