Tuesday, November 10, 2009

random thoughts about Veterans Day

Some thoughts about Veterans Day.

I normally don't think that much, consciously at least, about military service. I don't worship the military, I am not a flag waver and I don't have a subscription to Soldier of Fortune. My hair is buzzed off but mainly out of convenience and the effects of helmet-hair when it is longer.

For the purposes of this screed I will say army and soldier because that is my experience. Feel free to substitute other branches of service and words like "sailor, marine, airman" where appropriate.

What society "owes" veterans
  1. Foremost -- not to use the military's force without declaring war and without a plan to get in and to get out.
  2. Adequate post-combat decompression time for soldiers so they can re-adapt to the rest of society that is not at war.
  3. Take care of active-duty soldier with adequate training, services, and materiel.
  4. Take care of veterans by living up to the agreement made at the time of their enlistment: educational benefits, loans, medical, etc. We as a country don't have to agree to this kind of contract, but once we have agreed to it and enlisted the soldiers they are entitled.
  5. If you catch me after a few beers I might start talking about mandatory national service. This gets my Libertarian friends started whispering words like "ostracism" and "excommunication".

What veterans "owe" society
  1. appropriate use of benefits mentioned above. We need to steward these resources wisely.
  2. humility
  3. an honest-as-possible accounting of what military life is like, if asked. There are things that are not appropriate to share based on the audience, national security, discretion etc.

The most striking thing about our national assessment of the military is that the most "hoo-aah", rabidly pro-military folks are folks that never served. There is a mystique about the military that can be quickly cured by actually joining the military. I hear they are still recruiting if you're interested.

Note that I am not saying everyone should enlist[0]; I'm saying that if you don't enlist just see the military for what it is and not as some glorified (or denigrated) construct.

Cold Warriors
I have an idea kicking around about the difference between Old Army types, current army coldiers, and Cold Warriors. I won't get that done tonight but I think it's a topic worthy of discussion.

when I am in the classroom I sometimes find myself thinking "these kids need boot camp". Boot camp is a crash course in self-reliance, teamwork, and self-discipline. It teaches you what is possible, what you can do. Boot camp is mental. Sometimes the kids ask me if I was ever in the military. When I answer some young fellow[1] immediately asks one of two questions:

1. "did you ever kill anybody?"
2. "how many different ways do you know to kill somebody?"

These questions indicate the students fundamentally misunderstand the role of the military. There is more to that thought but I will let it sit.

Infrequently I get this additional question, generally from girls:

3. "what was your job in the Army?". I generally give an oblique answer because there are words one doesn't use in a public school, and because the kids have no living memory of the Cold War and have no way to relate to it. So far none of them have recognized the name Gorbachev although most recognize Reagan.

There are two men I knew that were soldiers through-and-through; naturally gifted at everything the military threw at them: weapons, gear, training, trucks, local girls, whatever. These two fellows were similar in their "supersoldier" abilities but quite different in presentation.

The white collar supersoldier was Mike H. Mike was a poster boy for the (then) New Army.[2] Whip-smart, his service was full-blooded but veiled in a veneer of wicked irony. It looked like he was playing but underneath it was universal competence. IIRC, last I heard from him he had gone to OCS and got a commission. I envy the men that serve under him now, assuming he has not retired.

The blue collar supersoldier was a fellow we called Jake; I think his last name was Jacobsen. A bit harder-edged, Jake was a rough-and-tumble Old Army guy. He had unbelievable skills piloting deuces and five-tons. Once we were in a cramped motorpool and our 5ton drivers couldn't get a stake-and-pallet (S&P) trailer backed into the far-too-narrow slot. We were trying to get off duty but couldn't until the trailer was parked. Forward and back, forward and back. Jake came up, said "WTF are you guys doing?" He jumped in the cab, floored it forward at a 45 deg angle, slid to a stop, floored it in reverse, yanked the trailer brake until the trailer slid into the correct angle, then slammed it into place. We were astounded.

Once he broke his hand out drinking the night before; I believe it was a wall punching exercise of some kind. He hid the pain but finally came to me in the motorpool. The problem was this: he needed medical attention but couldn't get it without a fig leaf. At that time (and maybe now) any injury while drunk result in an immediate referral to CDAAC, the Center for Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling[3] on base. A CDAAC referral wasn't deadly but it was a pain and might interfere with one's drinking schedule. And it stayed in your personnel file and so might or might not interfere with promotion if you were a "lifer".

Anyhow, I instructed Jake to get in the cab of a 5-ton and lean over towards my open door. I slammed the door loudly, he yelled "you broke my fscking hand!" on cue and I apologized loudly and yelled for a driver to "take this man to the medic!"[4]

And an apology
There was another supersoldier, and I don't remember her name. She was in S-2 (Intelligence) and spoke Russian. She was quite odd; at the time I attributed her oddity to an assumption that she was familiar with the poetry of Sappho. In retrospect, it seems to me that S-2 folks were effectively sequestered and it must have taken a toll on them. I might also invoke something like Asperger's. Regardless, in my youth and ignorance I made many unkind remarks to her and female soldiers like her. The time has come for me to apologize to fellow soldiers who I mistreated because of my perception of their orientation. Mea Culpa; forgive me. I have learned much in the interim, and I am a better man for it.

bloggermouse (nee armymouse)

[0] although I think it's generally good for a human to do, assuming the national leaders haven't gotten us mired in yet another undeclared war.

[1] almost always the most disruptive person in the class

[2] marked by an increasing reliance on technology and and an educated, thinking enlisted cohort.

[3] hence our running chant "I wanna be a CDAAC ranger", which we loved and the sargeants pretended not to hear.

[4] Of course, in this story "I" means "someone else in our platoon", and not me personally, because otherwise that would mean admitting to some kind of youthful indiscretion that I (I mean "he"!) would be loathe to admit in public.


  1. Well said. One hopes that your libertarian (glibertarian?) friends aren't preparing articles of court martial to have you tossed out of the local Ayn Rand fan club.

    I seem to remember another female super-solider type who was dating (perhaps married to?) a warrant officer. She used to run me into the ground when I came in for PT, still weizen powered. I'd die a horrble death if I tried that today.

  2. Thank you my friend, and well said. Mike H. (who has "retired" and moved on to less noble endeavors).