Thursday, June 30, 2011

Friendly fire is something dreaded by soldiers. As welcome as that whizing sound of artillery over your head, equally dreaded not hearing it when you know it is supposed to be there-- oh hell a "short round." And, in Vietnam when it happened, it was routinely reported as enemy fire. Who the f..k wants to be killed by his own people--I know because I'm the FO (forward observor ) NCO (non commissioned Officer). In other words, I'm the guy who calls in the artillery. It was OJT (on the job training). Pretty simple, calculating distances, learning the language. A military artillery observer is responsible for directing artillery onto enemy positions. The artillery battery is often located miles away. I was the eyes of the gunners, calling in target locations and adjustments. We were suppose to have a lieutenant FO. I don't know why we kept losing them. The last one stepped on a booby trap on Christmas day. Bummer. 

How GIs died in Vietnam sometimes takes on a weird, even if a deadly route. In fact, I heard about a guy who got hit by a "short round" while sitting on the "crapper." Wonder how that was reported? But, there is one that sticks in my mind. I had met this guy a couple of times. He was with me at Campbell with the 101st but then got a chance to go to language school. In fact, I applied to go to the same school.  It was in Monterey, California on the beach I heard. Somebody told me he wasn't all that keen on it but the school was in California, so why not. I got it. Maybe he thought he could avoid Nam. Who knows! My unit wouldn't let me go anyway  too valuable  bullshit! Anyway, he disappeared off my radar screen and then one day I was at Camp Eagle which was the rear area for the 101st, picking up some supplies and there he was. We had a little mini reunion. He told me that he was workng with the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) as an advisor/translator and was loving it. Time was passing and it was interesting work. He must have seen the incredulous look on my face as he said, "really, we don't give them enough credit." 
"Yeah," I replied, "the few times they'd been with us, they were chasing ducks or chickens for their evening meal." I acknowledged that I was probably unfair and let it drop. He wanted to get some Cs (C rations were the staples for the American GI in Vietnam)
off me as he mostly ate Vietmamese chow. I gave him a whole box. He was some kind of happy. No sweat.

And, of all things, we got the shit kicked out of us a couple of days later and to nurse our wounds, somehow mercy was bestowed and we went to Co Co beach, this little Navy supply depot where we were suppose to be pulling security. And, what the hell, I scored the first watch of the night. The commo chief gave me the call sign and frequency of this ARVN unit about a mile away. "Run a commo check," he said. "Don't want the ARVNs gettin spooked." Sure enough, as soon as I got settled in which was at the north perimeter, I checked in. I thought I recognized the voice. "Brown (not his real name), is that you?" I be damn, it was. We broke radio protocol and chatted a bit. His ARVN unit was joining up with the 101st for a couple of sweeps (This is a kind of "walking through," a general area to see if any of the enemy could be flushed out. It was mostly a waste of time).

We signed off and the next thing I knew, it was time for another radio check. I couldn't raise him. For a couple of hours, I kept trying with no luck. Finally I was relieved from duty and promptly made it to a hooch where the company was mostly bedded down. I was out like a light. The next morning came way too fast but the good news is a hot chow, courteous of the Navy, was waiting. Still wiping the sleep from my eyes, somebody said, "Hear about that poor guy whose throat got slit. He was an advisor with the ARVN. The VC (Viet Cong) slipped in and slit his throat. I bet those f..king ARVN did it and blamed it on the VC."
"Was the guy's name, Brown?"
"Yeah, Brown was his name."

I don't know why Brown's death affected me so hard. I hardly knew him but still I did know him. He was an America soldier who died an inglorious death. I was still stewing about it a couple of nights later when I was preparing to prep this little village area in our AO (area of operations). Just to the right of us was this ARVN company, maybe 500 meters or so. Brown's ARVNs who slit his throat. I was firing phosphorus, WP, willy Peter we called it. Fire for effect. I was good. Most thought I was the best FO in the battalion, maybe the Division. Try the Army. I was firing for effect. The combat assault went off without a hitch. I heard that we trapped a whole parcel of VC. High body count! 

I was getting some "rays" when the Company Commander strolled over to me. "What the fuck happened last night?"
"What you mean?" 
"The ARVN Company to our right took a "short round. Killed or wounded the entire headquarters section."
"Damn, what the hell."
"Don't worry about it. Things happen. Better them that us. Probably be an investigation but you know what bullshit that is."

I never heard a word. One of my buddies, Phil Woodall, the Company poet wrote a book after he left Nam. Phil said about all our buddies who died, "they may have died in vain but they lived I'n honor." And,

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I see us in a bind on Afganistan and Iraqnam, even, which I'm not convinced we are going to get out of cleanly. It appears to me that even in Iraq, the Iraqis are being killed with impunity.  (I want to keep my remarks away from politics except where necessary for clarification. I don't think it is helpful for us to couch things in terms of politics). For instance, the Republicans play to a hawkish philosophy, as I see it mainly to appear to take a position different than the Democrats, whether right or wrong or good or bad. Ordinarily as of late, the Democrats since Vietnam have somewhat stayed on the sidelines, other than Bill throwing a missile or two somewhere. But, George W with 9-11 as a backdrop got us into two wars  Obama has actually been as hawkish and in some areas more. See what I mean and the above, although from my perspective, accurate, the fact is: "it is what it is." 

And, unfortunately, Afghanistan is not going to be a political issue. The vast majority of Americans have "no skin" in the game and as long as the wars are not affecting them personally, not on the radar screen. 

But, to me, it is a major issue because unlike politicians, I feel it is Vietnam revisited. For instance, the other night after the president's announcement, some Republican type, Rogers, I think was his name, was talking about withdrawal and how bad it was, sending a signal of being soft, etc. Very hawkish. Lindsay Graham, John McCain trying to outhawk the president who has been led down the primrose pass with ideas like, "get the job done", winning, support the troops". And, so now you have the president and generals' and the "talking heads" all painting this rosy picture of Afghanistan, "Can't give up the great progress" they say, when in fact, those of us who are out here listening to the news, reading the books, trying to find credible evidence cannot find one single thing about Afghanistan that offers any hope if we stay there a hundred years. 

Where does this rosy view come from?  I've thought for some time that the generals live in some parrellel universe. What they see is not what I see. Afghanistan is a country where loyalty to a village, a clan, a tribe with no sense of a central government, is simply a fact. Even if they had a president who wasn't corrupt, it wouldn't be happening. We've implemented a war philosophy of counter insurgency which is short hand for "nation building." Now, here's one thing you have to give the president, in his speech the other night he said something like "it is time for nation building in our own country." 

This is a statement that really got me, "President Obama on Thursday told U.S. troops who have fought in Afghanistan that the U.S. has turned a corner after nearly 10 years of war, and it's time for their comrades still in that country to start coming home."

WHAT CORNER IS HE TALKING ABOUT? Reminds me a bit of Westmoreland telling President Johnson during the Vietnam war, "send me more troops and we'll be home for Christmas." What we didn't nail down was what Christmas. As it turned out, the Christmas was five or 6 years later. 

In the last few days or so, I've listened to three NPR programs which have more or less had to do with troop reduction and politics; one of the programs were three civilians. One of them was this guy John Nagl, retired LTC, smart guy as I've heard him before and has some good ideas like conventional troops out and only Special Ops troops staying but still involves being in Afghanistan for years. For most of these like Nagl or Petreaus or Gates--it is more like having a position and refusing to back down. How often have you heard someone say, (us included) "I made a mistake or changed my mind." One in ten million.

The smartest "talking head" I heard was this  female, she laid out exactly what the real scene is: not the things that are so obvious: corruption, billions of dollars, drugs, tribe loyalty, the Taliban--simple fact, if we make it out of Afghanistan with the withdrawal of 33,000, still, our footprint in Afghanistan is going to be gigantic for years to come. 

Another program was called "Talk of The Nation" and Afghan vets were asked to call in and give their views. About six or eight called in. Not a one supported staying in Afghanistan with basically no faith in the Afghans' ability to take over from us. Plus, a couple of Vietnam vets called In and both related Afghanistan and the futility of it to Vietnam and our sacrifices meaning nothing. I basically see it that way. 

In all of this, I never hear a single advocate of returning to the military draft or anything that would move us to some kind of shared sacrifice for all Americans.  It ain't never going to happen. As long as we have a volunteer force that can do the job with all the inherent problems to come, if we ever get out of these two sorry wars, we will muddle along. The volunteer force is a moral issue all it's own. By in large, poor kids or at least those with few options are fighting America's wars. Pretty sad. I only know personally about a half dozen kids who are presently in the military. Every single one of them are youngsters on the margins, mostly from homes that are terribly dysfunctional or kids who have no real options other than joining up. Amd, they are good soldiers: that is not an issue. The moral failure to me is simply that most Americans are willing to let other people's kids fight our wars. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Celebrity Politics

Politics is, by its nature, corrupting. Our system, in my view, is so weird if you think about it. We elect someone, then the media, with their help, of course,  makes them celebrities and then they get use to the perks and spend most of their time going for reelection. The celeb politicians talk about the "American people" as some sort of mantra when there is no "American people" rather the "American people who care."  Not even 50% of Americans bother to vote. But, all of this is our fault. We keep electing the same ones. At least in CA, we have a form of term limits and now a separate commission drawing the voting districts. Is it any better. I don't know but I think so as the politicians keep trying to do away with our ballot initiatives but we keep resisting. 

I would prefer talking about women but fear someone would get out tweets and it would be a problem. Just kidding, only happens to celebrity politicians who get caught. Here is the most clever one of those politicians I've read about. This new congressman, Aaron Schock, who posed for "Men's Health Magazine"--pose is open shirt, showing his wash board belly. (in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a big fan of the "mag"; in addition to being for a young 30s audience and plenty of almost nude females,  us old guys get some good health tips); however, here is the congressman's schtick, "If you want to talk about healthy lifestyles and staying in shape, you should do your best to be an example to people." Who can argue with that? It is like saying the "will of God." And, this guy is obviously now a celeb. Got to love our system. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


The President apparently caved to the SecDef and other military types when he didn't name Marine General James Cartwright to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He wanted him from all reports, so why not? Basically, I don't give a rat's ass who is chosen. It is mostly politics anyway. The fact that Cartwright butted heads with Mullen and Gates would make him all that much more attractive I would think. Gates and Mullen like so much of the military want "Group Think." From what little I read, Cartwright disagreed with them over Afghanistan policy. DUD!! Who the f..k with any brains would not. The Marines sure as shit don't want to be sitting arumd BSing with some lame ass tribal type who is thinking of switching side or, figuring out where the money is.  Probably Cartwright and his Marines wanted to be killing the MFers, that's what you do at war.

That alone should make him more attractive. I really don't know what it is. Does the president see all that "lettuce" on their chests and get intimidated. The President hasn't been in the military but he is the commander-in-chief. He ought to be able to have who he wants. He's the president for God's sake. Gates is from Texas A&M and has looked reasonably good during his tenure because his predecessor was so bad in my view and McMullen is in the Navy. Nough Said.