Day by Day

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Headed out

Again.

Just.....  well anyways, I'm off again.  See you in two weeks.

And guys, I'm at the point where I wonder if I shouldn't just shut this thing down, seeing as how I'm not going to be posting a whole lot this summer.  I've said before this is the crazy time.  I wasn't kidding.

And this is why

I don't use Google.

Meh.  I have Dogpile set up as my search engine.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Detail

The very first funeral detail I was ever on, I wasn't ready for.  The NCOIC came up to me and asked "Dave......  are your Class A's ready?"  I answered yes, and he said "Good.  You're leaving tomorrow".

And I left, my uniform prepped.  I wasn't ready for it at all.  I'd never done a funeral detail.  I didn't know what was required.  I didn't  know much.  But I learned.

I spend the next two days prepping for the funeral.  Due to circumstances, the pall bearers doubled as the rifle team.  So we carried the casket to it's place, then marched over to the rifles, fired the twenty-one gun salute, and then marched back to fold the flag.  In retrospect, it helped me prepare for all the funerals I would do in the future.  We practiced for longer than I care to remember until we carried the casket and marched to the rifles without a single verbal command.  Once we had the rifles, it was READY!  AIM!  FIRE!  READY!  AIM!  FIRE!  READY!  AIM!  FIRE!  Then we set the rifles back down and marched back to the casket.  After that, all orders were given in a low voice.

Ready.  Down.  Up.  Fold the flag.

The Deputy Commander of US Army South, a Brigadier General whose name I'm withholding presented the flag to the parents.  The father, a retired Soldier himself, was struggling to hold himself together.  The mother and the brother had started weeping long ago.  You want to know the hardest part of being in the funeral detail?  Holding yourself together when the entire family is being ripped apart with grief.  We managed to do it, god only knows how.  When we first arrived, the casket was being moved from the airplane to the hearse.  I almost lost it right then, but it wasn't the parents that got to me.  I expected their grief, and was prepared for it.  No, what got to me the most was this - as the mother was collapsed, crying on the coffin, as the father was doing his best to comfort his wife and contain his grief, the brother was behind them both, with tears streaming down his face.

And that's the most he showed.  He had his hands on his mothers shoulder, and he was leaning against his father, and he was crying hard but without making a single sound.  He had tears streaming down his face, and you could see that he was struggling not to break.  Struggling, and losing that struggle, as he tried to deal with the fact that his brother was dead, only not just dead but dead so horribly that it would be a closed casket funeral, and we only had to carry half the weight of a normal body.  And he was trying to comfort his mother and his father as they wept, and still grieve himself.

I was locked up at the position of present arms, heels together, fingers to my eyebrow, and he was directly in front of me.  And as I watched him grieve and simultaneously try to comfort his parents, I almost lost it.  I had a single tear roll down my face as I watched this family deal with the death of their son and brother, and the only thing that kept me from losing it was the simple fact that this Soldier deserved better than to have some pansy-assed dipshit lose it while escorting him to his final resting place.  I kept that in mind while the hearse was loaded.  It was easier once the actual funeral started, because it's a lot more formal.  You don't have the raw, primal displays of grief that you do when you first off-load the casket.  But it's still hard.  The mother cried the entire time, and the father......  the father, how can I explain this - the father was a retired Warrant Officer in the US Army.  Once he had retired, he joined a volunteer organization who's entire focus and function was to help the families of Soldiers who had been killed in combat.  I can't remember the name of his organization, all I remember is the fact that he was able to give us the instructions he wanted followed, and then he was pretty much broken from his pain.  And the entire time I was doing this, my first funeral detail, the only thought I had in my head was "Don't you dare break.  Don't you dare break down.  You fucking wimp, you haven't gone through one tenth the pain these people have, don't you DARE FUCKING BREAK DOWN!"

But it's hard, when you're faced with the sheer open pain of a family who has just lost their son and their brother or their sister.

We managed to do it, that first time.  I was lucky in that I had excellent leadership who helped guide me through the process.  Shortly after that, I became the leader of the rifle team for funeral details.  I've stood at Parade Rest for over an hour and a half for certain funerals.  You never know what it's going to be like.  I've had the mother grab hold of us and tell us tales of her son, to the point that we were doing footraces in the street with the Soldier's brother, because that's what they used to do as kids.  And when you have a teenager who's just lost his brother in Afghanistan, and he asks you to race, what are you going to do?  Say no?  Hell no.  You kick your shoes off and race him in the streets.  The mother was drunk to high heaven, trying to kill her pain, and we spent hours and hours talking to her.  By the time the night was up we all got maybe three to four hours of sleep, but it was worth it to make sure this mother knew that her son didn't die in vain.

For the record, her son was a medic in Afghanistan, and had saved the lives of too many people to count.  A Sergeant from his unit escorted his body home, and we pretty much press-ganged him into the funeral detail.  The thing I remember most about that funeral detail is that as we folded the flag and prepared to move away from the burial site, this Sergeant knelt down by the Soldier's little brother, and took off his jump wings, his Airborne insignia, and gave it to the Soldier's little brother, and said "These are the wings your brother wears.  You keep them safe."

I don't think a single member of that funeral detail had dry eyes.  And I'm crying as I type this now, and I'm not ashamed to admit it, remembering what happened.

I think I didn't know just how bad the funeral details were effecting me until I found out that my NCOIC was telling the command "Leave Dave alone.  He's done enough."  I can't remember how many funerals I've done.  I just know that I never once, not fucking ONCE did I ever say no to one.  The least I could do for my fellow Soldiers was make sure that they were remembered with respect and reverence.  I stopped counting after about twenty.  At one point I was doing one a week, sometimes two.  And I made damn sure that those families knew that their loved ones were going to the great hereafter in proper style.  Part of the reason I was picked to be the rife team leader was because I memorized the commands and didn't just say them, I barked them out so that the funeral would hear them from a football field away.

TEAM!  ATTENTION!  PORT, ARMS!  HALF-RIGHT, FACE!
READY!  *click*  AIM!  FIRE  *BANG*
READY!  *click*  AIM!  FIRE  *BANG*
READY!  *click*  AIM!  FIRE  *BANG*

HALF LEFT, FACE!  PRESENT, ARMS!

That was my job, and I'll be damned if anyone did it better than I did.  Those Soldiers deserved no less.  The families who wept and grieved deserved no less.  If nothing else, they deserved to know that their loved ones died for something more than just politics, or something more that just the BS that gets presented day after day in the media.  I had a mother grabbing my arms and crying and asking what her son died for, and I told her then, and I still believe it now - her son died a hero, saving the lives of his fellow Soldiers, laying down his life for them, all in an attempt to make this world a safer, better place.

I wish I could put the names of all the Soldiers I've served on this blog.  I hate to say it, but I've done so many that I've forgotten half of them, and that fact makes me ashamed.  I wish I could remember all of them, but my brain just doesn't hold that information and OPSEC stops me from naming the ones I do remember.

I said in the post below that I couldn't find a thing to write.  That's not entirely true.  I couldn't find a thing to write that would be appropriate for the people who I've saluted and respected on their final journey, and to be blunt this post doesn't do them justice.  But it's the best I can do.  And I hope that when I meet them on the other side, they shake my hand and say "Thank you.  You gave me the respect I deserved."

I will try to do so until the day that I die.  They deserve no less.  And I ask you, anyone who reads this blog, to just take a moment to think about all the people who have died in the service of this country, and think "Thank you."  One of the best, and most simple prayers I've ever heard, was from a guy named Pete who used to work at my building.  He was a former alcoholic, an AA member, who did his best to pray on a daily basis.  And he told me once in passing that sometimes the best he could do was "Good morning, God.  It's Pete.  Thank you."  I think that's what our fallen heros need.  "Good Morning.  This is an American.  Thank you."

I know I say that.  How about you?

Memorial Day

I've been trying to come up with a fitting Memorial Day post, and to be honest with you guys, I got bupkis right now.  So many other people have come up with fitting tributes, and pictorial essays, that I look around and think to myself "How can I say anything to match that?"

So let me just be plain and simple, the way I like to be -

I have had excellent leadership in the Army, and I've had horrible leadership.  I've seen selfless service and greedy bastards.  I've spent less time in theater than some, and more time than others.  But we have the best damn military in the world, who does more with less support than anyone could ever dream.  Which might sound trite and cheap when you think about the billions of dollars in the military budget, but we have Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in over 100 countries around the world right now, building schools, vaccinating kids, teaching people how to farm and how to grow food, setting up water purification sites, acting as deterrents against hostile dictators, rebuilding and strengthening cities, on and on and on and on.  We have Soldiers on six continents full time.  We are spread over the world, and only in a few places are shots actually being fired.

We're not just the world's police force, we're the world's engineering force.  We're the world's construction force too.  We're the world's rescue service.  And we do it better, faster, and cheaper than anyone else.  I'm humbled to be a part of it all.  Grateful as well, because the Army has given me a hell of a lot, starting with the self-discipline I needed when I was a stupid young punk way back when.  But in everything I've accomplished in the military, I did it while standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before me.

There's a Wall of Heros as you enter my building.  It's roped off and lit up, and has the faces of the Soldiers from my unit who have died in combat.  I look at that wall every day, and thank them for what they did and what they gave, so that my wife and I could sit in the comfort of our home here and enjoy life together.  It's a humbling experience to do day after day.  And it's a necessary one, so that the Soldiers and civilians who I work with never forget the sacrifice others made for us.

I won't say "Happy" Memorial Day, because I don't know if cheeriness and happiness is what is required.  So I will simply say to enjoy this day, and remember why it exists.  See you tomorrow.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

It ain't the Foxholes that are the problem

One of the biggest strawmen argument I've ever heard when it comes to gays in the military is "I'd be happy to share a foxhole with (name that homosexual)!"  But the foxhole isn't where the problems come in to play.  When you're in a foxhole, you're in combat.  You most likely won't be having sex while the shells are coming down.  No, the problems crop up once you're out of that foxhole and back in the rear.

Once again, does anyone think that the military would force me to room with a female?  "OK Dave, here's your barracks room and here's your room mate, Private Nancy Smith.  Enjoy!"  No, not only would the military not force me to do that, they PROHIBIT that by regulation.

Does anyone think that the military would force me to shower with the females?  "OK Dave, we have one latrine, so just drop trou and get clean.  By the way, that's PFC Shirley Jones in there right now, but she won't mind!"  Hell no I couldn't do that.  In fact, if I got naked and jumped in the female shower, I'd be arrested and charged with violating several different UCMJ articles.

And yet, the very same people who would slap me with sexual harassment charges if I tried to shower with PFC Shirley Jones are demanding that I accept that very same sexual dynamic being forced on me just because it's now someone of the same gender.

It's not about an individual Soldier's fighting skills.  It's not about a desire to serve.  It's about bringing a sexual dynamic into a situation that cannot have sex involved without negative and desultory effects.  If you want proof of sex being a negative influence in theater, all you have to do is look at what Gen Cucolo faced when he tried to enforce UCMJ punishment on Soldiers who either got pregnant, or got another Soldier pregnant while in Iraq.  This wasn't just a joke.  When a Soldier gets knocked up, they have to go back home, which means that the unit is either one Soldier down, or they have to pull someone from home station and cross level them into the unit.  That's not as easy as it sounds, and it puts unnecessary strain on the unit and the new Soldier, disrupting operations and causing resentment among other Soldiers who don't have the option of getting pregnant and going home to their family.

And let me tell you, if you want to see a unit go from decent headspace to negative headspace in less than a week, you just tell them that PFC Martha Johnson is preggers and getting to go home, but the rest of them have to stay in country.  It just does WONDERS for the moral of the unit!

Soldiers getting pregnant in theater is a problem across many levels, and this General was trying to deal with a few of the more harmful side effects.  But because of the political correct ideology that has infested the military, this Commanding General can't even punish Soldiers who violate General Order #1 and get knocked up.  You think that allowing homosexual Soldiers won't be a problem?  Sure, let's just add ANOTHER sexual dynamic into a mix that is already strained.  And the first time some guy cops a feel in the shower and gets his ass beaten like a drum, the lawsuits start flying.  The accusations of "EEEEK!  EEEEEK!  HATE CRIME!  HATE CRIME!" start flying around.  Even MORE politically correct bullshit infects the Army, like a tapeworm that keeps on growing.  No, scratch that, it's not a tapeworm, because you can shit out a tapeworm.  Heartworm.  Infecting the organ that keeps you moving and alive, eventually killing you as you stagger around coughing and wondering why you can't seem to breathe anymore.

Not one single person pushing for allowing open homosexuality in the military has bothered to answer any of the concerns people have brought up.  In fact, the people bringing up the concerns have been ignored, shouted down, silenced, insulted, called names, and pushed aside.  That tells me that the people pushing for repealing DADT know about the problems it will cause, but they don't care.  They'd rather push their ideology on the military come hell or high water, and when shit starts to fall apart they'll most likely blame the military for it because it's easy to blame people who can't respond or act.  It's easy to blame people who have to keep their mouth shut.

If you think that repealing DADT is a good thing, you are wrong.  Plain and simple.  The Army is not a social program.  We're not a civilian workplace.  We cannot operate under the same rules and principals of the civilian world, because we do not operate in a civilian environment.  And I really, really wish to hell that people would remember that before they try to push the next social experiment on us.