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Impressions of my time among heroes

I‘m not really one of those people who goes to events like Salute Our Troops in Las Vegas and spends his time trying to get interviews.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just isn’t my style.  Maybe it should be if I ever want to go anywhere doing this, but its not what I’m comfortable with.

I’m more of an observer.  A listener.  Oh I talk and laugh and exchange small talk, but for the most part I’m one who likes to sit back and watch the interaction of a group, see what they’re all about and then relate my impressions in writing.

That’s not always as easy as I’d like it to be, but it works for me.

The 3 days and nights I spent in Las Vegas at the Palazzo hotel with our wounded warriors was probably one of the more inspiring and satisfying times I’ve spent in a long time.  From the moment I watched them walk into the hotel until I watched them leave 3 days later, I was on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

Pride was a dominant emotion.  I was extraordinarily proud of how they conducted themselves.  The event was very emotional for them as well.  You could see the trepidation in their faces when they first got off the busses on day one.  A perfectly human reaction.  But as they moved through the welcoming crowd, you could see the unease disappear and the wonderful emotion of the moment begin to take hold.

The genuineness of the welcome made the whole experience resonate with the warriors.  Remarkably it remained a constant through out the entire visit.  It was real.  Tangible.  The thanks rendered wasn’t perfunctory or pro forma, it was heartfelt and always present.

As I watched the wounded warriors begin to interact with the crowd, I knew they felt it too.  I wasn’t just proud of the warriors,  I was equally as proud of the crowd.

Over the next few days, as I got to know the personalities within the group, certain things became obvious to me that might have been missed by those who didn’t have the opportunity to spend the time I had with them.

Brotherhood.  In this case it’s a generic term that includes the wounded women as well.  This small group was a brotherhood who in so many subtle and unthinking ways took care of each other the entire time they were there.  It wasn’t a duty.  It wasn’t something they had to do.  It was what they did. It is who they are.  They had a shared experience and shared sacrifice that made them unique. But they also had an entirely human desire to ensure those they had shared that experience with were well taken care of.   Nothing was too much for their friend or comrade.

Families.  Families by marriage.  Families by service.  Family by experience.  One of the extraordinary things about wounded warriors is they belong to many families and all of them were evident in Las Vegas.  All of them were at work as well.  It was gratifying to see but not unexpected.  Marines checking on other Marines.   A wife taking care of her wounded husband.  One wounded warrior watching out for another.

Normalcy.  One of the more poignant moments for me was overhearing two chaperones talk about a request by one of the wounded.  Each of the warriors and their guests had been given a blue t-shirt identifying them as a part of the Salute Our Troops group.  One of the wounded had asked if they had to wear them all the time or might take them off.  The chaperone relaying the request said, "they just want to be normal, to blend in, to be part of the crowd.  They don’t want to stand out".  I found that request to be incredibly endearing.  They just wanted to again, as much as possible, be normal.

As I watched these young warriors interact with others, another impression hit me – quiet dignity.  It was how they handled themselves.  Their humbleness.  Their gratefulness for what the Armed Forces Foundation, Sheldon Adelson and all the other sponsors were doing for them.  None of them took it as their due.  None thought they were owed this.  All of them showed and expressed their appreciation throughout the week in countless ways.

Humor.  As you might expect there was plenty of that.  Self-deprecating humor.  Ribald humor.  Ragging.  Among military folks nothing is sacred and lord help you if you start feeling sorry for yourself.  These men and women kept each other up, took and delivered shots with the best of them and acted like every Soldier and Marine you’ve ever known.  It brought back fond memories of times gone by for me.

Humor was their currency.  The night of the Blue Man Group show is a great example.   During their show the 3 Blue Men walk through the audience literally moving from arm rest to arm rest as they advance row by row through the theater.  At intervals they’ll pause, stare, pick something up from the audience, hold it up and examine it.  When they got to our group one of the guys handed a Blue Man his prosthetic leg.  The place went wild.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.

But the reality of what these fine warriors face never quite left me.  I couldn’t forget it.  There was a young Marine that who had lost his right leg and wore a prosthesis.  He may have been 5′ 4" if you’re being kind, and maybe weighed 100 pounds with rocks in his pocket.  He was an infantryman. He tried to bluff his way into a club that night but he wasn’t old enough to get in (not to worry, being a good Marine, he did a recon, gathered intel and got in the next night).

For whatever reason that incident struck me hard.  He had lost a leg in combat in  service to his country before he was old enough to buy a drink legally.  Next year he’ll be legal but he’ll also be medically retired from the Marine Corps.  At 21.

When I was at Brooke this past year with Cooking with the Troops, I remember one of the people who worked there standing next to me as we watched the wounded moving through the serving line.  He said, "what you have to realize is not one of these young warriors you see are working on their "plan A" anymore."  That made an impression on me. 

You have to imagine yourself in that situation and wonder how you would have coped with having to come up with a "plan B" at such a young age.   All the hopes and dreams you might have harbored about a certain way of life are now radically and totally changed forever.

Yet even understanding that, the most important message I gathered from all of them is they aren’t victims.  And please don’t treat them like they are.   They’re proud of what they did, what they suffered, even what they’ve sacrificed.  They may not like what happened, but they accept it.  They understand that what happened to them was a part of the risk of the service they willingly undertook.  They knew and understood that risk and yet they volunteered anyway.  And since they’ve been wounded, they’ve been dealing with the aftermath .  But as one amputee told me, "yeah, this happened to me, but others gave their all".   Context. Clarity. Strength.

Not one of them was asking for sympathy, just understanding.  These were Soldiers and Marines.  They are used to adapting and overcoming.  And while they still have much to endure, and many low points to weather,  there was no question that the spirit was willing. 

As one of the chaperones at the event said as we were quietly sharing a drink and watching the group finish a wonderful dinner, "you don’t have to worry about the next generation and  the future of our country.  These guys are that future and the future is bright".

I’ve thought about that a lot since he said that. He’s right. They are our next "greatest generation".  They stood up.  They answered the call and I’ve come to firmly believe that the strength of our nation is to be found in those who serve.   If what I saw in Las Vegas is any indication, the future is indeed bright.  If nothing else, my time with our wounded heroes made that point crystal clear to me.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Salute to the Troops: And One-Eyed Jacks …

Thought I’d share this with you folks.  I’m in Las Vegas as a part of a group of bloggers invited to blog about a great program called Salute to the Troops where 70 wounded warriors and their guests are flown to Vegas, all expenses paid, put up at one of the plushest properties there (the Palazzo) and treated to 3 days and nights of VIP treatment.  On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 12.  It has been a blast so far.

——–

The Palazzo had a Blackjack tournament yesterday for those of our group that signed up.  It ended up being a 3 table affair with some very keen competition.  The grand prize wasn’t chips, but instead round trip airfare for 2 from Southwest Airlines and free accommodations at the Palazzo for the winner and his guest to do this all over again.

The players battled it out over the three tables and you could hear the cheers and groans as lady luck had her way with all.  But it all came down to the championship table and the final 15 hands.  Here’s how the championship table looked as they began.

Poker

If you look to the far right, the guy counting his chips and plotting his strategy is Marine Corps Sgt. Ken Fischer. Sgt. Fischer built a nice lead early and then continued to increase it throughout the 15 hands with some aggressive betting. But it was tight at the end, and all the players went for it on the final hand with the dealer cooperating and busting (to cheers all around). Sgt. Fischer prevailed with over $10,000 in total chips.

While they were playing I got to talk with some of the other dealers and managers who were there and supported the tournament.  Almost all were veterans.  So while they players played, we swapped stories about C-Rats, P-38s and the usual stuff military folks like to reminisce about.

Most impressive, at least to me though, was how into the “Support the Troops” program they were.  This wasn’t just some extra duty to them, but something they felt privileged to be a part of.  I spoke with one of the dealers who’d served in the National Guard with the 42nd Division in NY before moving to Las Vegas.  As we spoke and laughed about our most memorable C-Ration meals of the past, she pulled out her dog tags and held up, you guessed it, a P-38.  Loved it.

That evening we had a great dinner at Lagasse Stadium (the ultimate man cave).  It’s a sports book, with fabulous food (yup, that Lagasse as in Emeril) and more flat screen TVs than Korea outputs in a year.  Shrimp the size of your fist (yeah, your fist. I swear they were bordering on small lobster size.), roast beef – like I said, a guys place.

We had dinner on a patio which was awesome.  It was 97 degrees out, but somehow the hotel kept it cool and pleasant.  Treasure Island is across the street and they have a live pirate show every hour.  So we’d all be enjoying our feast and fellowship and suddenly we’d hear the pirates attacking the fort across the street.  Only in Vegas.

Anyway, here’s Sgt. Fischer as he received his prize for the Blackjack win:

Fischer

There are other bloggers and some special guests here as well.  So I’ll give you a little pop quiz.  Take a look at the next picture, take a look at the glass in his hand and tell me who it is:

vodkapundit

Yes that’s Stephen Green, aka “Vodka Pundit”, originator of drunk blogging and his incredible wife, Melissa.  Green is also covering the event for PJ Media.

And finally, someone who I’ve always wanted to meet but figured I’d never have the opportunity. I watched and cheered him on for years.  Hint: I’m from Atlanta and this has to do with baseball.  Pay no attention to the ugly guy on the left (that’d be me), tell me who the guy on the right is:

Maddux

Yes friends, that’s future Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg “Mad Dog” Maddux.  He quietly took a night to come out and hang with everyone one and salute the troops.  It was funny, most of us didn’t even know he was with the group until he was announced and then a line literally formed to meet him.  Gracious and funny, he took pictures with everyone.  Thanks, Greg.

And again thanks to everyone who is making this amazing week possible.  I asked one soldier, while we were walking to dinner, what he thought of all this.  He sort of smiled and said, “you know, we’ve been treated to some great things while I’ve been at BAMC, but this just  blows everything away”.

There ya go …

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


About spiking the bin Laden football

This does an adequate job of saying what needs to be said:

 

 

“Unseemly” describes it best. But when the rest of your record is so abysmal, unseemly is all you have. 

As for the rest of it:

The truth is that getting bin Laden was the top counterterrorism objective for U.S. intelligence since well before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. This administration built on work pain­stakingly pursued for many years before Obama was elected — and without this work, Obama administration officials never would have been in a position to authorize the strike on Abbottabad, Pakistan, that resulted in bin Laden’s overdue death.

Most reasonable people have already figured that out despite the “look I did it” claims of Obama.  Critics can trash Mitt  Romney all they want, but he was right – even Jimmy Carter would have made the call Obama made.  And, had the operation gone wrong, despite what Bill Clinton says, the target would never have been known (until possibly, much, much later).  America would have simply believed that one of hundreds of special operations that were conducted monthly, had gone south.  It is war.  It happens.

And, of course, what was the concern from Clinton?  Politics, of course.  Nothing more, nothing less.

“Gutsy”.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Obama didn’t make a “gutsy call” but he didn’t cover his rear either

I am on record saying that Joe Biden is full of crap when he tried to sell Obama’s decision to okay the raid that killed bin Laden as “gutsy”.  Biden’s claim is that had the raid failed, his presidency would have been over.

Nonsense.  We’d have simply never heard about it.  There was no risk to Obama or his presidency to okay the raid and tremendous upside (which he continues to try to cash in on) if it succeeded.  Most reasonable people know and understand that.  It is the usual Biden hubris.

But, this new claim which has been floated by Big Peace is also nonsense.  The claim is a memo that authorized the raid also was used to cover the President’s rear if it failed.  Here’s the memo that is being touted as proof:

Received phone call from Tom Donilon who stated that the President made a decision with regard to AC1 [Abbottabad Compound 1]. The decision is to proceed with the assault.

The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out. Those instructions were conveyed to Admiral McRaven at approximately 10:45 am.

The decision to shift operational command to McRaven is being characterized as a CYA move by the president who, if the raid failed, would or could throw McRaven under the bus.

Nonsense.

What was done is exactly what should have been done by standard operating procedure for any operation – unless, of course, you want people who have no situational awareness, haven’t been in on the planning and are thousands of miles away, making minute-to-minute operational decisions.  You know LBJ designating targets in North Vietnam or Jimmy Carter trying to run the Iranian operation.

Of course you give operational control to the operational commander for heaven sake.  He’s the guy who has planned, rehearsed and is most familiar with the operation.  He knows the operators, he knows the terrain, he has helped configure the force, he knows the best time to go in.

He is the guy best qualified to have operational control and the shift noted at 10:45 am means at that point it was up to the best qualified man to make the call “go”.

The sort of nonsense that Big Peace is running is, unfortunately, done out of apparent ignorance.  This is not a story.  It has nothing to do with CYA.  It is how operations are done.  When the command authority, who retains the right to make the decision of “go” or “no go”, makes the decision to  proceed they then hand the operation off to the operational commander.

That’s what was done here.  It was the correct thing to do.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am no fan of Obama’s. And I remember when he criticized another campaign for using bin Laden to “score political points”.  But this sort of attack is just nonsense.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


God Speed, CAPT Carroll LeFon (Neptunus Lex)

It’s been a tough week.  A good friend and neighbor died this week after a year long bout with cancer.  He put up a hell of a fight.

Then, last night, I learned that milblogger extraordinaire and retired naval aviator Carroll LeFon had been killed when his F21 Kfir fighter jet crashed near the west gate of Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.

Lex, as most people knew him, was probably one of the best writers in the milblog community, bar none.  A retired Navy Captain and former carrier squadron commander, he loved flying and detested “life in a cube”.  After retirementNeptunusLex he managed to land a dream job for men of his ilk – flying fighter jets for a civilian company contracted to provide the opposing force for naval aviators at the TOPGUN school.  Lex, during his active duty days, had been the Executive Officer at that school.

I had the privilege of meeting Lex at one of the milblog conferences and then, over the years, kept up an on again, off again email  relationship with him.  I enjoyed our conversations immensely and I was a huge fan of his blog.  I mostly lurked because, well, I’m a grunt and that wasn’t my world, but I learned more about naval aviation and aviation in general than I would have ever learned elsewhere.   I also enjoyed his slant on other topics as well.  He had a large and engaged commenting community, the sign of a healthy and well-loved blog.

The stories in tribute to him are just now starting to come out.  There’ll be more as the days go by.  He was a heck of a guy, a brilliant writer, a man who loved and adored his family and died doing what he loved best – flying a high performance aircraft.

His last post at the blog was a bit eerie but pretty much stated his philosophy best when it came to what he was doing.  He’d had a drag chute malfunction on landing and had to “wrestle snakes”, as he put it, for a bit before finally landing the aircraft safely.

When I taxied back to the line the maintenance guys told me to go away for 10 minutes. Just in case the brakes might, you know: Catch fire. Which they didn’t, so no harm done.

It’s funny how quickly you can go from “comfort zone” to “wrestling snakes” in this business.

But even snake wrestling beats life in the cube, for me at least. In measured doses.

Every fighter pilot out there, in fact every pilot in general, knows that at some point or other they’re going to have to wrestle snakes.  And, they also know that the possibility exists that the snakes may, at some point, win.

Yet even knowing that, they’d never trade the opportunity to do what they do for that “cube” of safety. 

Lex was a good man doing a necessary and dangerous job training our future naval aviators.  He paid the ultimate price.  But he did it his way doing what he loved to do. 

Fair winds and following seas, CAPT LeFon.  You’ll be missed.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Obama says apology to Afghan President about Koran burning “calmed things down”

koranburn

 

But, one has to ask, did it?

President Obama said his formal apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the burning of Korans by U.S. troops last week has "calmed things down" after the incident sparked an outbreak of violence across the country.

"We’re not out of the woods yet," Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Bob Woodruff at the White House. "But my criteria in any decision I make, getting recommendations from folks who are actually on the ground, is what is going to best protect our folks and make sure that they can accomplish their mission."

Of course, the murder of two officers by an Afghan soldier in Kabul came after the apology.  And, the riot in which hand grenades were thrown at the gate Forward Outpost Fortitude wounding 7 US Special Forces soldiers did as well.  Finally, today’s murder of two US soldiers by their erstwhile Afghan compatriots again comes after the apology.  The apology took place on or about the 23rd of February.  The 4 deaths and 7 woundings afterward.

Hardly “calmed down”.  But of course, much like the “saved jobs” claim, Obama can always claim the unprovable, and as usual, he has.

This actually points to a larger and growing problem.  A problem that has been exacerbated by the President announcing a withdrawal date for our combat troops.  The problem? The “green on blue” fratricide such as that seen during these Koran riots.

The growing divide between Afghan soldiers and their mentors has already been stretched to the breaking point after six days of violent and deadly protests over the Koran burning that have left around 30 dead, including four U.S. troops previously killed by Afghan soldiers or men in Afghan-security-force uniforms. The burning of Korans by foreign troops on one side and the killing of foreign troops by Afghan soldiers on the other have pushed the level of alienation between the two sides to what could be an all-time high.

The Saturday murders were only the latest of at least 22 similar killings that have occurred since last April. Smith says there have been at least 35 in the past 12 months, though NATO spokesman Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson refused to confirm that number. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least 77 coalition troops have been killed in the past five years in "green on blue" incidents, with around 57 of those having taken place since early 2010. Smith is not sanguine about improving the situation, even as the allies pour more money and effort into training ever more locals. Says he: "You only ever rent an Afghan, you can’t buy one."

The Army published a study in May of 2011 that, if you read the conclusion, points to failure in regards to ever fielding a competent and able indigenous Afghan security force.  The study, entitled “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” had this to say:

The report concludes that "the rapidly growing fratricide-murder trend committed by Afghan national security force [ANSF] personnel against NATO members" confirms the "ineffectiveness [of] our efforts in stabilizing Afghanistan, developing a legitimate and effective government, battling the insurgency, gaining the loyalty, respect and friendship of the Afghans [and] building the ANSFs into legitimate and functional organizations." The report says that these complaints and murders challenge the usefulness of the "partnering" concept. "This is all the more a paradox given [NATO's] assumption of and planned reliance [on] the [ANSF] to be able to take over the security burden before it can disengage from this grossly prolonged conflict."

Much of what is happening can be tied to the absurd notion that announcing your withdrawal well in advance will not have negative effects.  Of course, the feeling of abandonment by the Afghan government and armed forces are just one of the many negative effects.  And, for the less stable and easily influenced among them, it has translated itself into the murder of American soldiers who are there, ostensibly, to help the ANSF. 

What the Obama administration has managed to do in its three years is completely reverse the gains of the previous years in Afghanistan, push the government of Afghanistan toward accommodation with the Taliban and condemned those American troops we leave behind to mentor the ANSF to a very dangerous role in which their lives are just as threatened by their allies as the enemy.

Obama ought to apologize for that.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Travel day–in DC for CPAC

Sorry about the lack of posting, but have been on the road since 5am.  Got into DC about 2pm and that gave me just enough time to change clothes, grab the Metro and make it over to the Rayburn building to spend about 30 minutes with House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon.  Very interesting discussion which I’ll be writing up soon.  Ed Morrissey from Hot Air was there as well.

I’m interested in the temperature of Conservatives this year so I’m probably going to be doing more talking/interviewing of bloggers than listening to variations on the candidate’s stump speeches.

I think there’ll be more insight and gold in the interviews with Conservative activists than politicians.

Oh, and apparently Occupy is going to pay CPAC a visit on Friday and Saturday so that ought to be fun.

I’m tired.  So, until tomorrow.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


The defense budget

Here’s a little fact to keep in mind when considering the current cuts to spending at DoD (and let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with appropriate cuts to defense spending), besides all the other ramifications it promises:

Defense accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget but already exceeds 50 percent of deficit-reduction efforts. And for every dollar the President hopes to save in domestic programs, he plans on saving $128 in defense.

And that’s without the looming sequestration cuts (keep in mind, most war fighting costs are not included in the budget) of another half trillion dollars.

Or said another way, the administration has decided that it will attempt to cut spending primarily with cuts to national defense.  There is no serious program afoot to cut back the myriad of other government agencies and branches.  In fact, many are expanding (see EPA, IRS, etc.).

As for sequestration, Democrats are bound and determined to see it through, because, you know, national defense is less important than winning an ideological struggle.

Charles Hoskinson of POLITICO’s Morning Defense reports (btw, if you don’t subscribe to it, you should):

BUT REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS are still far apart on one key issue: taxes. We caught up with SASC Chairman Levin at a breakfast Thursday and he said he’s counting on public pressure to push the GOP to accept new tax revenues as part of any solution – something they’ve so far refused to consider. Meanwhile, Levin and other Democrats won’t budge on reversing sequestration except as part of a complete package. "The dam has got to be broken on revenues, and what I believe will break it is the threat of sequestration," he said.

Shorter Levin, “we’re more than willing to hold national security hostage and see it gutted to get our way on taxes”.

It is rather interesting  approach for an administration which is hung up on everyone paying their ‘fair share’.  It seems that the lion’s share of what it will surely tout during the upcoming campaign as serious budget cutting, will come from the one Constitutionally mandated duty it has – national defense.

As for all the programs that have a future funding liability of 200 trillion dollar?

Meh.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


HASC Republicans: A common sense solution to sequestration and national defense

The DoD is presently working through a half trillion dollars in budget cuts mandated by Barack Obama which is going to see a much weaker military despite what any of the madly spinning politicians claim. 

But the real meat axe is hanging just over the horizon in what is known as “sequestration” cuts, i.e. cuts which will be made across the board because the debit committee was unable to reach a deal on the cuts in the budget (by the way, Harry Reid, it’s now been 1001 days since you, Mr. Majority Leader, passed a budget out of the Senate) for the future.   That would mean an additional half trillion in cuts to DoD, the result of which, would simply be disastrous to our national security.

Here, in this video, a group of Republican House Armed Services Committee members make a pitch for a common sense solution that would absorb the need for those sequestration cuts.  In short, cut the Federal workforce by 10% – but do it over time and strictly through attrition.

Someone, anyone, tell me we couldn’t get along without 10% of the Federal workforce:

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO