20 July 2008

Bile XLV, Valentines Day Bile

We're into the last few items from the archive, before I can start moving forward with new stuff (already in progress in another window...) The below piece is from February of this year, following my transition into a Marine Corps Reserve position at the very command that I work at daily as a GS-13. It's like going to work in a different shirt, and being paid twice as much for having done so...

In the words of Donnie Hasseltine, et al, I have once again become a "company man". Taking advantage of the fact that I picked up Major in the Reserves last year, (apparently, they found that I had a fuckin' pulse, so they mailed my promotion warrant to me. It's on my fridge next to Sarah's report card) I decided that February would be a foin time to get my qualifications as a "maneuver Coyote" at TTECG, as opposed to doing it in the summer, when it's 120 fuckin' degrees outside.

So I joined the reserve detachment that supports TTECG, put the uniform back on, and began learning the art and science of controlling live fire ranges. I immediately began receiving snideness from both my co-workers, and the Marines with whom I have worked, at the rapid rate. Donnie welcomed me back into the fold of droids who have traded in their expectations and ideals for a steady paycheck. Andy Watson giggled his stupid little fuckin' laugh. Matt Good just shook his head at me and shrugged. Jerry Willingham was mortified that, for the first time in his career, I was waking up and at work before him. Thus, for the past two weeks, I have resumed my observation of that time honored Marine Corps tradition of waking up in the middle of the night and working until slap fuckin' dark. In the period between those aforementioned times (also known respectively as "zero-dark-ridiculous" and "why the fuck are we still here?") I ran behind 20 year old Lance Corporals and 24 year old 2nd Lieutenants who were seemingly bent on running into their own fires, or behind their own active rockets .

Among the myriad of other fascinating aspects that I learned this week, the one that was most disheartening to me personally was that I discovered just how old and out of shape I have become. While controlling a rifle squad on Range 400 (a very long rifle company dismounted assault on two separate trench lines.) At one point on the range, at a place called the "rockpile" I negotiated a very sudden fifteen foot climb up a 50 degree embankment. I made the first five feet quite nimbly, but soon needed to shift into second gear, and walked with tentative steps the rest of the way up, where I paused to catch my breath. Well, controlling the squad with me was a young Corporal called Coyote-32W. 32W is about 22 years old, and is made of titanium, springs, and steel. So, as I stood at the top of the "rockpile", I watched with bemused envy as 32W bounded up that same embankment in five strong leaps, like a fuckin' impala, I swannee. He patted my shoulder and smiled as he passed me by, his respiration unaffected whatsoever. Asshole.

I quickly concluded that the titanium, springs, and steel that once drove my sinew had been replaced by silicone caulk, rubber, and fuckin' duct tape.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bought a new keyboard today, along with a fifth of Jamesons. You know damn well what that means...

It's the clot in your carotid, the emboli in your aortae, it's...

The Soldier's load, and the Mobility of My Spleen

1) "Get a squad over here to help me lift my flak jacket and put it on, please." Despite the urgings of the only other libertarian in the Marine Corps, (Andy Watson) I'm still on the war as the central issue that faces the nation. Surprisingly, though, there was actual mention in the media this week of the fact that Americans are fighting somewhere outside the Survivor set. Unsurprisingly, it didn't cover the fact that we are actually winning, but instead pointed out that there was actual bureaucratic inefficiency within the Marine Corps at the outset of Phase IV operations in 2004/2005 (gasp). I'll give you a minute to peruse the tripe that I hyperlinked in the previous sentence whilst I freshen my drink and light a cigarette.



Sit down and take notes, people. Here it comes.

Look, the last time that I checked, engaging in military operations against an intransigent, intelligent insurgency is not real safe on a personal level. People kinda get shot at sometimes. Sometimes, things even explode. And because the US military is comprised of human fuckin' beings, sometimes we make mistakes and allow the enemy the ability to effect us with his weapons. What can I say? It's gonna happen. We're at war, this is not a fucking play date, people. Look down about half way on page two of that article. It mentions a few numbers: "More than 3,200 U.S. troops, including 824 Marines, have been killed in action in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. An additional 29,000 have been wounded, nearly 8,400 of them Marines. The majority of the deaths and injuries have been caused by explosive devices, according to the Defense Department."

People, I'm not insensitive to the fact that a single death is a tragedy. Jamie Edge, Danny Clay, Marvin Best, Kane Funk, Ramon Romero, and Andy Stevens (to name a few) were brothers of mine and not a day goes by that I don't think of one of them. But they lost their lives in a cause that is worthy of their sacrifice, and I am willing to lose my own in that same cause. But consider the fact that almost as many people have died and been injured IN FIVE FUCKING YEARS in Iraq as were similarly damaged IN ONE FUCKING DAY on Omaha beach on 6 June 1944, fighting an enemy no less bent on our ultimate destruction.

People, the fact still remains that we cannot burden these young men on the pointy tip of the spear with our risk aversion here at the blunt edge of the spoon.

There is a concept in economics known as the law of diminishing returns. It stipulates that there is a saturation point past which a good idea becomes self defeating. We see examples of this right now. I know that after my fourth drink while writing this shit, I will not be able to appreciate the foin quality of the Glenkinchie scotch that I am drinking right now. I will have been saturated, so to speak, and so I'll downshift to Jameson's, which is $16-a-bottle cheaper.

I'll be just as happy, but won't be burning quality 12 year old scotch at the cyclic rate.

The segue from my drunkenness into force protection issues is surprisingly easy in this case. We did need better vehicles in 04. Chicken, Andy, myself, and the entire 1st Marine Division were rolling around in regular HMMWVs with "L-shaped" fucking doors until mid 05. That's like taking a normal 4x4 and adding a door that can stop bullets up to 7.62x39, (AK-47 ammo. The fact that we survived astounds me still.) but which only came up to the shoulder level of the vehicle occupant That was all the armor we had for OIF II (defined as February 2004-April 2005). Funny thing is, our tactics at that time caused our Weapons Company to actually complain that they HAD TO HAVE DOORS ON AT ALL, because they wanted to be able to dismount and pursue targets more quickly. But that was 04, before we came to the realization that the bad guys had accessed the ammunition stocks of the 4th largest military in the world...whom we had just beaten like a french boxer that previous year.

War being a factor of action-reaction-counteraction, we came to understand that we needed better armored vehicles in the early spring of 05. We had tried other approaches to the emerging IED threat, but the fact that our mitigating actions were not as successful as we had hoped at first, was not acknowledged until then, and so we beefed up the HMMWV's armor profile.

The Up-armored HMMWV. It is a fucking awesome compromise between mobility and protection. As an old-school Lubbock redneck, I appreciate the fact that this vehicle is very hard, relative to my truck and other vehicles, to getting stuck in sand, mud, and rocky terrain, while having concomitant capabilities to recover other HMMWVs that have become stuck or mechanically unviable. I have personally witnessed the speed and agility of this particular vehicle in maneuvering around the complex desert terrain that we are currently fighting in, and have no complaints as to its agility.

Added to that mobility is the ad-hoc solution of the armor onto which we have hung as a response to the current threat in-country. Witness the case of the artist formerly known as Corporal Brown (he's LCpl Brown now, because he got drunk and drove around a bit. He's a Marine, whatcanIsay?) Brown came up to me at Camp Mercury in late 05 with his arm in a sling. This was unremarkable except for the fact that I had heard two hours prior that his patrol had sucked up a Suicide Vehicle Borne IED (SVBIED). For the uninitiated, an SVBIED is a car with about 300-500 lbs of explosives in the trunk, driven into a coalition formation and exploded, generally with much loss of life. Brown told me that the driver of the SVBIED waved at the lead truck in the patrol and then swerved and hit his truck right by his door, exploding literally within three feet of Cpl Brown's face. As his truck was a high back (like a pick-up truck, an enclosed cab with an open bed that has 1/2 inch armor on all sides,) Brown had 4 dismounts in the back. (i.e. unprotected infantrymen with nothing protecting them but their own flak jackets, helmets, and about an inch of armor surrounding them in the bed of the truck) None of them, not one, were injured in the incident.

Read that paragraph again, sports fans. I've blown up a lot of shit. (It's part of my manly essence.) However, I have never been within 3-5 feet of a 300 lbs shot. Had I been, you would have been spared a lot of vituperative shit, but I digress. We have had vehicles out there on the front lines that can withstand almost the worst possible thing that can confront a Marine patrol. Yet, that situation happened to one of my Corporals and all he suffered was a dislocated shoulder. It went down as "Wounded in Action" and is part of the aforementioned tally of wounded Marines, but Brown is alive, and most likely drunk somewhere right now, so we'll call it a win, by God.

The alternative? The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (AKA: MRAP). First of all, it's fucking heavy, forty tons. Many of the bridges in Iraq can't handle forty tons. Second of all, it's fucking huge. People, the streets in Fallujah and Hit (the only big cities I can personally attest to) are very narrow, with civilian vehicles parked all over the place. Having a vehicle of that breadth cannot translate into the agility that will allow it to maneuver in that terrain. Which means Marines must dismount, which kinda defeats the fucking purpose of them taking that truck outta the motor pool to begin with, huh? Additionally, having a forty ton wheeled vehicle that cannot self-recover means that a stuck MRAP must be recovered by a fucking M-88 tank recovery vehicle. There aren't many of those, and the wait for one to make it out to your site is prohibitive, to say the least.

(Note: downshift to Jameson's. Time: 2245 on the watch)

Now, let's talk about training. We have like 10,000 licensed up-armored HMMWV drivers. How do we train and license MRAP drivers? The vast majority of the MRAPs are in Iraq right now, and are not in the United States for people to train on their use. What's more, there is not, to my knowledge, an MRAP licensing program for infantrymen within the Marine Corps. The up-armor HMMWV continues to challenge us with getting qualified drivers prepared for deployment, and there are a couple-hundred up-armored HMMWVs here in the Continental United States (CONUS) right now. To my knowledge, there are less than twenty MRAPs in CONUS. Six of them are here in Twentynine Palms. What's the solution? Do we send Marines over without any actual stick time? What are the second-order ramifications of that? How many non-battle injuries will result from inexperienced drivers racing about the battlespace and flipping a vehicle that they have never handled? Did Mr. Gayl factor that into his report?

No, he fucking didn't. Because he's not out there, knee deep in this shit. He's in an ivory tower in Quantico or D.C., casting blame and covering his own fat-ass. He complains in the article that the civilian approval chain for procurement is led by out-of-touch former-Jarheads. When was his last patrol? Has he worn the fucking huge, 60 lbs. flak jacket that we are sending out now with four Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates? Has he driven one of these gargantuan machines through the "pizza-slice" in Fallujah? No, he fucking hasn't.

My friends, Gunner Jeff Eby, the second-best damn gunner in the Marine Corps, wrote a piece a few years back entitled "Are we killing them with kindness?". In that article, he addressed the fact that we have become so risk averse that we have become self-defeating with regards to our ability to close with, and destroy any who would attempt to engage us. He was absolutely right. We, as a nation, have demanded without any knowledge aforethought, that our troops be equipped with 60-70 lbs flak jackets. All of you who have not worn one, right now, go find something that weighs 70 lbs. Pick it up. Now, imagine chasing a 17-19 year old kid, who has just shot at you, carrying that weight down a crowded street. Yeah, it's kinda like that.

Leaving effective actions against the enemy to the side for a moment, allow me to spew about a closely related issue...

Vietnam had Agent Orange. Desert Storm had "Desert Storm Syndrome". Do you know what my generation looks forward to? Bulging fucking vertebrae. Yup, that is your gift to the troops, people, for making them so safe. No, they didn't get blown up, but anyone with at least two deployments in the Ground Combat Element can't touch their toes or twist in any significant way without their left leg going numb or crumpling into the fetal position. Thanks for that.

Back to our program: We've got Marines in 60 lbs flak jackets inside forty ton vehicles. That means we can't maneuver in any mounted way against agile insurgents in Toyota trucks, nor can we chase them afoot, should we accidentally manage to force them to dismount. So, how exactly do we do our job? I ask you.

Point is, Mothers of America et al, let the Commandant of the Marine Corps perform his duties under Title X of the U.S.C. and equip his forces in a manner that will result in dead bad guys. Your sons will actually thank you for not having to haul that extry 60-70 lbs all around the battlespace, or drive that huge forty ton piece of shit through the eye of a needle in pursuit of some asshole who just launched an RPG at them.

Thanks in advance.

2) The Return of Things that I Couldn't Care About If You Set Me on Fire and Made Me Watch
This Steroids Thing: People, the only guys mentioned in the Mitchell Report were those who were too dumb NOT to buy the shit on their credit card, or while someone was lookin' at 'em. The smart ones paid in cash. Bottom Line: Those who are tap dancing right now are lazy, complacent assholes who will be dealt with appropriately. Everyone else will get tested and that shit will stop. The fact that Kenny Rogers and Pudge Rodriguez WEREN'T on the list surprises the shit outta me. (Check out their numbers, at their ages...amazing powers of recovery, no?) And I'm a big fan of both of those guys. Look, this thing is so deeply ingrained in that multi-million dollar enterprise, that nobody can ever truly track it, or it's second-order effects. Just get on with it, already.
The Continuing Brittney Saga: Hey! Over here! We're fighting an war, ya shitheads! Yes, she made the Cull List last Bile, but I'm still dealing with her countenance in the checkout lane, so it's pissing me off, by God. Brittney, darlin': find a therapist already, for the love of Christ, and get some serenity, hun. Media dudes: stop exploiting this psycho. While it sells copy, it also erodes at the likelihood that your soul will be intact at any point past this coming spring, fuckheads.

The Lifetime Channel: As my Sarah quoth this very evening: "Movies made by PMSing women for PMSing women." Enough Said. Thank you.

3) Epilogue: I welcome all the folks from the on-line poker table (Carolina). Good on ya, and please bear in mind that everything that you've read corresponds with about five years of me getting shit-faced and hammering out copy at the rate of about one volume a month. For everyone else, I gotta say that this whole TTECG/Coyote Thing has made me happier than about anything else that I've done in years. CJ, Boss, thanks for putting me on the staff. I've enjoyed this almost as much as I did blowing up roughly 1,000,000 lbs of Net Explosive Weight in June-Aug of 04. Hopefully, I will prove to be worthy of the task that has been set before me. For all the good folks at TTECG, stand by, because I don't plan on suffering through all of this. I will have fun, and neither Coyote-31 nor Coyote-45 can keep me down, (and that MCLIC misfire shoulda been treated as a rocket misfire, by God).

Ash to Ash
Dust to Dust
Fade to Black...

And the Memory Remains,


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