One of the main reasons I was drawn to Traditionalism was my interest in history (among many other reasons) specifically, medieval history. I’ll try not to rant too much on what passes for a modern education, but it is probably a bit necessary to explain.

I was probably around 19 or 20, a sophomore in college, before I realized that I was not going to be taught anything about history. I basically knew only what I had taken the time to learn on my own and whatever had been offered as part of my degree, which is to say, history since 1960.

I remember taking a 200 or 300 level class on Modern American History. I can’t remember exactly what the circumstances were, but one day in class it was determined that maybe only 1/10th of the class knew which nations fought on either side during World War II. Most could name only Germany and America, a few mentioned Canada or Britain. Only 1 or 2 knew that the USSR and the US fought on the same side.

I was especially surprised since, at the time, the History Channel specialized in almost constant WW II programming, so it wasn’t like the majority even had to crack open a book, all they would’ve had to do was simply change the channel and pause for a few moments.

I suppose I should point out that I didn’t go to some elite University on one of the coasts, nonetheless, I was no doubt surrounded by people whose grandparents had probably served in WW II, Korea, or whose parents had been in Vietnam, and most still had simply no notion of the conflict at all, the participants, timeframe, world politics, etc…

This bothered me immensely. I took it personal, I suppose. And it inspired me to educate myself a bit more. I was interested in Political Science and government, so I thought (quite patriotically) that in order to understand American society it was best to start at the founding principles, not in 1968, so I began reading all the classics I saw cited as inspiration by Adams, Jefferson, and all the rest.

I started reading Cicero, Plutarch, Tacitus, Xenophon, Thucydides. It was an escape into another world where civics actually existed. Idealized, no doubt, but still, much preferable to my own time. Of course, this reading led to Machiavelli, Tocqueville, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Heidegger and others… to Strauss, Arendt… And so many more. It all seemed to be connected by a string, because, in fact, it is.

Women in Combat… And Combat for Women.

Recently there has been a big debate as to the merits of Panetta’s “decision” to admit women into combat roles. Mostly this has simply been another instance of publicity-seeking (of the liberal feel-good type) on the part of the administration, and not at all anything to be taken seriously.

The fact is women see combat each day, though their role in combat has never been (primarily) combatant. Rather, they see combat in various support roles, as explosives technicians, engineers, medics, etc… But not as infantry soldiers. This role, above all others, still belongs solely to men.

And now for a few words on combat.

There are many people in the combat arms specialties of our military, who have been in 10 years or more and are considered senior-ranking officers and enlisted, who themselves have not actually “seen” combat.

Surprised? Don’t be.

I have personally met numerous individuals with all kinds of valor decorations (i.e. Bronze Stars, Commendations) who have never actually seen the enemy at all, in that they have never experienced so-called “effective fire,” which is to say, on paper they might have seen combat, but they have severely limited experience fighting at close range. In the Army this is understood as roughly 35 meters or less.

Personnel who serve at highly fortified operating bases also receive “combat pay,” which is often misleading to civilians who interpret this as meaning they were “outside the wire” and under enemy fire. Afghans will sometimes fire (almost always ineffectively) rockets or mortars into these positions, and when this happens nearly everyone present on the base receives a “combat” medal of some sort.

Similarly, armored convoys will sometimes take ineffective RPG or small-arms fire, and again, when this happens, every person on the convoy receives this same distinction, as being “combat” certified.

The current standards for this distinction are absurd, and any honest person in the military will admit this. So absurd, in fact, that in some infantry units, combat awards are not awarded unless bullet impact is observed close to the formation, which is to say, unless fire is deemed to be “effective,” or even “highly effective” in that it requires maneuver. If not,  no awards are presented.

But even in some infantry units, and especially now as the military shifts from a mission-orientation back to a petty careerism, awards are given for essentially the same thing people in parts of Chicago or Detroit experience each week in their neighborhood, i.e. gun violence.

I draw the distinction only because, having seen combat, this is a distinction that I make each day, between the truly combat-tested and any others.

I have no delusions about my combat experiences. I did not storm Normandy, assault Bastogne, participate in the siege of Stalingrad, fight the Red Army in Korea, or slug it out in the jungles against the Viet Cong. However, I did experience close combat against the Taliban on their home turf, in a fanatically defended area. I’ve had a machine-gun open up on me from maybe 25 meters away. I’ve had rifle grenades explode around me at close range. I’ve been knocked to the ground by an IED. And I’ve watched snipers and sharpshooters get closer to my position with each shot.

I’ve also returned fire at an enemy who I could see in my sights. This is another rarity in the military. Many soldiers will brag about the experience of fighting or killing, my best guess is that most of them have simply returned fire in a general direction without actually seeing the enemy. I’m not saying this isn’t commendable, this is after all, exactly what infantry soldiers are trained to do, however, seeing an enemy and firing at a perceived but faceless threat are also two entirely different things. Watching an enemy stumble or drop through an optic is another feeling that many, if not most, so-called “combat” veterans have also not had.

All of this is a roundabout way of explaining that there are various meanings today of the word “combat,” and that the military definition is anything but definitive. I suspect the “women in combat” meme will come up again, but more importantly I think the rules regarding combat, so-called and actual, also need to change.

 

 

 

So much to say and so little time

Warning: Biographical

I have not written anything besides letters/e-mails to friends and family for a few years now so my prose will undoubtedly be bad for a while.

I turned 30 in Afghanistan this past May, so I guess it’s time to start my ministry.

I have absolutely no desire to be a professional in any particular profession. Being a soldier suits that desire, or rather lack thereof, perfectly, for the time being.

There’s an amateurish aspect to soldiering today, or I should say there’s a non-teachable, non-commercial, not-for-sale, non-certifiable aspect that is nonetheless apparent and very real and decisive to advancement, which I love.

The distinction, in Army lingo, is between the field soldier and the garrison soldier. The greatest compliment a Joe (read: junior enlisted, grunt) can give to another soldier, but which he will never say to that soldier’s face, is that he is a field soldier.

I lucked out on my first duty assignment, in that I was grouped with probably the most competent field soldiers out of my entire brigade. Most of it happened by chance, or rather due to the utter lack of organization in the Army at even the most junior levels of leadership, for which I am forever grateful in this case.

I entered the Army as a “smart guy.” I scored a 98 on my ASVAB. Considering the test is geared towards 18 year-olds and I was 26 with a Bachelor’s Degree and a semester of Law School under my belt, this isn’t that outstanding of an accomplishment. Nonetheless, you are judged in the Army to some extent as to what your overall score and sub-scores were on this test. So, I’m a “smart guy.”

Being a “smart guy,” I should have ended up shuffling around command headquarters somewhere, kissing ass and biding my time until I was eligible for promotion. This happened to other “smart guys” that I knew. They signed up for the Infantry, like me, but they have yet to fire a weapon in anger, to walk a patrol, or to leave the wire for any significant amount of time. And this was the plan when I arrived at Ft. Lewis and was assigned to my battalion, I was told that because I was a “smart guy,” Sergeant Major would want me working for him. (Note: a Command Sergeant Major commands a battalion of roughly 1000 soldiers, a battalion is 4 companies at 200-250 a piece)

I arrived at my unit on a Friday night. By some stroke of luck, Sergeant Major was on leave and wouldn’t be back until the following Friday, so “temporarily,” rather than be placed into my “smart guy” spot, I was pushed out to “the line,” and assigned to Alpha Company, basically so they could babysit me until Sergeant Major returned, I was told.

Thanks to the overwhelming disregard Alpha Company had for newcomers at the time, I ended becoming a permanent part of their unit.  I think they forgot I existed for a few weeks. I have to add here that when I first arrived at Alpha Company the company First Sergeant was also a “smart guy” type, although he was more than just a smart guy, he was an extremely experienced field soldier as well. As he reviewed my records, he looked to one of the other Sergeants in the office and said (in retrospect very auspiciously, although this is probably my own re-telling) “I think we’ll put you with Second Platoon.” I found out later this was his favorite platoon.

And I instantly discovered that Second Platoon was the most experienced Platoon in the Company, probably the brigade, and possibly on the entire post. They had been “in contact,” i.e. under effective enemy fire, for over 150 days the previous summer when they were in Afghanistan. They talked about killing a lot, and tactics, ambushes, weapons… I thought I was in with a bunch of brutes, and for the most part I was right, albeit brutes of the necessary and lovable type.

To put their experience in perspective, consider your so-called “elite” units in the Army today, i.e. Special Forces, Ranger Battalion, Airborne, etc… Many if not all of these units only deploy for 6 months at a time nowadays. Point being, 2nd Platoon had been in country and under fire, fighting every day, sometimes for 12-18 hours, for more days than any of these formations had actually spent outside the U.S., and against seasoned fighters to boot, and in the heart of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, which is Zhari/Panjwai District in Kandahar Province. We’re not talking 60 year-old white-beards here, or Pakistani teenagers whose idea of Summer Bible Camp includes toting an AK and burying low-quality bombs, we’re talking effective fighting cells, bomb-makers, tacticians and strategists, the ambitious, ideological and hungry-type, who are defending a piece of land because of the symbolic value attached to it, which in my reading is the oldest motivation for warfare and probably the most instinctual.

But I digress. As a “smart guy,” I instantly started getting the standard questions that infantry soldiers ask all “smart guys,” as in, “If you could have picked any job you want, why did you join the Infantry?” Of course I had no good answer then, and still don’t and probably never will. Instead, I made it clear that as a “smart guy,” I was smart enough to know that I didn’t know everything.

So in a few weeks, after pushing a broom, cleaning toilets, cutting grass and volunteering for every detail possible, I became known more as “quiet, humble, hard-working guy,” which suited me just fine then and now. The unit was already preparing to deploy again, and I had a lot to learn if I wanted to stay alive for this. This was my “smart guy” analysis at the time. I knew that I had good teachers on hand and it was best to be quiet and listen and get it out my head that smarts counted for anything. In reality, they didn’t and don’t. My ability to perform well on standardized tests has nothing to do with intelligence or competence, it’s just another “trick” I can turn if I want a carrot or am trying to avoid a stick, and no indication of knowledge. True wisdom is knowing when to shut the fuck up.

To top off this little rant on Infantry and Intelligence, I have to say that there is a misconception regarding us grunts. Most of us aren’t stupid at all. The amount of knowledge that an Infantry soldier is imbued with in Basic Training at least equals any degree program offered at Cornfield University, U.S.A. (in volume at least, in terms of literature) and is far more demanding in terms of recall and memorization.

A leader in an Infantry Unit is expected not only to be familiar with tactics and operational procedures, but to execute specifically mandated actions, recall formulas, theorems, proofs, specifications, etc… all under fire, duress, while injured, dehydrated, malnourished, and sleep-deprived. Imagine taking your GRE, SAT or LSAT while someone is standing outside screaming and breaking windows. I know this seems utterly ridiculous, but you get the idea. Just add STRESS. Lot’s of it. And then ask yourself how good your memory would be in that situation. Could you gather your thoughts? Could you even approach rational thought or would you enter fight/flight mode indiscriminately and simply allow instinct to take control? It’s all very Kipling-esque, but when everyone around you is losing their head (sometimes literally) could you keep yours together?

All of this is to say, of course, that I am proud of being an Infantrymen and I suppose it’s so ingrained in my being for now it’s only right that my first attempt at some kind of autobio include my thoughts on it. And no, I am not 18, stupid, a criminal, or unable to find gainful employment. I do not enjoy MMA, the Super Bowl, porn, lifting weights or fighting for the sake of a fight. In fact, I would say I despise those things. I also don’t believe in any kind of American chauvinism abroad, I don’t believe that we enjoy a flawless political system or society.

I think the reason I wanted to do what I’ve done was because right now, as I write, there are teenagers who know more about themselves than Congressmen, Professors, or countless other Professionals, because they have willfully tested their mind and mettle against death, against their own body and psyche in an elemental way, and against society most of all, and by doing so they have followed the dictum, “Know Thyself,” in much more profound ways than most can imagine. I think I wanted to know if I could do it or not, more than anything, I was curious.

A first post is an auspicious post, so I suppose I should try to lay out my intentions.

I have a need to rant.

I like the idea of someone stumbling onto this page and maybe finding something halfway entertaining/enlightening/insightful.

 

And because I figured spending my time scrawling nonsense on the interwebs is better than playing video games.