Archive for November, 2010


John Steakley, author of Armor and Vampire$, as well as quite a few short stories, has passed away after a five year bout with cancer.

I first encountered John Steakley when I read his novel Armor. It’s a brilliant science fiction piece about a troubled and driven man fighting as a soldier in power armor against an inhuman and terrifying enemy. It’s also about Jack Crow, a con man, and his marks. The two worlds intersect in fascinating and compelling ways. Brilliant.

I’ve been through more than a dozen copies of Armor, re-reading them until they fall apart or loaning them to friends who never return them.

I never met John Steakley, which I regret, and I wish mightily that he had written a few more books.

Godspeed, sir.

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wikileaks

wikileaks founder and head prima donna Julian Assange

wikileaks founder and head prima donna Julian Assange

I find this whole wikileaks phenomenon endlessly fascinating while at the same time a little pitiful.

In theory, I approve of the mission statement wikileaks touts. Government transparency is good in most cases. Protecting their sources, also excellent. Vetting of stories before publishing? Essential. But for all the bluster they’re surprisingly mercenary.

They claim to be a source for good in the world. Yet they’re constantly targetting the biggest sources of good in the world. It grabs them headlines to accuse the US and leak classified documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it also has the advantage of being very safe for them. Though they make a show of ‘being afraid’ they know very well, as does the rest of the world, that the US and Western European countries don’t go in for the kind of extra-legal retaliation they claim to be afraid of.

Who does go in for that kind retaliaion? The kill your family and cut your head off on TV kind of retaliation? The very groups and countries wikileaks fails rather conspicuously to report on. The very groups the US and Western Europe (along with other notable allies) are in violent conflict with right now. Let’s see some juicy leakage of the operational details of AlQuaeda or Hamas or Sendero Luminoso. How about North Korea for heaven’s sake. China anyone?

If you want to be seen as a force for good in the world you ought to do something other than throw stones at the side that doesn’t deliberately kill women and children as a matter of policy.

As for protecting sources, perhaps you also ought to protect those innocents you put at risk with your leaks. Locals working for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing nothing but what they think is right, yet you put their lives at risk by publishing their names where the jihadists can find them. There are good reasons to classify documents and protecting sources is one of them. Strange how that cuts both ways and how wikileaks doesn’t seem to care.

And vetting your stories before publishing? Please. How about Collateral Murder? What a joke.

That’s a new one on me, but not my father.

Although the actual word ‘babykiller’ was not used it was a sobering experience the other night when a ‘friend’ equated the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the murder of innocents. It was done offhandedly, as though it were a given. Having served in both theaters, I can assure you (as I tried to assure him, to no effect) that the comparison is ridiculous. Yet there are people out there who actually think that. Apparently, I know such a person. Not something I was expecting to discover among my circle of friends.

On a more palatable note, Brad Torgerson has a very nice blog post up today about some of the other kinds of experiences we who serve in the military have at home. Pleasanter ones.

Wil Wheaton, Chaos Elf

Wil Wheaton, Chaos ElfYou know, I’m always hovering on the brink of removing Wil Wheaton’s blog from my daily reading list, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that he doesn’t post daily. Not even close. Is it really worth the time and click to check daily? Then he goes and posts stuff like his latest. Man, I like that guy.

Is ‘gay’ the right term nowadays? I can’t keep track of the changing currents of politically correct speech. We’ll go with it. If you’re offended, it’s your own fault for I mean none.

GayActivistFromWhitehouseFenceI was perusing Drudge when I came across this picture. I felt a flash of what can only be called malice and anger. I identify with my brother’s in uniform, and to see cops cuffing one raises my ire. What the hell? I think. Were I to see this on the street I’d immediately go find out what the heck was going on.

And I’d discover, no doubt, that the cops were perfectly justified in arresting this fellow for trespassing. Then we’d all get on with our jobs. It’s that initial reaction I’m interested in.

I’m assuming that guy has every right to wear the desert uniform he’s got on. I’m also assuming he’s gay.

There are huge problems associated with gays serving openly in the military. Problems that range from ‘what do you do about shower facilities’ to ‘sexual harassment anyone?’ to ‘there are a lot of ignorant people in the military who have a problem with gays’ and everything in between. Almost none of these are addressed by those who crusade for the cause of gays serving openly in the military. To even bring these concerns up gets you called a homophobe and/or a bigot as rational discussion is immediately, and often deliberately, shut down.

So, what about gays in the military?

I don’t have a solution to the logistical, ethical, or social objections raised by the idea. I do have my gut reaction to a fellow soldier being handled by the police though. That’s my brother, man, back off.

Postscript: It pains me to have to bring the question up but, if that dude getting cuffed did NOT earn that uniform (and the way he’s got that beret pulled down to his ears makes me question just a little) he can go fly a kite.


Staff Sgt. Giunta

Staff Sgt. Giunta

Well done sergeant Giunta. I’m sorry for your loss.

This story was very interesting to me. Read it for yourself though. Here I talk about my own take on things.

An ‘L’ ambush. Well designed and executed by the Taliban in the Korengal valley, Afghanistan. An ambush is THE most devastating attack in any infantry unit’s repertoire, and an ‘L’ ambush is the best of the ambushes. This is because of the shape.

An L ambush is just what it sounds like. You pick a bend in the road and set up your main ambushing element along one side of the road before the bend and then another element AT the bend where they can shoot ALONG the section of road your first element will be shooting into. Usually you put your machine gun at the bend and open the ambush with that since it’s the ‘most casualty producing’ weapon.

L-Ambush

L-Ambush

Getting caught in this kind of ambush was absolutely crappy for Sgt. Giunta’s unit. And it’s almost impossible to avoid.  Ambushes are hard to detect, and even harder to survive. The only response to being ambushed that has any hope of success is to immediately turn and rush your attackers, hoping to get in among them and start killing them back before you’re all dead. An ‘L’ makes this response tactic even less effective than it already is (I mean seriously, rushing into to the teeth of the enemy’s guns is the best you can come up with? Yes it is.) because no matter which of the two elements you choose to rush, there are still guys in the other shooting into your flank. Wicked awful. Entire patrols get wiped out like this.

Except, apparently, when it’s the Taliban ambushing Americans. The CBS account of the ambush is harrowing to read. Miserable. It leaves the impression that the Taliban kicked American butt. But you have to realize that if it had been Americans doing the ambushing, everybody would have been dead. EVERYBODY… except those the Americans wanted to take prisoner.

The truth is that the Taliban ambush was surprisingly ineffective.   But you have to know something about the subject to realize it.

I mourn for those killed and wounded in this ambush, as with every action where my brothers are hurt or killed. Sgt. Giunta’s actions were heroic. That he believes every one of his comrades on that patrol would have done the same for him only speaks to the caliber of the American fighting man; it doesn’t lessen his actions.

Bonus link.

FlagsOne thing the Democrats, or at least the Obama’s PR machine, do well is organize people over the web. While I was reading an article lamenting the fact that Obama is in Indonesia, remembering Indonesian veterans, on Nov 11th I received an email claiming to be from his wife.

This email led me to a well put together and, seemingly, fairly effective site designed to help people so inclined to volunteer and help military families. Military families need the help. They are unsung heroes in our wars.

My father tells a story. One day while my father was serving in the jungles of VietNam his own father, my grandfather Marcus, was going about his business as on any given day. A messenger arrived with a telegram. My grandfather received it, stared at it for a while without opening it and then found a place to take a seat. He faced, grimly, the fact that his life was now over. His son was dead.

He opened the telegram and read it. “Happy birthday, Marcus! Love, Vance.” My grandfather thought about it for a moment and realized that it was, in fact, his birthday that day. The telegram was from his brother, Vance, a prankster of questionable taste.

The soldier very rarely has to live with the imminent possibility of his own death. He knows when he is and is not in danger. His family and loved ones live with it every moment of every day that he is away.

Bonus link.

The Elections 2010

Nope, it's not a Red country is it? *chortle*Random thoughts:

It was awesome to hear the NPR newscasters occasionally slipping up and referring to the Democrats as ‘we’ throughout the night.

Some people, in reaction to the Tea Party’s call for smaller government, have been snarkily pointing out the ‘hypocrisy’ of “Old white people calling for less government while cashing federal checks.” Really? So, they should just accept that the taxes they’ve been paying have been involuntary donations they should be happy to NOT recoup? Truly old people are in a fix (along with the rest of us). They spent most of their lives paying into Social Security instead of investing that money on the promise by the federal government that they’d get a retirement check. Only  to see the federal government break open the coffers and loot their retirement money with no plan for putting it back. Now they’re not allowed to complain about big spendy government because they cash the checks they do get? Good grief.

Listening to mainstream media pundits yammering on about how, now that the GOP has a majority in the House, they’re really going to have to ‘compromise’ and ‘reach across the aisle.’ Make me laugh harder why don’t you. These are the same people who were crowing about how the Democrats didn’t have to do that when they had the majority.

Fun to look at that map while listening to media folks desperately try to minimize the implications and impact of the sweeping Republican victories.

So awesome to have felt free to vote Libertarian in a few of the races yesterday.

The Soldier MoroniAs I grew up I was always sure that I wanted to be in the military. For a while I thought I wanted to be a full-time infantry officer. I enrolled in ROTC in college.  I joined the 19th Special Forces Group (National Guard) as an enlisted counter-intelligence agent. I spent the 9 months of Initial Entry Training watching the active duty military lifestyle at work and play. It made me realize I wanted to stay a full time civilian. I also stayed enlisted, thank heavens.

From back then until now, 30 years in the LDS church, 4 years at Brigham Young University, 13 years in the national guard, 2 combat deployments; I always had the impression that service in the military was seen as an unwise choice for LDS men. Plenty of us served, but we were looked down upon just a little by the LDS culture.

It’s not objecively or doctrinally true. Like I said, it was simply the impression I had and it was due to several factors. Some people at BYU (it is an academic institution after all, grubbing after government grants with the best of them) actively look down on the military services, in lockstep with the extreme left. And taking a degree in English exposed me to many such. Also, I’ve lost count of the talks I’ve heard and the testimonies born by single-term servicemen about how the military turned them into sinners when in reality all it did was force them to step away from the apron strings. I also had a long string of sunday school teachers and fellow members who were less than encouraging to my martial leanings. 

All this has combined to leave me feeling a little at sea, left to find my own soldier specific spiritual guidance in the scriptures. Fortunately, there’s plenty there. It’s looked at as odd and incomprehensible by much of the church’s membership who consider most of Alma to be … off, but it gives me joy to find it.

Imagine my glee when Elder Eyring gave me a huge blast of it over the modern pulpit at General Conference in April of 2009. In his talk entitled “Man Down!” he tells the story of the two delta operators who lost their lives saving a single helicopter pilot from being ripped apart by the howling ravening enemy mob in Mogadishu Somalia. To my memory that was the first time I ever heard soldiers performing a soldier’s mission held up as good examples by a general authority in my church. Thank you Elder Eyring. Someday I’d like to shake your hand for that.

Don’t get me wrong, soldiers have been held up as good examples many times, but always for things other than being a soldier. It’s always been for resisting temptation or being brave in difficult cirumstances, and so on, nothing really specific to soldiering. Elder Eyring’s address changed all that for me.

I got another blast of it last Sunday, October 31, 2010. President Uchtdorf gave a fireside specifically to members of the military and their spouses. I hope somebody recorded it because I’d like to hear and/or read it again. You might think that soldier specific teaching would be guaranteed at such a single purpose fireside. You’d be wrong though. President Uchtdord could easily, and profitably for us, given us an hour and a half of teaching starring soldiers but not specific to soldiers, like so many have before. He didn’t though. He went all out, designating the United States military, by name, as a force for good in the world. We were spiritually well fed, as soldiers, throughout.

One thing in particular stood out for me though.

It’s a small thing. Something I should have noticed before, but which I never put together and which he specifically emphasized. President Uchtdorf pointed out, with some satisfaction, that the individual chosen by God to stand atop our temples and announce the Savior when he returns is a soldier.