Sunday, November 09, 2014

Crumbling Empires

The "Gang of Five."  Five BLT 1/8 captains (Gregory, Foresi, 

Larriviere, Dupras, and Welsh ) on their second deployment
 to the Mediterranean together -- Italy, 1990
Twenty-five years ago, today, the Colonel was assigned as the Operations Officer (Ops O) for Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/8 -- a reinforced (tanks, artillery, engineers) infantry battalion -- that was the ground combat element of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable, aka MEU (SOC).  The Colonel was then still a captain, but selected for major.  He was in his third year of a demanding and exhilarating second assignment as a company grade officer with a Marine infantry battalion.  

The Colonel, and nearly a thousand of his closest friends, were on the second six-month deployment to the Mediterranean in as many years, having only returned from the last such deployment just thirteen months earlier.  He had been a rifle company commander on that earlier deployment -- leading a reinforced infantry company of some 200 hard-chargers assigned as the heli-borne raid company for the 26th MEU -- SOC.  

Commanding a rifle company was by far the most fun the Colonel had in his career in the Corps.  Lots of demanding and rewarding assignments followed company command, but no job was ever near as much fun.  

The Colonel had lobbied hard to stay in command of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, Eighth Marines (C 1/8) for the second deployment, but as a major (select) he had been the obvious choice to fill the vacancy in the Operations Officer billet -- last filled by another Ole Miss grad, Mike Edwards.  That, and the Marine Corps has an unwritten, yet faithfully followed, rule that, "No officer shall be allowed too much fun."   

The 24th MEU had shipped out from the East Coast the middle of October in 1989, embarked on amphibious shipping -- an Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) consisting of an old helicopter carrier (LPH), and two smaller amphibs (an LPD and an LST).  The ARG had sailed slowly across the Atlantic and arrived in Rota, Spain early in November for face-to-face "Turnover" with the ARG and MEU finishing up their deployment and heading home.

After a few days of suffering through the outgoing BLT's briefs, the leaders of BLT 1/8 gladly bid farewell to their brothers heading home and leaned into the tasks ahead.

In those days, the Cold War was still frosty.  The Soviet Union was the enemy, and the Red Army/Navy and it's surrogates in the Middle East were still the focus of combat preparations for US naval forces patrolling the Med.  In particular, MEU (SOC)s, while highly prepared for operations at the lower end of the conflict scale, still kept the "Fight with the Warsaw Pact" playbook handy.  The main reason, it had always seemed, that US forces patrolled the Med, was to counter Soviet presence and influence.   

No one dared dream of a world in which the Soviet Union no longer existed.  The only way the Soviets were going away was in a nuclear winter, and that potentiality would also give the rest of the world frostbite.  The standoff with the Soviets was the framework of reality within which every American serviceman and woman planned each day, the remainder of their active duty careers, and the rest of their lives.

The Colonel's boss, BLT 1/8's commanding officer, was then Colonel, later General and Commandant of the Marine Corps, Mike Hagee.  Colonel Hagee was one of the smartest and well-connected officers with whom the Colonel ever served.  He was the first person the Colonel ever saw carry and use a portable computer -- a small suitcase-sized oddity.  Hagee tried unsuccessfully to teach the Colonel to use it -- giving up only after his student caused it to crash and lock up several times.

Twenty-five years ago, tonight, Colonel Hagee, his senior staff officers, and company commanders were bellied up to a bar in the Naval Station Rota Officers' Club.  A small television behind the bar flashed scenes of mobs of Germans destroying the symbol of Soviet domination -- the Berlin Wall.

The word "surreal" doesn't begin to describe the feeling those Marine officers were experiencing.  Never at a loss for irreverent comments and observations on any situation, this group of young men sat in stunned silence watching the wall crumble.

As the reality of the impending demise of the Soviet Union began to sink in one of the Colonel's brothers turned to their commander and asked the question on all of their minds, 

"Sir, does this mean we can go home, now?" 

It didn't.  Things actually got worse.  Chaos reigned, and has reigned for the twenty-five years since.

Today, Russia is resurgent and more and more bellicose.  

Today, China is a greater threat than ever.

The United States spent the last quarter century restructuring a military establishment from one focused on WWIII with the Soviets to one focused on fighting a nebulous war on terror.

The problem is that the United States, in the Colonel's not-so humble opinion, made a huge strategic mistake in restructuring to fight a tactic.  In 1991, the US actually used a military designed to fight the Soviets, with great efficiency and to great effect to eject Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait.  In 2003, the same capabilities dethroned Saddam.  In the Colonel's not-so humble opinion, the same Cold War force should have been used in a couple of short years after 9/11 to eliminate terrorism's center of gravity -- Middle Eastern regimes bankrolling the terror organizations.

Instead, the United States squandered the opportunity and frittered away blood and treasure with half-hearted limited objective campaigns.  

The United States should be the preeminent force -- one for GOOD -- in the world, today.  Instead, the United States is so weakened that a punk thug by the name of Vladimir Putin is rebuilding the Soviet Union.

The Colonel apologizes to his grandsons.  They will have to endure another Cold War.                       

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Not-so Familial

The Colonel knew it was coming.

He could see it as clearly as a squirrel sees the car it tries to head fake.

And, like the squirrel, no matter what he did, he couldn't stop the impending smash.

Poor squirrel -- insults are heaped on injury.  Once mashed into the macadam, car after car runs over it.

Of course, the Colonel is talking about Ole Miss Football.  It's October, isn't it?

The Colonel saw it coming.  The inevitable loss against someone with whom the Colonel's Rebels should have mopped the floor.

The Colonel saw it coming.  The snide remarks from Little Brother -- Mississippi State fans in general, and his "not-so" little brother in particular.

The Colonel tried to forestall the latter with the preseason offer of a truce until the Egg Bowl.  But, the hate is strong in TSBU (the school beneath us) for Mississippi's Flagship University.   

Yeah, the Bulldogs are really good this year.  The Colonel will go so far as to say, great this year. 

The Colonel is proud of Little Brother -- despite State's hate.  There hasn't been a Mississippi team ranked #1 in college football in a very long time.  Wish it was Ole Miss, again.  But, it's a new century and it's the Bulldogs' turn. 

After eight weeks of daily cheering for his Rebel's, the Colonel was quiet to begin this week.  "Not-so" took to social media to not-so subtly imply that the Colonel's silence was sulking over the weekend loss to Corndog U. 

Not so.  The Colonel doesn't sulk.

He stews.  He ruminates.  He reflects.  He retreats into jaw-tightened, self-disciplined silence.  But, that's not sulking... 

Pardon the Colonel for a moment while he indulges in a flash non-sulk...


Okay.  The Colonel will clean up that broken coffee cup and wipe the coffee off the wall, after he finishes this post. 

This weekend, the Colonel's Rebels play his dad's Auburn Tigers.

Out of great paternal respect, and in a continuing effort to promote and maintain familial comity, the Colonel did not plaster social media this week with his customary calls for Rebel opponent beat-downs. 

But, Dad, your second son -- herein before and after referred to as Not-so -- and wife, have egregiously violated the terms of the 2014 Family Football Truce.  

That's right, the Colonel's mother "ran over the squirrel" -- liking Not-so's Facebook comment implying that the Colonel was sulking...

Pardon the Colonel for another flash non-sulk...


The Colonel is running out of coffee cups, and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda is going to be curious about that particular stain on the drapes...

Dad, the Colonel holds you responsible.  The truce is hereby annulled.   

Go Rebs!  Beat Auburn!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Rebel Hyperventilation Nation

Last he pontificated on the subject, the Colonel was basking in the afterglow of a rare Ole Miss Rebel Football win over the hated Alabama Crimson Tide.

Said win was followed up in short order by fairly impressive, in the Colonel's not so humble opinion, wins over Texas A&M and Tennessee.

As a result, the Colonel's Rebels have occupied the loftiest poll perch in the Colonel's remembrance for two weeks running.

The Colonel has been breathing deeply -- the air at the top is rarefied and rarely inhaled by Rebel Nation.

The perch is precarious.

It's also meaningless until the end of the season.

But, oh how fun at the moment!  

At the beginning of the season, Rebel Nation knew they had an improving team, but hopes were tempered by experience and an acute awareness of the combat power of the neighbors in the SEC. 
The feeling was Ole Miss' year was coming -- we just didn't think it was this year.

The Colonel is still not sure this is the year.  

Look, we obviously caught Alabama looking forward to Arkansas. And, A&M was obviously looking forward to their trip to Tuscaloosa.  

While other coaches might have been tempted to overlook the next opponent and allow their teams to look too far ahead, Freeze, Wommack, and company have done an excellent job of keeping the team's focus in the moment

The problem is the Colonel just ain't an "in the moment" kind of guy.  He frets over the future of everything.

Over his morning coffee, the Colonel frets about what's for lunch.

On Mondays, the Colonel frets about what he'll get done by the end of the day on Friday.

In the last week of January, the Colonel frets about whether he'll survive the hated month of February.

The Colonel frets.  Period.  Wait, what is the Colonel gonna write next?      

It's not a fearful fretting, mind you.

When the Colonel frets, he runs countless possible scenarios over in his mind, each as equally capable of outstanding outcomes as they are fraught with disastrous downsides. 

When it comes to Ole Miss football, however, it always seems that the potential for disaster far outweighs the chances of success.

So, with the most critical six weeks of the season ahead, and the Colonel's Rebels on the brink of the greatest season in two generations of long-suffering Rebel fans, the Colonel's football fretting is approaching critical mass.

To call the Colonel manic would be a clinical understatement.  

One moment he's like all "Whooo hooo!  Seven and O, baby! We're gonna play for championships!"

The next he's all, "Woe is me!  We gotta go play the Corndogs at night in Tiger Stadium."

Then it gets better.  "Wait, our defense could hold the Packers to two field goals.  We'll beat LSU."  

Then it gets worse.  "Wait, what if 'Bama beats State, we lose to Auburn, and there's a three way tie for the West?  Oh no, they'll give it to Alabama!"   

Has the Colonel mentioned how much he hates Alabama?

And, don't even get the Colonel started on one-loss scenarios and the final four play-off selections...

Okay, Coach.  The Colonel will apply what little self-discipline he has left and endeavor to stay in the moment.  

Deep breaths.  

One game at a time.