Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chinese Fighter Drill

It was a Sunday morning in early April of 2001.  The Colonel and his Lady, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, had just settled into their customary aisle-side seats in the Yongsan Chapel, when the beeper on the Colonel's hip got his attention.

The Colonel slid out of the pew and walked outside to call the duty officer in the US Forces Korea operations bunker.

"Boss," the major on the other end of the line said tersely, "you need to come to Ops."

The Colonel was nearing the end of a year as the Chief of Current Operations Branch (CJ-3 Ops); an insane job spent monitoring the major muscle movements of the crazies north of the DMZ and maintaining up-to-the-minute cognizance of the readiness status of combined US and Republic of Korea forces on the sane end of the Korean peninsula.  The Chief of Current Ops was normally the first O-6 to get called when anything out of the ordinary happened.  What made the job so insane was that those calls came hourly, on average, 24/7.  All.  Night.  Long.

The Korean Peninsula isn't an ordinary place.  

The toughest part of the Colonel's job was deciding what out-of-the-ordinary occurrences required waking generals up.  

The duty rep from the Intelligence Center was waiting on the Colonel when he got to the Ops bunker.  He quickly briefed the Colonel that a US intelligence gathering plane -- an EP-3 (see picture above) -- had just made an emergency landing on Hainan Island.

Hainan Island was Peoples Republic of China territory.  US Pacific Command's responsibility.  US Forces Korea normally didn't pay much attention to China.  But, this was serious enough and close enough to our area of responsibility that it probably warranted the Colonel calling his boss -- a US Army major general whose title was C/J -3 (Combined/Joint Operations Officer).  His boss was the four-star.

The Colonel picked up the phone and dialed the C/J-3's number.  There was no answer on his quarters phone.  The Colonel was in the process of dialing the general's beeper when he walked into the room.

"Saw you leave the chapel and figured something was up when you didn't come back in."

Over the next couple of hours the situation fleshed itself out as more and more information came in.  A Chinese fighter jet had intercepted the US EP-3 about 100 miles off the coast of Hainan.  The EP-3's flight was a routine intel-gathering mission.  The intercept was routine, as well.

Except that "routine" for this particular Chinese pilot involved flying very close to, and sometimes crossing very close in front of, the US aircraft.  We knew it was the same pilot, because on other intercepts he had flown close enough to flash his e-mail address for the US airmen to see.

This time, the Chinese fighter pilot misjudged and his aircraft struck the nose of the American plane.  His plane was destroyed and his body was never recovered.

The EP-3, seriously damaged, rolled over and plunged out of control toward the South China Sea.  Heroic effort by the pilot got the aircraft back under enough control to make an emergency landing at a Chinese military airfield on Hainan.   The Chinese held the EP-3 crew for almost two weeks.   

The newly-inaugurated Bush administration defused the tense international incident by sending a letter apologizing for the "unauthorized landing."  W even sent a personal letter of condolence to the Chinese hotdog fighter pilot's widow.  The Chi-comms tried to bully the Bush administration into paying for their lost jet, but W was only going to bow and scrape so much. 

This past week another hot-dogging Chinese fighter pilot intercepted a US P-8 (new jet replacement for the propeller driven P-3).  The Chinese fighter pilot pulled a couple of stunts reminiscent of Maverick in "Top Gun," flying very close (within 30 feet) to the P-8, showing off his weapons load, and then barrel-rolling over the top of the US aircraft.

The Obama Administration has lodged a formal diplomatic complaint with the PRC.  They have responded by angrily demanding that the US cease the intel-gathering flights near their submarine base on Hainan and stay out of the area around the Paracel Islands.  

The PRC occupies the Paracels, but Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the territory.  A somewhat similar dispute is raging over the resource-rich Spratly Islands further to the south, with the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China all claiming sovereignty.   

All sides have been ramping up the rhetoric and re-arming with regard to this and other territorial disputes in the area.

Keep your eyes on the PRC.  They aren't backing down.

All the more reason to quickly dispatch the fledgling Islamic State.  We'll need to have all our wits and weapons about us when we finally end up going toe-to-toe with the Chinese. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Tale of Two Towns

Anybody who thinks that the "politics of personal destruction" is a relatively new phenomenon in U.S. political history...  Well, they don't know shinola about history.

In late July of 1864, little more than a year after General Robert E. Lee had withdrawn his Gettysburg-mauled Army of Northern Virginia from Pennsylvania, another Confederate force under the command of Major General Jubal Early pushed north down the Shenandoah Valley and invaded northern territory in a bid to take pressure off of Lee's forces hemmed up by Grant at Petersburg and Richmond.  

A subordinate force under Brigadier General John McCausland raided the town of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and demanded a ransom of $500,000, or $100,000 in gold. 

The good people of Chambersburg refused. 

McCausland burned the town.

Guarded by Confederate masons, the Chambersburg Masonic Temple was the only building of note left standing.

Another nearby landmark in southern Pennsylvania, US Postmaster Montgomery Blair's mansion in Silver Spring, was burned by Early's forces. 

Less than a month later -- 150 years ago, today -- Union forces returned the favor.

Union General William T. Sherman and his army were cutting a swath through the South, headed for Atlanta, and Confederate cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest was playing havoc with Sherman's supply lines.  

Tasked with the mission from Sherman of "follow[ing] Forrest until death," Union Major General Andrew J. Smith gathered a force in west Tennessee and headed south into Mississippi in search of the legendary and troublesome Forrest.  Immediately upon his arrival in Oxford, Mississippi, Smith received word that his quarry was back up his line of march -- behind him -- in Memphis.  He turned his force around and headed that way.

But, not before giving the order to burn Oxford.  Smith also ordered that the nearby University of Mississippi, then really not much more than one main building -- the iconically beautiful Lyceum -- also be torched.    

The town burned; Ole Miss didn't.  

Nobody knows for sure why Smith ordered Oxford torched.  Grant didn't do it when he occupied the town in 1862.  Some say it was in retaliation for the burning of Chambersburg and Blair's mansion. Smith never said and didn't leave a memoir.

He left a lasting memory in the psyche of Oxford, however.

One of the structures in Oxford specifically targeted that day was former US Secretary of the Interior Jacob Thompson's home. Thompson was particularly despised in the North for having immediately resigned from Lincoln's cabinet upon Southern secession and joining the army of the Confederacy.  Thompson further fueled the Union's hatred of him by heading secretive operations in Canada against the United States and attempting to create a "Northwest Confederacy" against the Union.

So, burning Thompson's home, "Home Place," was personal.

So had been burning Blair's mansion, "Falkland."

But, as heinous and ruthless as some Americans can be towards one another, there are actions by other Americans -- even in the midst of all-out war -- that demonstrate the great capacity of our people to peek around the blinders of hate and see the right things that must be done. 

As Chambersburg was put to the torch, some Confederate units disobeyed their orders and helped residents save personal belongings.  They even prevented some sections of the town from being set alight by their brothers in butternut.

The Union officers sent to burn the fledgling University of  Mississippi saw no good in its destruction.  They disobeyed their orders.  

They disobeyed orders that made all the sense in the world to men gone mad with hatred and revenge.

Some beautiful and good things remained standing in the ashes of two towns that late summer of 1864.  

The Lyceum, and the town of Oxford, would see more hatred unleashed nearly a hundred years later.  They were scarred, both literally and figuratively, then too.

They sure stand pretty, today. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

We Are Ole Miss

A week from today the Colonel's Rebels begin their 2014 football season, taking on Boise State in the Chick-fil-a Kick-off Game in Hotlanta's Georgia Dome.

Rebel Nation is fired up for this season.

All indications are that Ole Miss will field one of the best football squads in a generation.  The AP Preseason rankings have the Rebels at 18, and while the sacredness of that number at Ole Miss (the speed limit on campus is 18 mph in honor of the number worn by favorite son, Archie Manning) has many believing in a sign from the football gods, there's worry in the back of the minds of most Rebel fans.

The last three times Ole Miss entered a season ranked in the top 25, results didn't match expectations.

"We Are Ole Miss!" is as much an expression of resignation to our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as it is a battle cry.  If there was a trophy for shooting one's self in the foot, they would have retired it to the Ole Miss trophy case years ago.

And, that goes for the rest of the University of Mississippi family just as much as it does for our sports teams.

Ole Miss has been called (correctly -- in the Colonel's not-so humble opinion) an "Oasis."  The Ole Miss campus and the town of Oxford appear out of nowhere as you traverse the otherwise non-descript landscape of North Mississippi; rising incongruously from the kudzu-clad and pine-dotted clay hills like a debutante sitting in a hog pen.  

"Beauty" is a word used often to describe things about Ole Miss.  Its grounds compete with its girls for the description.  Its spirit with its sights.

But the past is checkered at Ole Miss.  One of the latest participants in the literal parade of literary legends through Ole Miss, John Cofield, had this to say about the history of Ole Miss: 

"As gray as we wish it were; as red and blue as we want it to be; it’s clearly Black & White, and too often, mixed with the blues." 

We are Ole Miss.  Our disappointment in our social foibles carries over, amplified by an odd mixture of pride and self-loathing, to our disappointment at fumbles on the field.  

We are Ole Miss.  We can out-party, out-pretty, and out-polite any other collection of fans in the nation.  And, we can slip the gown off our shoulder and show you a horrible bruise that somehow just won't go away.

We are Ole Miss.  We can give Alabama absolutely all they can handle one Saturday afternoon and roll over to Jacksonville State the next.

We are Ole Miss.  We can let ignorant folks' insults roll off our backs with the grace of a ballerina and the accommodating spirit of a first century Christian.  And, with the most idiotic of provocations, we can rare back and hurl the most vile, spiteful vitriol -- spat from behind teeth bared in a hateful sneer that would make Genghis Khan rein his pony in.

We are Ole Miss.  We can hold opposing offenses to absolutely zip for an entire season, and then let Billy Cannon shed tackles from EVERY Rebel on the field, returning a punt for the go ahead score.

The Colonel can't wait for it to begin, but he makes no prognostication about this upcoming season.  He knows all too well that,