Saturday, January 28, 2006


Yesterday, a pair of bluebirds began building a nest in one of the two boxes on our back privacy fence. That may seem a trivial thing to you, and a waste of precious blog space, but to me it ranks up there with the more traditionally celebrated events in my life.

I have been fascinated by birds my whole life. Sometimes I think I missed my true life's calling--I could have been a very happy, if not prosperous, ornithologist. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of illustrated books on birds. My parents still have some of those books. One in particular, a book on ducks and geese, is probably my earliest book memory.

I'm not a rabid birder, mind you. I have way too many other interests and pursuits that demand my time and energy, so you won't find me on bird-watching outings, binoculars pressed to my eyes and notebook at the ready. But, I have feeders in my backyard and a bird identification book with which I classify my invited guests.

In the spring I put up hummingbird feeders and delight in the antics of nature's helicopters. Where we live is on the edge of the main flyways for bird migration, so we don't get the clouds of hummers at our feeders like my parents in Mississippi do. I have counted as many as 75 of the little buzzers at one time visiting their feeders. It's a banner day at my house if we get 3.

There is something special about bluebirds, though. They don't seem to mind being more public about their nesting than most birds. Being insectivores (for the benefit of you LSU and Mississippi State grads, that word means "bug eaters"), bluebirds are great birds to have around.

Cats like them, too, and I have an ongoing war against the strays in our neighborhood. It is a strong, well-supported insurgency, and I may have to resort to some drastic, undemocratic tactics to prevail.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Move over, Methusalah

A few months ago I turned 40. Well, okay, it was exactly 120 months ago today.

When I was a battalion commander, I used to tell young Marines who were in my office for some transgression or other that they needed to think about where they wanted to be in 20 years, because the decisions they were making today would have impact on the rest of their lives. I would try to impress upon them how fast time goes by in one's life, "Marine, when I went to bed last night I was 21. I woke up this morning and I was 42." Well, my words always come back to haunt me. I dreamed last night that I was sprinting (well, trying to anyway) down the sidelines of a college flag football game and couldn't figure out why the defensive back was just walking along beside me. I woke up, and dang it, I'm fifty.

I have tried to prepare myself for this day. For the past several months, I have been telling myself that I'm already fifty--kind of like the stock market factoring in an expected hike of interests rates by the Federal Reserve Board. I'll have to stay alert today, though. If a wayward wrinkle in the technology sector of my brain starts to panic despite the preparation, I might have to temporarily shut down trading (take a nap) to prevent a crash.

My younger brother expressed great glee in an e-mail the other day, pointing out that I was now offically an old man. I reminded him that "revenge hath no match like a brother whose taunting sibling has just joined him at the half century mark." To which he countered that was three years off, and being so old, I would probably have forgotten the whole thing by then. Not so, little bro--I have the archives of this blog to remind me!

My wife's 50th is still 8 months off, so for the better part of this year, I'll be able to brag about being married to a younger woman.

A Definite First Round Pick

Big news from the the mother and father of my grandson! He rolled over several times yesterday! My son called last night to share this exciting breakthrough in the development of my second favorite person on the planet. (I won't tell you who number 1 is--that could possibly cause world-wide depression as so many people believe that they hold that spot.)

Why should you care about the fact that my grandson (THE Grandson) has reached this inevitable milestone in child development (a little early, I think)? Well, let's just say that in about 25 years, many of you will watch him (probably via a chip implanted behind your ear) as he quarterbacks his team to victory in Super Bowl LXV. Listen, a three-month old kid that can master multiple daily back-to-front flips is on track to pick apart pass defenses and heave 70 yard bombs.

As soon as he can stand on his own, we'll start working on his three and five step drops.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Quacking Up

The e-mail traffic between my younger son (Jeremy), his best friend (Jason), and me (the Colonel) yesterday crowded out all other rational thinking for the day. It began innocuously with a message from Jason noting that he and Jeremy had seen a lot of ducks at their hunting spot last weekend and that the water levels required to attract and hold ducks were improving. He concluded with the observation that, and I quote verbatim, "THIS IS THE LAST WEEKEND OF THE SEASON," and the suggestion that I drive 8 hours north on Friday, hunt with them on Saturday, and then drive 8 hours south on Sunday. The ensuing replies-to-all devolved into some totally inappropriate references to my advanced age and innability to shoot and then was capped with a message containing some drivel from my son about the duck hunting trip being an opportunity to spend quality time with him.

It is worth noting at this point, that from a true duck hunters perspective, driving a 16 hour round trip to spend several hours standing in waste deep freezing water, makes perfect sense. Despite the fact that I can in no way rationalize the trip--it would require canceling several other obligations and enduring several rounds of spousal frowns and scowls--I am seriously planning to go.

Just so you understand the height of idiocy this trip, and the whole idea of hunting ducks, evokes, let me add some data from my duck-hunting trip with Jeremy the week after Christmas. I drove the 8 hours to his home in Mississippi. We then drove an hour to Jason's house to spend the night. Actually we only spent half the night, because we were up and pulling on long johns at 3 the next morning. We drove another hour to a boat ramp on the Little Tallahatchee River, launched our boat, and motored upstream a couple miles in fog so thick you choked on it. Reaching the furthest point navigable by boat, we loaded several dozen decoys on our backs, carried shotguns and enough ammunition to sustain a military coup in a banana republic under our arms, and hiked what Jeremy promised was only a couple hundred yards (I believe it was more like 5 miles) to his "honey hole." Upon arrival at said "honey hole," we discovered no honey, and more importantly, no water. Our excursion was extended by "just another 100 yards, or so" (I believe it was another 5 miles) to find a beaver pond that held enough water to attract ducks. We placed decoys out, didn't do it to satisfy my perfectionist son (he gets that from his mother), took them all up and moved them, and then gathered brush to conceal ourselves. Mind you, all of this took place in the dark. We hunted ALL DAY, saw a total of 6 ducks close enough to shoot, and then repeated the decoy/gun/ammo-lugging hike, in reverse, in the dark. I don't remember anything after arriving at the boat--I passed out from exhaustion and remained comatose until we got home.

Well, better start loading the truck.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Shuffleboard, Anyone?

Like some sort of harmonic convergence, the number, 50, has cropped up in the lives of my in-laws, my wife and her twin sister, and me, all within the span of nine months. My in-laws celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last month. This month I celebrate (not quite the right word, actually) my 50th birthday, and my wife and her sister will be celebrating their 50th birthday later (but not much later, I keep reminding them) this year. So, my beautiful bride and her homely twin sister (we love to hate each other) have hatched a plan to lump all of our celebrations together on, and I am loathe to write the word, a cruise.

You see, to my way of thinking, cruises are what yankees take as reward for their having made the decision to live in a part of the country that really only has two seasons--winter and the 4th of July. I'm no yankee, and we live in Florida for crying out loud! The weather is beautiful all year round--it's the end of January and the temperature outside as I write this is 72 degrees! Why would I need to go on a cruise?

If you go in the bathroom right now, look in the mirror, and place a combination of "Why did I marry this idiot" scorn, and "You never take me any place nice" scowl on your face, you will in fact be looking at the face my wife gave me when I raised the above objection to taking said cruise.

Undeterred by the scowl (I see it so often that it has lost most of its effect on me), I launched into my "been there, done that" argument. I've been on ships. I've sailed the seven seas. I've visited exotic ports. And, I got paid to do it!

"Oh, but a cruise liner is so different than one of the Navy's BUGS (Big Ugly Grey Ship)", my son injects uninvited and drawing one of my practiced "Whose side are you on, Son?" looks. Despite the look (he's seen it so often it has lost most of its effect on him) he continues with, "The food is fabulous and you can eat as much as you want whenever you want..." I cut him off at his description of the 24/7 soft ice cream machine, "Does the phrase 'diabetic coma' mean anything to you? Do you think I check my blood sugar all the time because I enjoy pain and the sight of my own blood?"

Okay, I'm only a borderline diabetic and I don't check my blood sugar very often, but it is a nifty debating ploy, don't you think?

So, I'm going on a cruise. They better have good coffee.

Move over, Einstein.

I'm sure there is a scientific name for the natural law I will herein describe. Maybe it's a corollary to the law of diminishing returns. Or maybe, just maybe, I will hereafter join the ranks of Gallileo, Newton, Einstein, and company, as the scientific world collectively slaps foreheads and exclaims, "Eureka", or whatever secret phrase is uttered when the Mensa crowd inducts a new member.

When I was a brand new second lieutenant leading a rifle platoon in an infantry battalion, I slept on the ground with my men. I had no other expectation. In fact, the leadership training that we new lieutenants had received prior to being entrusted with our own Marines had stressed the leadership practice of sharing the privations of your men. They slept on the ground, so I slept on the ground. But it did not escape my notice, and deep contemplation, that my company commander slept on a cot when we were in the field. "Aha!", I said to myself. "Rank has its privileges, and when I become a captain and a company commander someday, I'll get to sleep on a cot, too."

When I became a company commander, there was no cot. I slept on the ground with my men. But..., the battalion commander had a cot. So I said to myself, "My old company commander must have jumped the gun on the cot thing--probably didn't rate one and was claiming cot privileges not commensurate with his rank."

When I became a battalion commander, there was no cot. I slept on the ground with my men. But..., the regimental commander had a cot. Now, I didn't go to a real college (I went to Ole Miss), so my education is not exactly what you would call a personal strength, but it was at this point that I concluded that some irrefutable natural law was at work. My conviction that this law existed concreted itself in my pea-sized brain when upon being placed in command of a regiment I discovered that there was no cot.

I now live in the smartest state in the union (Floriduh) and my association with these brilliant folks has had the benefit of increasing my scientific knowledge considerably. I can now hereby claim, without fear of contradiction, that a heretofore undiscovered natural law exists, and do, by right of discovery, hereby name that law. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Gregory's Corollary to the Law of Diminishing Returns--The Cot Condition. I will leave it to my new Mensa brethren to describe this law in scientific detail--I'm too busy trying to figure out the natural law regarding the inverse relationship between number of casts and fish caught.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Reagan Difference

Twenty-five years ago this week I was sitting in a tent in Minnesota. The temperature was below zero outside the tent and not much above it inside. I was with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines and we were in the middle of a training deployment to prepare us for an exercise in North Norway. Below zero temperatures for this rebel are a memorable thing. But, the temperature is not what cements this memory in my mind like the ubiquitous small southern town square confederate memorial statue, interesting, but anachronistic. Half a dozen of us were huddled around a battery powered transistor radio straining to hear the voice of a man we could tell was strong and confident even though the AM station's signal was weak and tremulous. A new American president was taking office and even the most cynical among us had hope that a new American spirit would come with him.

Nearly two years to the day before Reagan took office, I was lying on the ground in a pine barren at Camp Lejeune, NC, trying to sleep, but too excited about my first field exercise with my first command as a second lieutenant. The Marines of 3rd Platoon, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines (yep, I was at very near the bottom of the chain of command) were probably sleepless that night as well, worrying about how bad they were going to suffer under their new lieutenant. They hadn't had a lieutenant for nearly a year and the corporal from whom I took over the reins of the platoon had been just one in a succession of young NCOs who had been designated platoon commander of 3rd Platoon. It had been an eye-opening first day for me as I had scanned the platoon roster. To say that my platoon was undermanned was true, but was the least of its weaknesses. The year was 1979 and the Marine Corps was reeling from aftershocks of the Vietnam experience. One of our recruiting slogans of the day was, "Quality, not quantity," but you couldn't prove that theory with my platoon. There were only three high school graduates in my platoon...and I was one of them. As a Naval Academy graduate and card carrying "smart guy" (he was smart enough to get through Navy nuke school) Mr. Carter wasn't quite astute enough to figure out that the military for which he was nominally commander in chief, was in actuality a brittle shell of the force portrayed on paper. But, back to my story...

Around 0200 (2 AM, for my civilian acquaintances) I finally fell asleep. At 0205, I awoke to the sound of a hand cranked siren and the voice of our company gunnery sergeant, "Get up Marines, and pack your trash! Platoon commanders report to the CP!" We were the lead company that week for the battalion assigned alert status--known officially as Air Contingency Battalion, but called simply "Air Alert" by the Marines. As I walked up to my company commander, his first sergeant was sagely reassuring him that this was most likely just a drill called by a bored duty officer at Division HQ and would give us all the opportunity to take an air conditioned crap before we headed back to the field.

We had hiked ten miles out to the field the day before, but as we stuffed our gear into our packs, a rare and wonderful sight miraculously manifested itself on the dirt road 100 yards from our bivouac--trucks! We clambered aboard and half an hour later unloaded at our barracks. After staging our gear and giving detailed instructions on who, what, where, when, and how to my platoon sergeant (I was a new lieutenant, remember, and hadn't learned to just say "take charge" to my subordinate NCOs.) I shuffled down to the company commander's office, stepped uninvited through his door and asked, loudly, "What's the scoop, Skipper." I stopped cold in my tracks when I saw that standing behind the desk with the company commander was our battalion commander (LtCol Billy M. Summerlin--a great American, God rest his soul) our regimental commander, and another colonel I didn't recognize, but later found out was the Operations Officer for the 2nd Marine Division. My company commander looked up and scowled, but I was already back-pedalling, thinking to myself, "that's a lot of brass for a drill in the middle of the night."

Colonel Summerlin, the great leader that he was, saw fit to include me in the pow wow--for some reason I'll never figure out, he seemed to take a shine to me from the day I reported into his office. "Lieutenant Gregory," he commanded in his North Carolina accent, "join us." The colonel from division had a city map spread across the desk. As I oriented myself to it, I quickly noticed that the street and neighborhood names were not American. Then I saw the word that I'm sure made my eyes go round as dinner plates--Teheran.

What most people forget about the Iranian hostage crisis is that we were given a golden opportunity to prevent it. In February of 1979, several months before they took it for good, a large group of heavily armed and well organized "students" overran the US Embassy in Teheran. A day or two later, certainly responding to howls of International protest (yeah, right) they abruptly packed up and left. In the meantime, as the Iranian revolution festered, Mr. Carter had the option of reinforcing the embassy in Iran with a full battalion of Marines, or at the very least, a reinforced company of around 200 (the bare minimum that could have effectively defended the embassy compound). But, true to form, he demurred, and the requirement that reached us at the bottom of the food chain was, "Send 60 Marines."

The plan, as the colonel from Division explained, was to launch a reinforced rifle platoon aboard a C-141 from our air station at Cherry Point, NC, and fly to our Air Force base in Incirlic, Turkey. There, the Marines would board Air Force CH-53 heavy lift helicopters and fly to an airfield in Teheran, and then go by bus or truck to the embassy. The platoon would be leaving from Cherry Point in just 6 hours, the colonel explained to my company commander, who looked up and barked, "First Sergeant, give me a company roster!"

It just so happened that while there were two other lieutenants in our company at the time, they were both away at schools and I was the only officer platoon commander available. Naturally, I quickly surmised that my platoon would be the one to be reinforced and sent. I volunteered, "Third platoon will be ready to go in an hour." Ignoring my input, the company commander turned to Colonel Summerlin and said, "I'll pick 60 of the most experienced Marines from the company and lead the force myself." I was stunned, and very disappointed. Here was the opportunity that all brand new lieutenants in training are told might come in the middle of the night--the reason to train hard and learn and prepare. Colonel Summerlin must have seen the look on my face, because he paused on the way out the door and quickly assured me, "Stay ready. The rest of the battalion will probably follow--this is too big for just a platoon."

Golf Company's reinforced platoon left on the second Air Force C-141 to arrive at Cherry Point that next day. The first one broke on arrival--the Marine Corps wasn't the only service suffering from post-Vietnam maintenance maladies. While they were in the air, the Carter administration announced the plan to the world. Never mind the fact that was a huge operational security blunder--the biggest mistake was that the Carter administration had not asked the Turkish government's permission to use their territory for this expedition, and they balked. The aircraft and its 60 combat-ready Marines diverted to our Air Force base at Lajes in the Azores and my company commander and his hand-picked unit spent the next couple of weeks playing softball in what was officially and euphemistically called a "Pos Check," whatever that meant.

No Marines reinforced the embassy in Teheran that late winter and spring of 1979 and when the ayatollahs leading the Iranian revolution saw America's weakness in the world they gave the green light to the well-armed and organized "students" who stormed the embassy gates a second time and took the embassy staff "hostage." So began a national nightmare, marked each evening on network news broadcasts as "Day..., America Held Hostage." When Mr. Carter did finally relent to attempting a military rescue operation, it ended disastrously mid-way through one of the most complicated operational schemes ever devised by American military planners. I once heard a veteran of the Israeli commando raid to free their hostages at Entebbe remark that "America tried to copy our concept too closely. If it were my operation, with over a year to plan, I would have smuggled the people and equipment into Teheran required to tunnel into the embassy compound from across the street." Gotta love Israeli commando common sense...

I actually heard Mrs. Carter in an interview a few days ago, say that she was proud that her husband finally got the hostages back all alive. That's not the way this Marine remembers it. I remember hearing, on that AM radio, in a tent in Minnesota, immediately following Ronald Reagan's first inauguration speech, that the ayatollahs had released the hostages. The distinct impression that we Marines, and the rest of the attention-paying world, had was that the prospect of the new conservative American "cowboy president" unleashing an all-out attack on Iran was real enough in their minds to encourage them to get rid of the motive. In retrospect, 25 years later, it probably was a matter of the ayatollahs having gotten all of the America-shaming mileage they could get out of the situation and they waited until Carter was no longer president to get one last parting shot at the weakling.

Reagan followed through on his inaugural rhetoric. By the end of his second term in office, the change in the spirit and capability of Americans in general, and the American military in particular, was striking. The Marine rifle company (180 of America's finest young men) I took command of as a captain in the summer of 1987 could have run circles around the entire regiment (2000 Marines) to which I had belonged in 1979. Most historians and commentators focus on the material side of the "Reagan Military Build-up." The real difference was in the young people, who, inspired by Reagan's optimism and pride in America, committed, in unprecedented quantity and quality, to serve our nation as soldiers, sailors, airmen,...and Marines.

Despite my fondness for the exploits and accomplishments of Teddy Roosevelt, and in defiance of the Democrats' insistence on the greatness of FDR and JFK, this Marine will always consider Ronald Reagan the greatest American president of the 20th Century.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Recon by Fire

A tactic employed by military forces with confidence in their battlefield superiority, but possessing poor tactical intelligence, is to fire at likely enemy positions to evoke a response, upon which concentrated fire and action can be focused. It's called "recon by fire." Since I find myself wondering if anyone ever reads what I write here, I'm going to place a few choice ideas down range to see if I can elicit a response. Don't plan on attacking any respondents...unless of course they need to be attacked. You know who: yankees, liberals, Leftcoastians... the usual enemy combatants. So, here goes:

1. Although I'm not a big fan of the state of Texas (Texans are good people--just a bit too full of themselves), I tip my cap to UT for putting USC and all of the LA-loving sports commentators in their place (that's SECOND place) with the win in the Rose Bowl. All the comparisons of USC to previous great teams didn't faze Vince and company! USC was overrated all year long. There were at least five other teams in the college ranks and at least two in the high school ranks that could have beaten USC last night, or any other night.

2. As one retired Marine colonel to another: Jack Murtha, SHUT UP! You are an embarrassment. Not because you took a stand--you have the right, and obligation, to take it. You are an embarrassment because your stand doesn't make sense militarily, strategically, or even logically. It does seem to make sense politically--scored some big points for Pelosi and her gang. And, oh, by the way, from one Marine who fought the recruiting wars on two different tours: thanks a heap for your latest comments about not joining if given the choice today. That will set back recruiting quite well and give plenty of aid and comfort to our enemies. I used to think you were a great American...I don't anymore. Jack, go see Sen. Lieberman for some Real Man training.

3. Christmas, I believe. Hanukkah, I get. Ramadan, I understand. But, Kwanza? Give me a break! I will submit that the first three holidays above were originally man-made, but the men who instituted them were guided by their belief in God. Kwanza was dreamed up by a marxist--big difference.

4. And speaking of holidays, I, for one, am pleased to have the season behind us. Now, on to the unspeakable joys of the dead of winter. Well, I live in Florida, so the dead of winter isn't exactly dead--more like a bad cold. Sometime around the middle of February we'll have day or two that feels like a mild case of the flu. By the middle of March the temps and humidity will be soaring back into the unbearable range.

5. Hillary Clinton for President. The way I figure it, that administration would hasten the end of the world and the return of my Lord faster than anything else I could imagine man (or, in this case, woman) doing on God's green earth. At the very least, another Clinton administration would wake up the fence-straddlers to the dangers of marxism.

6. If I were King: All members of PETA would be given 40 acres in the most pristine wilderness left. One stipulation: no protection against large carnivores allowed. It would not be ethical to prevent carnivores from being carnivores.

7. China and Japan are challenging us to a race to the moon. I've actually heard people say, "So what? They can't claim the moon." To which I would like to respond: "Ever heard of Columbus?" He claimed an already inhabited land for Spain in 1492. And, the Spanish looted the western hemisphere unabated for nearly two centuries. Then the English and the French took over. I say, let's go claim the moon--we have as much a right to it as anyone.

8. Rebuild New Orleans. The rest of the major cities in the country need to have a city to keep their cops from the top of the "Most Corrupt" list.