Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ramadi Report

Hard morning for my ego and my heart. Quoted e-mail below is from one of our nation's most unsung heroes. He enlisted in 1968, volunteered for duty in Vietnam, was commissioned in 1977, "retired" with 35 years active service in 2003, volunteered to return to duty last year, and is in Iraq. You do the math, but he has got to be one of the oldest men in uniform in Iraq--certainly the oldest US warrior hunkered down in a bunker on a daily basis. I am proud to call him my friend, brother Christian, and best fishing buddy--LtCol Scott Westervelt, USMC.

"Ed, Thanks for confirming your email network is functional. Appreciate your
watch on us - we all covet you and your friends prayers. Even in the midst
of this forlorne place, we had Easter Sunrise service on the bunkered roof
top of our Provincial Civil Military Operations Center (PCMOC) building on
Easter monring - four of us. Had to keep our heads down below sand bag
level as snipers are very active. Had a Marine shot in the helmet recently
- grazed the top of his head - cut his girl friends photo in half - gave him
whip lash - better than the alternative I recon. Had a bunker hit with RPG
a few days ago - some of Steve Neary's Marines - for wia none serious - sand
bags saved their lives. We've had a mortar round through our roof, no
injuries. By far 17 April was the most active day - seemed like a minor Tet
Offense in Iraq as they struck a number of objectives in and around Ramadi.
It is amazing the false news reports filed. Some read that we were over
run, and others similar. No one got within a 100 yards of the Government
Center (GC). Certanly no one got inside. We did get the Hell shelled out
of us, but no injuries. Had about 50-60 Iraqi officials meeting at the time
of the attack - in fact I was sitting next tothe Governor of Al Anbar in his
weekly reconstruction meetng with my interpreter when the mortatr attack
began. We ushered evereyone to a safe location and took up defensive
positiotnsinside the GC. I went to K Co 3/8s COC in the building next door
to keep SA for my boss who stayed with the governor. I was so sproud of
these young Marines of Steve's. A Lt was on two radios directing the fight,
the co Gy was on a Motorola barking directions mixed with profanity.
Marines were calm and collected moving quickly to reinforce and resupply
posts. When they would get back to the COC they would wait outside the
hatch for futher directions - adrenaline was running high - spirits were
high - they were laughing at the stupid stuff that someone did or said -
smaking and cussing and laughing. Ed, it was one of Marine Corps moments I
will not forget for a long time. They were magnificient - everything we as
Marines would have expected of out newest generation of warriors - evrything
the nation must have in its defenders of freedom. We get some good MG and
AT-4 chatter evey day - rare for it to be quiet. But most of the chatter is
one way. Anything that moves in the zone that looks like it has any hostile
intent gets fired up. I bet I've heard over a hundred At-4s go down range.
Didn't mean to write a book, but every one that I have sent emails to on
what is really ground zero are astonished at what isn't being said in the
news. CNN has practically had squatters rights in Neary's AO. CBS, Ap
Press, Iraqi and Arab news make their presence known. I am glad that
Theresa is not much of a news buff - she hsan't seemed tohave had too much
worries or she covers it well. I think it is the former. I tell you
though, I am looking forward to a few simple pleasures when I get back -
that photo of you and the redfish really brightened my day and reminded me
of more fonder days recently passed. I am definitely going to our old haunt
at PI when I get back - if you are free, you'll have to join me for a few
days. I'll try to hook you up with a few photos on my next email. Please
give my favorite girl a hug and a hello - take care -
Semper Fi , Scott (so I hacked up the spellin - ain't got time to go back)"

Later on this morning, I am going to mow my yard and trim some bushes. But right now, I'm going to have a good cry.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Cold Starts

One of the most challenging moments in my life occurs each morning that I open a new page on which to post another entry in this blog. I have always loved to write; I have always had a hard time starting. Even when I have a an issue, idea, or incident, about which the few remaining synapses in my feeble brain are firing madly, I always find the first words difficult to form. Sometimes, even when I have something really interesting (to me, not necessarily to anyone else) about which to opine or describe, I stare at the blankness of the screen like a cold-numbed steer in a blizzard, painfully immobilized by the cold surroundings and too frightened to take steps forward into what might be an even more painfully cold region.

Some mornings there is not enough coffee in the world, let alone in my house, to jump start the connection between mind and fingers poised like frozen claws above the keyboard. On those days, I finally relent to the voice in my head that constantly chants "you can't do it" anytime I face a challenge (admit it, you have the same voice in your head), and I reach for the mouse, click on Favorites, and check out what real writers are penning (keyboarding?).

This morning I found a gap in the defenses of the naysaying voice in my head. Instead of putting rounds on some distant target, I slid off of his block, swung out to the flank, and placed enfilading fire on HIM. Even now he is counterattacking in the most cruel way, reminding me that even when I write through the block, I am really only writing to avoid working.

It's bad enough to have a voice in your head; when it's right, that hurts.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"I am too weak to defend, therefore I must attack."

I'm not a big believer in polls. Having conducting polling myself as part of my, ahem, education at Ole Miss, I know how easy it is to transparently manipulate the results of a poll by sampling and questioning means. As a military professional, my leadership training and experience taught me that the initial popularity, or unpopularity, of a course of action was no indicator of the efficacy of that course of action. Leadership decisions based on popularity are almost always wrong. However, I think our President's present low job approval poll numbers indicate a problem that he needs to address.

If you listen to, and accept, the pundits' spin on the President's job approval numbers you come away with the impression that a majority of the American people are united on the same side of the issues that are at the core of the American peoples' disapproval. Tain't necessarily so. I believe that the President, with no help from his party, has climbed onto the centrist fence that crosses the political battlefield and is taking destructive fire from both sides. Most people I associate with are not happy with W because he is not perceived as leading the attack. They aren't liberals and they aren't John Birchers; they are just common-sense folks who don't think the president is leading.

While the two are not mutually exclusive, leadership and taking a self-confident, principled stand are not the same thing. President Bush has proven leadership skill; it wasn't just the family name (although that didn't hurt) that got him to this point. He also has supreme confidence in his own judgement, and for the most part that is justified. What I think he is failing to do at this point is to provide the vocal rallying of the troops around his cause. Look at the great battlefield leaders of history on the eve of their greatest victories. In nearly every case you will see them addressing their troops, reminding them of the reason for the fight, asking them for their self-sacrifice in the cause of the greater good, and reassuring them that they are up to the test. And, in nearly every great battlefield victory you will find the leader in the right position at the point of decision, leading by example.

Yes, sir, Mr. President, you are the "decider." You are also the "leader." Lead us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Chinese Century

We are a seriously distracted superpower and our future enemy is happy to see it. While the American Empire has been busy making the Arab world safe for democracy and absorbing yet another wave of demographic-shifting immigration, a natural and inevitable enemy of these re-United States is rising across the Pacific. The current leader of the world's most populous nation is visiting the US this week. President Hu of the Peoples' Republic of China had dinner with Bill Gates earlier this week and will have lunch with the second most powerful man in America today. During his visit, Hu will smile disarmingly and utter platitudes of friendship and cooperation. He will then go back to China and tell his comrades that following Sun Tsu's maxim that "all war is deception" is working well.

If the 20th Century is known to historians as the American Century, the 21st will most likely be known as the Chinese Century. By 2045, at its present growth rate, China's GDP will eclipse that of the US. It's military, once a ponderous third rate behemoth incapable of much more than human wave tactics, is quickly modernizing and will soon possess global power projection capabilities rivaling ours. The Chinese are challenging us in a little-publicized space race, the technologies springing from which will give the winner technological dominance on the globe (See the result of the US--USSR space race, circa 1957-1971). But, most of this ominous Chinese growth has been cloaked behind images of cuddly pandas and inexpensive shoes. And that has been on purpose. Sun Tsu taught that "the acme of skill is to defeat the enemy without fighting" and to deceive your enemy of your intentions by appearing weak where he is strong. We should not be deluded by smiles and empty assurances. But we will be.

Empires never last indefinitely. They inevitably become weighted down under the load of their excesses, both internally and externally. We can expect nothing different. What we can do, however, is delay the inevitable and not go quietly. History will judge us not for the brilliance of our flash, but for the endurance of our light. If China were another freedom-loving democracy, giving way to them would be one thing. But China is a horribly insensitive user of its people--you can be that way when you have 1.4 BILLION people. The future peoples of this planet will judge America for how well we delayed and shaped China's ascendancy.

I figure my grandson will be commanding a Marine infantry regiment about the time we go to war with China. The first book I'll give him to read will be Sun Tsu's "The Art of War."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Cruise Recap

Well, after a day of reflection (occasioned by a 12-hour drive from Houston to Panama City) I have a few observations to make about my first, and, if the decision is left to me, last cruise.

1. A ship is a ship. You can dress it up and take it to nice (I use that word liberally) places, but it is still a big floating prison, the inmates on which are blinded to their incarceration by copious amounts of alcohol and chocolate, and deluded into believing they are "having a great time" by innumerable insufferable obsequious twits (aka cruise directors). At least deploying for six months on an amphib provided the opportunity to get into some great fights with the swab jockeys running the ship. I didn't hear a cross word all week--what fun is that?

2. The "poor people" on this planet regard it to be their mission, no, make that "their right" to wheedle tips from the rest of us, who are not nearly as rich as they seem to think. In fact, I would dare say that most of the people, to whom I gave a tip, have more walking cash in their pockets than I do. Yeah, yeah, yeah... they have children at home who need shoes and a hot meal -- don't we all?

3. Chow is chow. A dry piece of cake isn't any more palatable because some French phony in a tall hat drizzled chocolate designs on the plate. Chef Jean Paul Lightintheloafers probably couldn't slap together a decent PBJ without making an artsy fartsy jelly design next to it.

Next year I'm going to Argentina and shoot a thousand doves in a day--now that will be a vacation.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Cruise Log 10:17 AM 15 April 2006

The Mayan ruins of Tulum reminded me of my visit to Herculaneum in Naples, Italy. Unfortunately, the Mexican government waited too long to protect the frescos in Tulum's ruins and they are mostly lost to vandals. Gripes me how some people have no respect for history or understanding of antiquity and think that it is the height of coolness to scratch their initials across a thousand year old work of art. The march of time waits for no man and Tulum, once the last citadel of the technologically advanced Mayan culture, is now overrun by tourists and iguanas.

I would like to live to be 2000 only to be able to see Brazilian tourists in the year 4006, wandering the crumbling streets of DC and scratching their initials across the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Wait, they already do that.

Cruise Log 4:50 PM 13 April 2006

Before the sun set yesterday we put Jamaica in the rearview mirror and as I write this we are putting Grand Cayman in our wake. We swam with stingrays, petted the future ingredients of turtle soup, and urged our bus driver to take shortcuts to avoid traffic and get us back to our ship on time. He jumped a curb (with a BUS, mind you) and sped past stopped traffic in the turn lane. He got arrested by a very irate Caymanian traffic cop, told to drop us off at the pier and report to the nearest police station. Most fun I’ve had on this cruise so far.

Tomorrow is Cozumel. I’m going to get a check in the box of one of my life goals—Visit Mayan ruins.

Cruise Log 8:35 PM 12 April 2006

We arrived in Montego Bay, Jamaica this morning shortly after sunrise. By 8:30 we were ashore and beginning a 2-hour ride on a mini-bus to see the sights. At 10:30 we reached our destination, Dunn’s River Falls, and I reached my endurance capacity for the term, “ya mon.” We joined literally hundreds of other tourists in a conga line climb of what was probably a very pretty series of waterfalls, but was hard to see for the literally hundreds of other tourists.

Jamaica would be desperately poor were it not for tourism. It is just poor. And with a majority of it’s population under 30, it is ripe for revolution. Even laid back folks like Jamaicans are suckers for the Castros, Guevarras, and Sandinos of this world lusting for power and using the vehicle of poverty-borne unrest to seize the reins.

Don't think this could happen? Find a history book and read about Earnest Hemingway's favorite vacation island (Not Key West) circa 1959.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cruise Log 6:45 AM 11 April 06

First full day at sea yesterday. All of my worst fears and doubts about cruises realized. Crowds of people with low expectations milling about in an alcoholic haze. Obsequious cruise directors gushing about this shop or that shore excursion or this activity. If I heard the word “awesome” once yesterday, I heard it a quarter of a million times. The food is good, but nothing to write home about; certainly not the quality and quantity about which every cruiser I know raves. The coffee is hot and ready, even if I have to walk the entire length of the ship to find it.

Last night was formal night in the dining room. It was almost an elegant evening; until Obsequious Twit #13 (there’s at least twenty-five that I have cataloged so far) rallied all of us in a cheer and napkin wave (think Pittsburg Steelers and the Terrible Towel). Yep, get all dressed up and then act like I’m at a ball game—that’s fun.

The Vegas-style show after dinner was not bad. The amphitheater seating was. The drunk in the sleeveless sweatshirt who had to leave four times during an hour and a half-show, climbing over everyone and returning smelling like a smokestack, really capped the evening.

Went to the gym yesterday. Now, lest anyone think that I’m back on a fitness routine, I didn’t say I worked out. I was looking for the soft ice cream machine and found the gym by accident. But, I can now say that I went to the gym on my cruise. The gym was well equipped, as were the gymettes.

Might have to go looking for soft ice cream again after breakfast this morning.

Cruise Log 7:11 AM 10 April 06

Awake at 0430 this morning. Earlier than usual for me and I think maybe my body recognizes the underway rhythm. I showered and dressed and headed for the Lido Deck in search of a shot of joe. With the bitter elixir of life in hand, I stood in the dark on the fantail and watched the sea churn and foam away from the ship’s screws. Shortly before 0600 the sky began to lighten to port. A low cloud deck on the horizon hid the sun’s immediate appearance and the eastern sky yielded a sunrise rainbow. Reds and oranges just above a bumpy smudge of cloud blended subtly upward through blue-green to dark violet into the dark night sky and the brightest of stars stubbornly and futilely resisting the sun’s influence. Of nearly three thousand guests on this cruise, I shared what I consider the best thing about being at sea with only a half dozen others.

Our cabin is forward and low in the ship’s superstructure—about where officers’ country was on the last amphib on which I sailed. The bump and shudder of the bow plowing through a heavy sea is a familiar feeling. There is a slight roll, significant when you consider that these big cruise ships are designed to largely negate the sea’s effects. Wonder how many folks will be sick this morning.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


I believe I am on the cusp of discovering a new malady. More and more often nowadays the love of my life lapses into gibberish. Her speech comes out in phrases that make absolutely no sense in the context of the particular discussion or command she is giving me. Even more puzzling is the fact that she only seems to lapse into nonsensical speech during her communicative interactions with me. In my great concern for her health and social functioning I have canvassed all of the rest of our family and her close associates. None of them report observation of the phenomenon. This must indeed be a rare, perhaps never before seen, condition.

In the faint hope that one of the six readers of this blog has advanced medical training and can help me diagnose this condition, I will provide an example.

The other day she placed herself in the spousal interrupt position, front and center of the television, and asked, "Would you like some hash?" As we had just finished dinner and she was cleaning up the kitchen, this seemed a rather strange question. I assumed the spousal interrupt avoidance position (head craned to the side to look around her at the television), and reminded her ever so gently that we had just eaten, but that if she wanted to bring me some ice cream that would be nice.

Evidently this malady has two stages, the second stage being an involuntary placing of hands on hips accompanied by a scowl and punctuated with a foot stomp. It must be very frustrating when one starts to lose their ability to communicate.

Symptoms of this condition also seem to include denial and transference of blame. As I love my wife dearly, and believe absolutely in the wedding vow "in sickness and in health," I will humor her and try very hard not to miss the appointment she has made for me at the audiologist.

Gotta go. My bride is calling me to come "watch the fishes" and I like to encourage her any time she shows interest in my outdoor activities.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Mexican Manifest Destiny?

The current irrational and ignorant national debate regarding the issue of illegal immigration has spawned literally dozens of ideas for the long-past intractable situation. Since very few of the ideas bear any resemblance to ideas borne of realistic thought, I feel quite safe in offering a few options of my own, and feel quite confident that they will bear just as much scrutiny as most of those that will eventually make it into ineffectual and self-delusional law.

1. Invade Mexico. Take the good parts. Assimilate those who want to be Americans and put the rest on reservations on the bad parts. This plan has already been proved effective--see 19th Century US history.

2. Give California (back) to the Mexican squatters. Bet the red states would approve this in a national referendum, without much money spent on advertising.

3. Grant Texas a 10-year independence. They will figure out how to solve the problem without federal interference. It won't be pretty, but the rest of us can safely shrug and claim: "Texas. It's like a whole 'nother country."

4. Accept the inevitable. Learn to speak Spanish.

Tango un gato en mis pantalones.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Price of Empire

We recently celebrated (not sure that is the word for it) the anniversary of the US-led invasion of the territory of a soveriegn nation. The United States led a coalition of allied nations whose common purpose was to effect regime change in a nation that posed a real and present threat to their national interests. The despotic and militaristic leadership of that nation and its allies had been a threat to their neighbors, and were, if not possessing, pursuing weapons of mass destruction. In the process of defeating that nation's army and occupying its territory, we endured suicide bombers intent on destroying our will to fight. Long after major military operations were declared over by our president, we maintain forces on that nation's territory. I'm not referring to the current American Empire police action in Iraq. The nation I'm referring to is Japan.

On the 1st of April, 1945, US Marines and soldiers; supported by over one thousand US and British warships, including thousands of aircraft from scores of aircraft carriers; landed on the beaches of the Japanese island of Okinawa. By the time the brutal fight for Okinawa was over, more than 15,000 American servicemen had given their lives to seize a resource poor, but strategically rich island, the loss of which actually did more to seal the fate of the Japanese Empire than did the use of two atomic weapons a few months later. The Japanese fought our advance with inhumane tactics at every step; and we dished out worse than we got. The US Navy actually suffered more casualties than either the Marines or Army, as suicide pilots flew their aircraft into our ships with relentless fury. Today, the Japanese are staunch and invaluable allies and trading partners. The same companies that built the planes that crashed into our ships, now build the cars with which we crash into each other on our interstates.

Sixty-one years later we still maintain a military presence in Japan. Presence, and all the pain that goes with it, is the price of empire. Make no mistake about it, these re-United States constitute an empire just as surely as did Britain, Spain, the Ottomans, Rome, and a dozen others before them. Don't want the United States to "rule the world?" Fine, name the other country that you would rather be the dominant force in the world.

If you said "Jamaica," someone is on the way to your house with a search warrant.