Monday, December 29, 2008

Planning Planting

The past year is about to enter the Colonel's record books, having passed in the inevitably increasing rate years pass in direct correlation to the accumulation of personal orbits of ole Sol. The new year awaits at the end of the week and, if it weren't for the need to keep of track of the opening and closing dates of hunting seasons I would enter it without the plethora of calendars with which my life has heretofore been ordered. Since my re-retirement two months ago, I rarely wear a wrist watch and my cell phone stays off and at my convenience, not my annoyance.

These are the days for which I pined while at the long-distance sprint that was the first 30 years of my adult life. For the first time in my life, and for the rest of my life, my energies will not be spent on preparing for the next move or deployment. Instead of leaning forward in a given direction, I'm squatting and digging in--and loving it.

For the past several weeks, I've been rearranging the mega flora aboard Eegeebeegee. A half dozen tulip poplars that lined a ridge in a forgotten corner have been replanted in a new place of prominence alongside the drive leading up to the Big House. Three sycamores have been rescued from piney obscurity and placed where their saucer-sized leaves will shade the dock down on Lake Brenda. Later this week, two crepe myrtles will find themselves removed from under the back eaves of the house and replanted in Miss Brenda's burgeoning backyard gardens. By the time sap-stirring spring arrives, at least a dozen new fruit trees will have found a home on my range--fulfilling the retirement prophecy I made enough times to my comrades in arms that our reconnections are always attended by their questions about the size and variety of my orchards.

The year of my Lord, two thousand and nine, will undoubtedly have enormous political, economic, and military portent for our world. It will be a rough year for many. A new "decider" will be calling our republic's shots and I wish him luck--he's going to need it. For a change, this rider aboard the big blue marble's e-ticket ride 'round the sun will be watching from the cheap seats. I'll not be responding to any call to arms this year, either with shouldered rifle or rolled suitcase. I'll be responding to nature's cycles with shouldered shovel. Now that's change I can believe in.

Won't keep me from continuing my curmudgeonly commentary, though!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Washington's Legacy

"Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theatre of action; and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take any leave of all the employments of public life."

With that conclusion to his address to Congress on this day in 1783, George Washington placed an exclamation point on the concept of democratic freedom that had been the cause for which he and his army had fought for the better part of the previous decade. The American revolution against the king of England could very well have resulted in the installation of a king of America. There were many who would have supported Washington had he ridden his popularity into the halls of Congress and declared supremacy over that ineffective and unpopular body. There was ample historical precedent for just such an action, and precious little example in history of what Washington did instead. That he relinquished the power given him by Congress, at the conclusion of a peace treaty with Great Britain, is perhaps Washington's single most impactful action in his celebrated life, and established the American precedent of conquering heroes returning, not to seize national power, but to relinquish that power back to the people.

To be sure, there have been war-winning generals who subsequently became president--Washington himself, Jackson, Taylor, Grant, Eisenhower. But, they allowed the people to make that determination through the democratic mechanisms provided for in our Constitution. And they (Washington excluded, predating), having sworn as American soldiers to "support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..." were true to their word, even out of uniform.

Those who would water-down the power and mystique of our Constitution with liberal interpretations of its contents, making it an amorphous "living" document changeable to the whims of current societal norms, risk setting precedent that would expose our nation to the liberal interpretation of a popular American warrior whose personal ambition could drive him to seize power in order to defend the Constitution against domestic enemies.

There's a fine, popular line between freedom and tyranny. A strict interpretation of the United States' Constitution keeps that line bright and visible.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Chill

It's a bit chilly here this morning at the northern end of southern nowhere. The thermometer is reading in the low teens and the wind chill is lurking somewhere below like a snake under a rotted log--unseen, but dangerous. It's not the coldest morning the Colonel has ever experienced. That dubious distinction goes to the 20 below zero air that instantly froze the hairs in my snot locker the second I poked my snoot out of a tent in Minnesota.

It was late December of 1981 and I was wrapping up my last training exercise with the Marine infantry battalion to which I had been assigned three years previous as a newly minted second lieutenant. The Second Battalion, Second Marines (2/2) was preparing for an imminent deployment to North Norway to practice defending the northern flank of NATO against the godless communists, and I, based on attendance at a four week course in the mountains of California and a three month exercise in Norway the previous year on loan to another battalion, was 2/2's duty Arctic Warfare expert. It had been my task to build and execute a cold weather training syllabus for the nearly 1000 Marines and sailors of our battalion and the Marine Amphibious Unit headquarters to which our battalion landing team would be assigned. I wouldn't be going to Norway with them--I had orders to report to the Third Marine Division on Okinawa in February--but, I attacked my mission with all the sincerity I could muster.

On the frosty morning in question we had what we called a "round-robin" training event during which the subordinate elements of the battalion cycled through a half dozen different stations demonstrating Arctic survival and fighting methods. The station at which I spent the day was one where we demonstrated the rescue techniques, and subsequent first aid, for a Marine who had fallen through ice. We found a shallow pond, chopped a hole in the ice, and as each company showed up, asked for a volunteer to jump in the hole. As you might expect, there was no clamoring rush to volunteer. In fact, I never witnessed a clamoring rush to volunteer for anything--no matter how tantalizingly it was described--during my entire career as a Leatherneck. Marines have already volunteered once, and have learned their lesson.

Standing there on that frozen pond in the middle of Minnesota with wind chills in the obscene range was the coldest experience any of us ever had and bundled in every piece of issue clothing we could layer on we looked for all the world like dark green pillars of salt on the outskirts of Gomorrah. No one wanted to do anything but stand still, hunched against the wind and cocooned against the cold. So, I resorted to subterfuge. "Who wants to get into that sleeping bag over there on the bank?"

There would always be at least two who would fall for that ruse and mutter some expletive-spiced version of "I do" and that would be enough for me to accept them as volunteers. To one of those Marines I would give the order, "Strip and get in that bag." Once he had complied and indicated, to much catcalling from the rest, that it was warm and comfy in the sleeping bag, I would quietly tell the other Marine that the water in the hole was only three feet deep and that he would not be in the hole longer than about five seconds before I would yank him out. Then I would call him to attention, face him toward the hole, and command, "Forward, march!"

The moment the Marine stepped into the hole in the ice, I would shuck my mittens and dash, dive, slide out onto the ice and up to the wide-eyed Marine up to his chest in a hole in a pond in northern Minnesota on the coldest day of December. Several other Marines assisting me would link up behind me, and as I grabbed the dunkster by the arms, would pull all of us off the ice. I would then begin to furiously strip the wet Marine of his clothing and order him into the sleeping bag with its quite comfy and warm, and now wide-eyed, occupant. This was well before the days of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and I'll leave to your imagination the chorus of testosterone-induced expletive-spiced name-calling that ensued. To which the bag-mates invariably responded with their own expletive-spiced announcement of the relative temperature difference between their station and the rest's.

I believe it was during that long day of icy wet Marine stripping 27 years ago that I lost the sensation of touch in my fingers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Peace Talks

This week began with a blur of long truck rides on the rain slick Mississippi roads connecting my hilly corner of the northern end of southern nowhere with the flat featureless Delta. We were after ducks, but two trips to a slough running alongside a flooded soybean field proved that while there were a few puddlers around, the weather up north had not gotten cold enough to push the big migratory waves that fill a duck hunter's dreams south in search of warmer climes and open water. So we talked.

I was along at the invitation of someone who, up until two years ago, I had last seen in the late spring of 1978. He was, then, a teenager from a small group of youth at the little country church Miss Brenda and I had joined shortly after we married. And, although we weren't but a couple of years removed from their age group, Miss Brenda and I had volunteered to work as teachers with the church youth. During the next three decades my career in the Marine Corps took me to every continent on this big blue marble except Antarctica. My hunting partner had, among other things, driven a truck cross country and visited nearly every state and major city in these re-United States. As we shared experiences, it occurred to me that he had lived a more dangerous life than I had.

This morning, I lay awake in the early dawn listening to the local group of crows I've named the Caw Crew announce their latest discovery and I began to reflect on how God had directed my life. Some would say that I have lived a "charmed life." I know, however, that luck has nothing to do with the way my life went. He never prevented me from taking initiatives and making decisions that gave me the opportunity go in harm's way, but God always seemed to smooth out the rough road ahead of me. At the time, it was very, very frustrating. I was a trained leader of combat Marines and ALL I wanted was the opportunity to prove my mettle. God had a different plan.

I don't know why God has circled my life back around to this point and these people I last saw thirty years ago. I don't know why He allowed me to dedicated my heart, mind, and soul to the destruction of my nation's enemies and the leadership of men like-minded, and then ordered the events in my life in such a way that I never fired a shot in righteous anger or led men in a fight. By all rights, I shouldn't be here--I accepted the great possibility early on that the vocation I had chosen would likely mean that I would not live to be an old man. I don't know what God was/is thinking.

But, I'm listening, Lord. You have my attention.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday MOTOs, Vol. I; Ed. 5

It's time once again for an edition of the Colonel's Mastery of the Obvious (Monday MOTO) awards. There are several thousand other things I could be doing that would be much more productive and meaningful, but the Colonel has always had a flair for the unnecessary and meaningless--just ask any one who ever served with me. Actually, I believe that is an inherent disease the increasing symptoms of which directly correlate with increased rank. But, I digress...

The Colonel's Mastery of the Obvious Bronze Medal goes to "W" for correctly assessing that the object thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist was "a size 10 shoe." Unverified sources report to the Colonel that the President told his Secret Service detail immediately after that he was happy to be able to demonstrate to the world that "I still have my reflexes." Reached for comment at his Chicago Graft-in-Waiting HQ, "H" is reported to have remarked that he would have taken the wing-tips off of one of his Secret Service agents and given them to the now shoe-less Iraqi journalist.

The Colonel's Monday MOTO Silver Medal goes to the researchers at Princeton, presumably conducting their study with a sizable government grant, who have announced that "a sugar addiction can be similar to an addiction to illegal drugs, like cocaine and heroin." Ya think!?! The Colonel proved a long time ago that all food is addictive. Heck, my third cousin, Cletus, over in Bugtussle, did a scientific study years ago that proved just how addictive food is and how dangerous it is to try to break the addiction. He had a worthless coon hound that would lay around all day and then eat its weight in Purina every evening. Cletus decided to teach the hound to go without eating. He just about had him trained to do without food, but the worthless mongrel died on him. (Please address your hate mail to Cletus Sorrel, 114 Possum Tickle Road, Bugtussle, AR.)

The Colonel's Monday MOTO Gold Medal is awarded to Wall Street Robber Baron Bernard Madoff (most presciently pronounced, Made Off) who, as his two decade long, fifty billion dollar ponzi scheme collapsed, is reported to have told his sons "There's no money left in the fund." From the Colonel's not so lofty perch, my eagle eye reveals that there's no money left in ANY fund.

This is just too easy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hiroshima!, Hiroshima!, Hiroshima!

As the shattered remnants of Lee's assault on the Union positions at Gettysburg fell back across the fields toward Seminary Ridge, the Federal troops on Cemetery Ridge stood up from behind the stone wall and chanted, "Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg!" Their commanders had learned a critical lesson--one that Lee had taught them less than seven months previous.

In December of 1862 the Army of the Potomac was moving south through Northern Virginia with the plan to seize the Confederate capital, Richmond. Union delays caused by failure to secure a crossing site on the Rappahannock River opposite the town of Fredericksburg allowed Lee to fortify Marye's heights above the river. When the Union forces finally did assault across the 600 yard wide plain leading up to the town, they were slaughtered by massed artillery and small arms fire from Confederate troops forces behind a stone wall. The carnage that claimed nearly 13,000 Union soldiers caused Lee to remark, "It is well that war is so horrible, or else we should grow too fond of it." The date was December 13th, 1862--one hundred and forty-six years ago, today.

Inexplicably, Lee, at Gettysburg, replicated the Union mistake of attacking a fortified position with massed formations across an open field in what is remembered as Pickett's Charge. He had witnessed first hand, had inflicted personally, the decisive defeat the lesson from which was indelibly written into the Union psyche. And yet, Lee seemingly learned a different lesson from his successes in the first year of the war. He believed, as Napoleon had said, that "the moral is to the physical as three to one." In other words, Lee believed that the morale and fighting spirit of his men would overwhelm any defense.

Is there a lesson for our nation in this historical review? I think there is. Out of the carnage of the Second World War, American industry emerged the world leader. For twenty years our cars and consumer goods ruled the world. We believed it was because our stuff was better than the rest of the world's. It was, but only because the rest of the industrialized world was in ruins from strategic bombing and razing invasion. We belittled Japanese made goods--"Made in Japan" was a term of derision when I was a kid. Our automobile industry, in particular, believed that it would be unassailable for at least a half century post-war. They learned the wrong lessons from their dominance on the economic battlefield.

When Burnside, the Union commander at Fredericksburg, and the other incompetent generals that followed him in command were finally replaced by Grant, the Union Army internalized the hard-learned lessons of fighting Lee and the Confederates, and made the physical and philosophical adjustments necessary to overcome the initial martial advantage enjoyed by the Army of Northern Virginia. While Southern forces largely continued to fight with equipment and organizational structure with which they began the war, the Union Army and Navy embraced relatively radical improvements in armament and tactics and by 1864 had the premier fighting force not only on the North American continent, but indeed had no peer in the entire world. The American industrial experience is analogous to what transpired in the ranks of the Army of the Confederacy. The Rebel Army enjoyed the initial advantage of having the majority of the American Army's pre-war leadership on its side, owing to the military option being more attractive to men from an agrarian background than an industrial one. Succession left the Union Army leadership ranks decimated as initial Confederate battlefield victories showed. Southern leaders mistook those successes for some sort of inherent qualitative measure of Southern manhood over Yankee manhood. American car makers made the same mistake in judging their success in the post--WWII market. In reality, we were only better because we weren't starting from scratch like the rest of the world.

No bailout for the losers in Detroit--time for some Reconstruction up north.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pericles Principles

As disgusting and infuriating as the alleged misconduct of the governor of Illinois is, it is not the least bit surprising, nor should it be considered an isolated aberration.

Illinois governments, Chicago's prominent among them, as notoriously corrupt as they may be, are not, unfortunately, the most corrupt nor in the minority of governmental entities with regard to illegal and unethical behavior. Governments are human organizations endowed with enormous relative power. In representative democratic republics such as ours, and their subordinate political divisions, that power provides incredible temptations to those who, in positions of responsibility and decision, allow their better natures to be suborned by their greed and avarice. The only protection we the people, of and from whom our governments are derived, have is our discernment in the voting booth.

Ancient Athenian democracy, the earliest recorded experiment in government of the people, had a curious way of ensuring against any politician becoming too powerful--banishment by ballot. Even the most popular leaders were subject to electoral eviction from the city if a majority of the people feared that they were becoming too influential. Called ostracism, from the Greek word for the pieces of broken pottery upon which citizens wrote the name of the man they wished to be banished from the city for ten years, the practice carried no particular stigma and the man so removed from the temptation of dictatorial power could return to his place and possessions at the end of his penalty.

That particular quirk of Athenian government 2500 years ago was not, in my not-so humble opinion, the most important means of preventing political perversion. While ostracism gets the most attention in simplistic historical reviews of Athenian democracy, a more responsible study of the Athenian constitution reveals that it provided for an elaborate, yet simple, system of governing committees, the members of which were chosen, not by ballot, but by lottery. Every Athenian citizen's duty was to serve on one of a multitude of administrative boards, regardless of his pertinent expertise, if so chosen by lot. Most importantly (again, in my not-so humble opinion) Athenian citizenship was reserved only to free Athenian-born males with Athenian military training. Such citizens understood the meaning of duty, discipline, and honor; as well as the danger of dictatorial decisions regarding matters of war and peace.

The challenges facing our nation require principled, disciplined, honorable leadership at every governmental level from president to puppy-catcher. We would do well to look outside the tenure track of draft-dodging and duty-shirking baby-boomer politicians for our future leaders. They ain't up to the task. Most are up to their necks in greed and ambition--at our expense.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Let Them Wear Cake

The day is a blustery, wet, wintry one here at the northern end of southern nowhere and I couldn't be more happy and content.

The better part of the last week was reluctantly spent down on the Redneck Riviera for the occasion of my second grandson's first birthday. Had it been up to me to schedule and execute the trip, it would have been a much more rapid one than the four days with 9 hour drives at either end. Miss Brenda wanted to spend some time with her folks and there's no way I'm gonna begrudge her that. When I issued her latest set of orders, she consented to let me drag her up to the hills of Mississippi and away from her folks and our growing gaggle of grandkids with the clear understanding that she could go for a visit anytime she wanted and stay for as long as she wanted. I checked and she was within her rights--there are no limitations on the leave and liberty privileges extant in her pre-nuptial enlistment papers; a grossly negligent omission on my part.

So, despite the fact that we are in the middle of two concurrent and relatively brief hunting seasons for which I yearn during the remainder of our annual wobbling orbit around ole Sol, Miss Brenda and I strapped our car to our posteriors and drove to Florida. Actually, we had a VIP in the back seat on the way down to the coast. Caleb Thomas Gregory, the hope of 21st Century civilization, fearless ladder-climber and bug-catcher, had spent the last three weeks with his Nana and Pop and was sufficiently spoiled for return to his parents. During Caleb's stay with us, the Colonel documented a heretofore unknown property of physics wherein at approximately 0900 each calendar day, following introduction of copious amounts of glucose into the bloodstream via a bowl of Sugar Sticky Crunchy Crumbly Yummy Os, a three-year old boy actually multiplies himself three-fold. When I remarked that I didn't remember our boys being so rambunctious at that age, Miss Brenda remarked with the exasperated tone that I have only heard her use with me and therefore have come to know and love as my own special reserve, "You were never around when our boys were that age!"

Saturday we celebrated Caleb's little brother Taylor's first birthday, complete with the ritual face-smearing and hair-encrusting of cake icing to the twitter of camera shutters. It is a wonder the children in my family are not more confused and conflicted--at their early birthdays we have always encouraged them to wear their cake and then at later birthdays fuss at them for being so messy. We have dozens of albums replete with photos of cake-covered toddlers at which we coo and chortle, in between admonitions to those same now older progeny to quit making messes.

Anyway, I'm back happily on my ridge at the edge of nowhere. There's hot coffee in my mug and quiet in my cave. I should be able to make it without a grandson fix for at least another month or so. Yeah, right.

Wonder what Miss Brenda is up to right now?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Whistling in the Dark

He was young, urbane and a mesmerizing speaker who looked more like the minority of his country than the majority. He swept to power following a campaign full of promises of change to the way government would tackle the challenges facing his nation. He was a heartthrob celeb and promised things would be better for all once the old guard in his nation were out of the way. Many in his nation and abroad did not believe that the charismatic leader was the leftist that his opposition portrayed him as. Surely he would govern with centrist enlightenment once in power. Forty-six years ago today, Fidel Castro, in a televised speech, proclaimed to his nation and the world that, "I am a Marxist-Leninist and shall be one until the end of my life... Marxism or scientific socialism has become the revolutionary movement of the working class." Even more chillingly he decreed that "there cannot be three or four movements." For the next half century (and counting) Cuba was subject to the ruthless leadership of one man and his communist cronies.

There's been a lot of wishful thinking amongst those to the right on the political spectrum lately regarding the "pragmatism" of an Obama administration. The hope is that "H" will suborn his socialist core and govern in a way that is, frankly, anathema to his beliefs. The hope is that regardless the strength of the left, the right will be allowed to reclaim and proclaim its movement.

Hope is not a strategy, nor an effective course of action. It is whistling in the dark.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Change, Schmange!

Bill Clinton redefined "sexual relations," as in "I didn't have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," and now our President-elect is redefining "change we can believe in."

"H" is defending the "change" promise he has broken even before he has been inaugurated, by claiming that it would be foolish to not have Washington insiders on the team with the economic and security challenges facing us. Silly us (at least the 63 million of us who voted for him), thinking that he was any different than all the rest. I thought the reason we were supposed to vote for him instead of Clinton or McCain was that he would bring in a whole new crew to Washington--BECAUSE the old crew was the one that had made a mess of things over the past generation.

This should come as no surprise--politicians, ALL politicians, tell us what they think will get them elected, and then do whatever they please with the power we hand them, misinterpreting the policy mandate as a popularity contest win. And when anyone dares challenge "H" on his staffing decisions, watch that chin raise and profile turn to the pose of..., well, that high chin profile is nearly identical to Lenin's, Mussolini's, Hitler's, Johnson's and FDR's--tyrannical socialists all.

I, for one, am happy for the redefinition of "change"--should come in handy with Miss Brenda's expectations that I will "change" some of the behaviors she has determined to be objectionable and for which she has gotten a "change" promise from the Colonel.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Prescient Pop and the Good Luck Grandson

With the score 31 to nuthin' at the half against Mississippi State this afternoon, Number 2 son opined that "Pop is gonna have to fly Caleb and his daddy up here for every game next year--they're good luck!"

Caleb, the Colonel's first grandson and the hope of 21st Century civilization, was in attendance for just his second Ole Miss football game in his young life. We left shortly after the half of his first two weeks ago against Louisiana Monroe--the Rebels were cruising to a 59 to nuthin' win and the weather was stinko. The weather wasn't a heck of a lot better this afternoon, but we weren't leaving the stadium this week until the boys in red and blue presented the fans with the coveted Egg Bowl Trophy.

Prior to kickoff, a recap of the Rebels' best season since Archie and Olivia's baby boy left town played on the jumbotron. The video began with Houston Nutt's initial news conference quote that, "you spell fun, 'W I N'", drew cheers with the defensive stop that made Tebow cry and roars with the scores against hated LSU. The production was so motivating it moved me to turn to my sons and predict that the final score would be "45 to nuthin'!"

Number One Son complained when Coach Nutt put in the second string in the fourth quarter with the score 45 naught--he wanted to see a 70 to nuthin' rout. I was just worried about preserving the shut-out...and my prediction.

It is such a burden being right all the time.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Missing Memo

Halloween night 49 years ago, LSU, ranked #1 in the country, trailed Ole Miss, ranked #3, early in the 4th quarter of a bitterly contested gridiron battle typical of the heated rivalry. LSU's Billy Cannon fielded an Ole Miss punt at the 11 yard line and broke at least seven different tackles down the right sideline, returning the punt for a touchdown. Billy Cannon was a horse in his day, and won the Heisman trophy that year for his outstanding play on both offense and defense. Later in the 1959 game, Ole Miss was at the LSU goal line needing a touchdown to win. On fourth down with just inches to score, the Ole Miss ball carrier was stopped short of the goal line by, you guessed it, Billy Cannon.

Yesterday afternoon down in Death Valley, the good folks at LSU decided that whupping lowly Ole Miss at home would be a great backdrop for honoring Billy Cannon and they made a grand show of unveiling his number and name pasted on the stadium. The only problem was lowly Ole Miss didn't get the memo.

Last weekend Troy sent most of the LSU faithful home early by leaping out to a 31 to 3 halftime lead. LSU then proceeded to score 37 unanswered points in front of a nearly empty stadium. It was the greatest comeback in LSU history... the previous being a 28 point come from behind win against Ole Miss in 1979. Yesterday afternoon down in Death Valley, the fans stuck around for the sure to come comeback win over Ole Miss. Again, my Rebels didn't get the memo.

To be honest, I was afraid that just maybe they had gotten the memo and couldn't relax and savor the win over our arch rival even with our QB taking a knee in the waning minutes holding a 31 to 13 lead. We have lost too many ball games recently in the last few minutes.

Remarkably, given the fact that Ole Miss has few friends, the Rebels are the only 4 loss team in the AP Top 25 for this week. Frankly, I don't care about the ranking, or even the fact that we are going to a bowl for the first time in five years. Just beating the despised LSU in Tiger Stadium is enough to make all well in this corner of Rebel Nation.

Now, if we can put the Mississippi State Bulldogs out of their misery on Friday, I will consider the season a success beyond my expectations. Hopefully, they'll get the memo.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Best on Betio

The Japanese commander of the force holding the tiny atoll boasted that it would take "a million men a hundred years" to wrest control of the island from him and his well-fortified troops.

Sixty-five years ago today, after only 76 hours of fighting, the Second Marine Division declared the primary island of Betio in the South Pacific Tarawa atoll "secured" and firmly in the hands of American forces beginning their island-hopping counterattack against the Empire of Japan. The cost was very high--nearly seventeen hundred Marines and sailors died in the initial landings and during the ferocious fighting over the next three days. In retrospect, many considered the assault on Tarawa unworthy of the high cost in men. In his post war memoirs, the commander of Marine forces in the Pacific, General Holland M. "Howling Mad" Smith, denounced the Joint Chiefs' decision to seize the island, claiming that we could have "let it wither on the vine" isolating it and its formidable defenses from other US-held Pacific positions and with carrier airpower.

But, the assault on Tarawa provided a treasure trove of lessons regarding the conduct of modern amphibious warfare, the doctrine and equipment for which had only been in development for less than two decades. Tarawa demonstrated the need for detailed intelligence regarding the near-shore waters (obstacles, beach gradient, tides, etc...) of the amphibious objective. Many of the casualties in the initial assault on Tarawa had occurred when unexpected low tides had prevented landing craft from crossing the reef protecting the beach--hundreds of Marines died wading the several hundred yards from reef to beach through murderous Japanese artillery and machine gun fire. Tarawa demonstrated the ineffectiveness of naval gunfire and aerial bombardment against well-fortified and deeply buried defensive positions. Perhaps most of all, Tarawa, and the assaults on other highly fortified Japanese-held islands (Guam, Peliliu, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, et al.) gave US operational planners a blood-chilling glimpse at the probable cost of the landings on the Japanese home islands projected for the winter of 1945/46.

Sixty-five years ago, today, the men of the Second Marine Division stood the bloodied and exhausted victors of a fight that showed Japan that they were not the planet's only repository of fighting spirit.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tanks for the Memories

History doesn't happen in a vacuum.

My children learned early on that asking me a simple question of a historical or political nature would most often not elicit a short, simple answer. History is not, as our failing educational system portrays, simply a chronological countdown of names, dates, places, and events. Human history is a complex tapestry of interconnected threads; the unraveling of any one such thread will lead you on a dizzying ride through man's experience on this big blue marble. Often a thread placed in the weave at one part of the cloth will not join a cohesive pattern until it has wound its way to another part. Today's history lesson is case in point.

Ninety-one years ago, the European antagonists in the first great war of the 20th Century were deadlocked in a war of immobile attrition along a line of trenchworks stretching from the Baltic to the Alps. The machine gun, barbed wire, massed artillery, and observation by aircraft had rendered infantry and horse cavalry formations incapable of the successful offensive action required for victory in war (no war has ever been won on the defense). On the 20th 0f November, 1917, A British offensive employing 450 armored and armed tractors (tanks) surprised and overwhelmed the German defenses near Cambrai. The shortsighted operational and strategic planning typical of the Anglo/Franco Alliance in this war prevented exploitation of the breach in the enemy's static defensive lines and the Germans quickly restored stalemated positions.

There were huge lessons to be learned from this event that would be studied and implemented to stunning operational success nearly 23 years later. In 1940, the French tank was actually a better armored vehicle than the one employed by the German army. French reliance on static defenses at the Maginot line, with tanks spread our in infantry supporting roles, demonstrated failure to learn the lesson of Cambrai. The Germans, having suffered defeat at the hands of mobile armored formations at Cambrai, incorporated the tactic in their mobile, high tempo Blitzkrieg and overran the French and English forces in France and the Low Countries in June of 1940.

The German success is nearly universally credited to their military genius. No genius--just good appreciation of history.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An American Agenda

There's a lot piling up on the plate of our new Commander in Chief. The present president doesn't seem to have the spine to take them on. Will "H"?

Frankly, there's not much the President of these re-United States can do to effect the business cycle to the positive. He and the Congress can make things a lot worse in the long run by pumping up the dole and buying votes for the next election cycle, or President Obama and the Congress can manage the economy's fall to a softer landing by investing in 21st Century infrastructure, and 21st Century weaponry and equipment with which our brave warriors can defend our homeland and its revitalized infrastructure.

The real challenges, for which real American muscle and influence can be applied to the most significant effect, exist in the foreign policy realm of our chief executive's responsibilities. Dudley "W" Do Nothing has twiddled his thumbs while the following cuts and scratches on the body of our world supremacy and homeland security have festered into open, life-threatening wounds now requiring serious surgery.

1. Our Borders Must Be Secured. If only one percent of the twenty million illegal immigrants that have entered our nation over the past three decades have done so with criminal intent, that represents an invasion of our homeland and a clear and present danger to the internal security of our nation by an irregular army of 200,000 threats to our peace and security. To put that number in perspective, that's the size of your Marine Corps. Without intent to cast aspersions on the vast majority of those who have entered our nation, albeit illegally, in search of a better life, I would bet you a punch in the jaw and give you fifteen minutes to draw a crowd, that the number of miscreants in the total is much higher than one percent. If it is as high as five percent, that represents an irregular force the same size as your Marine Corps and Army combined, operating against the national security interests of our nation, at large in the cities and towns of our land. This is not rocket science, nor anywhere as hard a challenge to confront as arresting our current economic decline. In fact, taking on this challenge in a constructive way can help to speed our economic recovery in the long run. If we will secure our borders and grant tax-paying citizenship to those already here our cities will begin to be able to pay for the services they provide to all of their residents. At present our cities are going broke paying for services to residents the "undocumented" percentage of which do not pay their fair share of the taxes needed to provide those services for all.

2. Iran Must Be Prevented From Acquiring Nuclear Weapons (and, oh, by the way, stopped from supporting terrorism). If I need to explain to you the why and how, you have confined your thinking to a very small box. Suffice to say, some of our older nuclear weapons need testing.

3. Cuba and Venezuela Must Be Rescued from the Castro and Castro-Lite Regimes. We could have fixed this problem in 1961, but a bumbling, young and inexperienced US president twiddled his thumbs and set us up for a nuclear showdown with the Soviets. Our policy toward Cuba since that time has only succeeded in securing the votes of Cuban exiles in South Florida, the entrenchment of the Castro regime, and the long-term enslavement of the Cuban people in a failed socialist system. Drop the embargo against Cuba and the economic prosperity of these re-United States (even in a recession) will overwhelm the socialist dictators in Cuba just as it did the Soviet Union's and Eastern Bloc's totalitarians.

4. We Must Rearm For The Coming War With China. The Chinese are preparing for this war, it just might be a good idea for us to do the same. The similarities between this era and the 1930's are evident to even the most near-sighted historian. Replace Japan and Germany with China and Russia and the template otherwise fits. Stick your head in the sand, wear your peace symbols (I will admit I wore one... until I grew up and learned to use my brain) and wish for mankind to stop acting like mankind has always and will always act, if you like. You will be wasting valuable time.

5. There Must Be A Division IA College Football Playoff System. Fix this, President Obama, and you will go down as one of the greatest American Presidents of all time, regardless of your probable failures elsewhere.

Calibrating the Colonel's Calendar

Miss Brenda has been working the Colonel so hard in the yard and garden this past couple of months that my shoulders have stayed sore. Since I gave up heavy workouts as my retirement gift to myself five years ago my upper body strength has atrophied considerably--so much so that the past several weeks of heavy shovel work left me unable to draw the string on my bow without pain. I was watching the bow season for deer slip away without being able to shoot. Yesterday morning, after a five day break from digging, I was able to draw my bow and I got permission from Miss Brenda to go sit on one of my stands overlooking an acre foot plot of mustard and turnip greens.

Back in September, I had begun preparing this particular spot for a deer feeding field. My trusty new tractor (Semper Field) and I bushhogged the grass down as low as possible, sprayed a non-persistent herbicide to kill everything, and then disced the plot repeatedly to get the ground churned up and receptive to seed. I kept a close eye on the weather forecast and just a few days before the next good rain, I fertilized and seeded the field. It was the largest crop I had ever planted--despite having gardens of one sort or another nearly every year at bases and stations all over the world. A week or so after the rain, my crop began to sprout and by the middle of last month it was thick and nearly knee high. The deer began to visit and it was exciting to check the fields each day to see where they had mowed down a section.

Yesterday afternoon about 1530 I camoed up, sprayed down with a scent killer, grabbed my bow, and eased off the hill down into my back forty. Not fifteen minutes after I had settled in my stand, two does tripped through the leaves behind and under me and onto the food plot to browse. For half an hour they munched loudly, not twenty yards away. Presumably sated with salad, they moved off the plot and back up into the woods behind me. I sat shivering as the sun and air temperature chased each other down and the adrenaline high of nearness to wild things drained from me.

Right at sunset, with a half hour of good light left, a buck sauntered across the open hay field to my left and onto the food plot. I had seen this deer several times before and numerous times on a trail camera strategically placed near a corn feeder. It was the second largest of a group of four bucks that we had pictures of from the time they began to first sprout velvety antlers back in the spring. I have nicknamed him Big Eight--there is another, much smaller eight-point in the group that I call Little Eight. The smallest of the four is a precocious upstart we call Half Rack. He has the makings of a decent antler set on one side, but the other is badly deformed. A scar on his opposite hind quarter seems to give credence to the theory that antler deformity is often a result of an injury to the opposite hind leg. We have lots of pictures of Half Rack--he hung around the corn feeder constantly and was the only one of the group that figured out how to stand on hind legs and bump the feeder to get more corn between timed spins of the dispenser. The largest deer in the group is Romey. He is an impressive eleven point buck. He has the pronounced Roman nose of an older deer to distinguish him, along with a wide and high rack of antlers. I have decreed that Romey is the only buck we will take this year--or any deer of equal size and stature. We will let Big Eight grow another year or two.

Big Eight browsed amongst the greens for a few minutes and then went on alert as two other deer emerged from the brush on the opposite side of the green field. I recognised them immediately--Little Eight and Half Rack. They all fed together about seventy-five yards from me--well out of bow range, but near enough to hear them munching. At one point Big Eight saw fit to demonstrate his dominance and advanced on Little Eight, who stood his ground for one tentative antler clash and then danced away quickly from the much bigger buck. I waited hopefully to see Romey appear, but darkness fell without a sign of him.

On the phone later last night with Number One son, I related that it was a good thing it was still bow season--if I had been up in that tree with my rifle, Big Eight would have been hard to pass up. "Dad," he answered with the exasperation of a child with a forgetful parent, "I thought gun season opened on the 16th."

I told Number One that I was quite certain that the gun season wasn't open until this coming Saturday. He was just as adamant that it opened this past weekend, but finally relented that the Colonel knows best.

This morning, I checked my hunting season printout just to make sure. Yep, gun season opens on..., wait a stinkin' second, THE 16TH!

Big Eight has a new name: Lucky Buck!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Littlest Rebel

It was a good weekend for the Colonel and his clan.

The Sunbelt Conference patsy lined up for the Rebels' 10th game of the season obliged with an appropriately inept performance and the score was ugly in our favor, early. It was a glorious rout and a great day for grandson Caleb's first Ole Miss football game except for the fact that it was a blustery, cold day fit for neither old men nor younguns. We held out as long as we could, but left shortly after an early third quarter touchdown put us up 45 zip and assured bowl eligibility for the first time since Eli.

The wind abated enough for a comfortable settee around the fire pit Sunday evening and we gorged on sticky smokey smores and listened to the coyotes tune up at sunset. Number One Son and and his bride (she of the high and exalted position of Provider of Grandsons) left this morning for the Redneck Riviera and left Number One Grandson with Pop and Nana for an extended stay aboard Eegeebeegee.

I had a list of ten things to do with Caleb between now and when his parents came back to collect him at Thanksgiving. We did just about all of them this morning--don't know who needed the two-hour afternoon nap more, the three-year-old or the old man.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Here Comes Trouble!

Two days of light rain here at the northern end of southern nowhere have been just what the doctor ordered.

With the advent of cooler weather the past several weeks the flora aboard Eegeebeegee have begun their decline into dormancy and Miss Brenda has broken out her whip, cracking it within alarming proximity to her mule-headed mate's hairy ears. We are in a panic of flower bed re-positioning and tree re-planting to get the grounds around the big house all spruced up. Ordinarily we would have spaced the sprucing over the several long months of winter and early spring, but the boss wants the place in shape for holiday season visitors. Oh, my aching back! Thank you, Lord, for the rest of your rain!

The first wave of festive visitation comes ashore this evening with the arrival of Number 1 son, his bride (she of the high and exalted position of Provider of Grandsons), and the hope of 21st Century civilization--Caleb and Taylor.

Saturday will be Caleb's First Ole Miss Football Game. We picked (hopefully) a patsy for his inaugural Grove Gallop. I'm hoping for an early blow-out, as I don't expect Mr. C will be able to sit still for an entire game.

The plan is for Caleb to stay here with Nana and Pop for the next two weeks. At three years of age, he's mobile and agile enough to really appreciate the wilds of Eegeebeegee. I'll keep you posted on that.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Semper Satisfaction


No history lesson this morning. No curmudgeonly commentary. No snide sniping. Suffice it to say, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, there's hot joe in my mug, and I'm a Marine. What else could a man ask for?


Happy 233rd Birthday, Marines!


Semper Fidelis!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Story Time

I love a good story. My favorite people are those who can relate an otherwise mundane occurrence or downright boring lesson with humor or color, respectively. I am not a "just the facts" person. The circle of folks here in rural Mississippi, to which I am slowly being allowed admittance, contains some first rate story-tellers. Heard this one the other day:

“We called him ‘Jumper’ cuz ever since we were kids he was so short and skinny he had to jump up to reach anything, an’ he was so light he could jump off a roof or out of a tree and land so easy he never got hurt. For bein’ so little, he was always lookin’ for a fight and would jump into a scrap any chance he got. So, the name ‘Jumper’ fit him, better’n the name Elton what his momma called him. Me and Jumper was coon huntin’ one evenin’ and the dogs treed this big ole boar coon way up in a sycamore tree down along Lawyer’s Creek. Jumper sez to me, ‘I’m gonna climb up there an’ knock that coon outa there an’ let the dogs fight him,’ an’ he jumps up an’ grabs a limb and swings up into the tree like a monkey climbin’ on a pony. He was up that tree quicker’n you can count your cousins. The dogs were going nuts with Jumper’s commotion going up in that tree, bayin’ and snarlin’ and workin’ themselves up into a frenzy just waitin’ for that coon to hit the ground. Once he got up close to that coon, Jumper realized he’d need somethin’ other than his bare hands to knock that coon off’n his perch, an’ he reaches over to break off a small limb. ‘Course Jumper didn’t weigh a buck and could’n work up enough leverage to break it off. He starts to swaying back’n forth raking that limb back’n forth an’ creatin’ such a commotion, an’ the dogs are getting’ whipped up, an’ all of a sudden I hear a crack an’ sumthin hittin’ limbs on the way down, an’ Jumper lands at the base of the tree with a thud and a ‘whoof!’ an’ then there’s a whirlin’ dog fight with Jumper in the middle of it. Them hounds were ready to hit the first thing that hit the ground and it was Jumper, an’ he’s screamin’ like a banshee, an’ the dogs are snarlin’ and snappin’ an’ I go to kickin’ like crazy at the dogs to get ‘em off’n Jumper. I’m a kickin’ dogs and they’s a yelpin’ when I connect an’ I’m kickin’ like crazy tryin’ to keep them dogs from eatin’ Jumper alive, an’ I’m not even tryin’ to aim at a particular dog, jus’ standin’ over Jumper and kickin’ like a hillbilly in a cloggin’ contest. Them dogs finally figure out Jumper ain’t no coon and leave him alone long enough for him to leap to his feet and start brushin’ himself off, an’ I sez, ‘Jumper, you alright?’, and he looks at me like he wants take the fight to me next and sez, ‘I wuz, til’ you kicked me in the head!’”

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Good Things

Despite the fact that my vote went for the other guy, I am heartened by the way the most free, safe, and peaceful elections in the world occured with clockwork constitutional precision. As one who dedicated the first three decades of his adult life to the defense of the constitution of these re-United States, it's a good feeling to know that those energies, not to mention the much greater sacrifices of others, were not in vain. The sun came up yesterday morning and the American people went about their business without fear of recrimination.

By all accounts, voter turnout on Tuesday and via early and absentee balloting means was the highest in over a century. That is a good thing. Democracy is not a game to be watched from the stands--it is most effective when participation is highest.

Tuesday morning, Miss Brenda and I made our way to our polling place at the Abbeville Court House, a building that used to house a small Methodist congregation. While there had been a long line earlier in the morning, we waited only a few minutes to cast our votes by touch screen. The last time I voted in Mississippi was 1976--my guy didn't win that year either.

It will be very interesting to watch as our new president builds his administration. My guess is there won't be as much "Change" in the faces he brings to the White House as one would expect given all of the change rhetoric over the past two years. I wouldn't count on seeing very many of his campaign promises fulfilled any time soon, either. No new president ever does carry out all of the pander he proposes to get elected. That is another good thing.

Yet another good thing is I figure I have a least six months to get fields of fire cleared and alternate and supplementary fighting positions prepared before any new anti-gun legislation is enacted.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

First Frost

There's a heavy frost on the ground this morning at the northern end of southern nowhere, and it's about time.

It has been a long, hot summer; the heat hanging to the land long into the fall like a thick blanket of dust on a lost book, waiting for the clearing wintry breath of Earth's librarian. The thin white frosting this morning follows a wind-chilled day that had Miss Brenda and me rummaging in the back of closets for jackets and caps. A week ago I sweated, and Miss Brenda glistened, in short-sleeves as we worked in the yard. Yesterday, we followed the sun from the front yard to the back with different projects in order to fight the chill.

The last couple of days have been full of the signs of approaching winter. The sight of high, wavering lines of snow geese headed for the Delta indicate that the fall waterfowl migration is underway. My daily security patrol of the back forty has lately been accompanied by the crisp percussion of crunching leaves at each measured step. The leaves of sweet gums have gone all orangey and a brown layer of needles blankets the ground beneath the pines.

Fall is my favorite time of the year, and it goes by much too quickly. The comfortable temperatures and the colorful changes give way far too rapidly to the cold, stark darks and greys of winter. We are too thirds of the way through the football season, for crying out loud, and it has just now gotten cool enough to enjoy the game the way a true fan should--screaming and stomping to stay warm as much as to provide support to the team.

Summer's gone, fall is fleeting, and winter is in the wind--better start working on putting on an extra layer of fat.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday Morning MOTOs, Vol. I, Ed. 4

Finding examples of mastery of the obvious (MOTO) is the least challenging thing I do each week. We are literally barraged in every medium by statements demonstrating a stranglehold on surety. So much to reward, so little to give.

The Colonel's Monday Morning MOTO Bronze goes to my Rebels' new coach. With less than two minutes left in the game, Ole Miss had a 23 to 14 lead and the Rebel (ahem) faithful in the crowd began taunting the home crowd by chanting the name of the Razorbacks' old coach. A minute later, the score was 23 to 21, Arkansas had recovered an on-side kick, and come within a questionable offensive pass interference call of achieving a come-from-behind win. When asked about it later, Houston Nutt opined that, "they probably started that a little early." Frankly, Rebel Nation has a bad call to thank for rescuing us from the all-too familiar last-minute close loss. This Saturday that shoe was on a pig's foot.

The MOTO silver goes to the junior senator from Arizona, Jon Kyle, who told the Arizona Daily Star that, "Unfortunately, I think John McCain might be added to that long list of Arizonans who ran for president but were never elected." The Republican Party is headed for a historic defeat and it is entirely their fault. You can't get re-elected on a conservative platform if you don't govern as conservatives when you get in power. That sort of bait and switch only works for the Democrats.

This morning's MOTO gold medal is awarded to Senator Joe Biden, whose medal count is approaching Michael Phelps', for his non-answer to the reporter who asked the difference between Karl Marx's wealth redistribution philosophy and Barrack Obama's. Said Senator Biden, "Is this a joke?"

Took the words right out of my mouth, Senator.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ole Miss Marines, 30 Years On

Thirty years ago this week, nearly 250 other second lieutenants and I finished six months of post-commissioning basic officer training at The Basic School, known by generations of Marine officers as simply "TBS", and took our next steps toward fulfilling our dimly-lit destinies "in the fleet." We were designated Fox Company, Basic Class 6-78 and began our training in earnest at the end of May 1978. The majority of us were graduates of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, hailing from colleges and universities in nearly every state. Four of us in that class were from Ole Miss--John Robinson, John David (J. D.) Henley, Mark Bryant, and yours, truly. Another from Ole Miss--Stephen Foster--was, for some reason I've forgotten, detailed to the next class that began a month or so later. J. D. choked (literally) at the chow hall a couple of months into training and after recuperating, joined Stephen's company to finish up.

For six months a cadre of the Marine Corps' best and brightest captains had driven us through a course jam-packed with everything we would need to know in order to lead a rifle platoon in combat. Regardless of eventual specialty--infantry, artillery, armor, supply, aviation--every Marine officer is trained first as a rifle platoon commander. Then, he or she goes on to follow-on schools (many of them run by the other armed services) to qualify in an MOS (military occupational specialty). The theory--proved in combat--behind this expensive practice, unique among America's military branches, is that in the Marine Corps every other Marine and his specialty exists for no other reason but to support the Marine infantryman on the ground and in the fight, and, in order to understand what the Marine in the mud is going through and needs, every other Marine spends time wallowing at the initiation of his or her career.

When we five Ole Miss Marines finished up at TBS, J.D. and Mark headed to Fort Sill and the Army's Artillery school. Stephen was going to be an M.P., so he headed to the Army's M.P. school. John and I were going to be infantry officers and so stayed right there aboard Camp Barrett at Quantico to attend the Marine Corps' Infantry Officer Course (I.O.C.), where, in the early NorthernVirgina winter, we were going to be, in the words of our TBS company commander, then Major, Wheeler Baker, "miserable, at best" traipsing in cold, wet woods and running live fire assaults on cold, muddy ranges. I loved every minute of it!

Of the five Ole Miss Marines of the class of 1978, J. D. and I were the only ones to stay for a full active duty career. J. D., stationed at Twenty-nine Palms at the time, died of a heart attack in 1996. He had been my roommate our sophomore year, and was one of those guys who was a loyal to his friends as the day is long. It's been 33 years since we roomed together in that tiny dorm room, but I can still hear his hilarious exclamations of exasperation at being made the butt of a joke.

Stephen, Mark, and John left active duty at the end of their four year commitments. Stephen stayed in the reserves and reached the rank of colonel. We were re-united at the Navy War College eight years ago and picked right back up with a running joke we had while in school.

Last I heard, John owns a computer store in Jackson. Mark went to work for the CIA, and in a story Stephen later recounted to me, was asked to play a bit part in the movie "Dumbo Drop" while he was working in Thailand. Stephen was a movie extra, himself, in the film "Blaze Starr."

And, me? Well, I'm still waiting for the call to play the title role in "The Steve McQueen Story."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beirut BLT Blast

The news was like a punch in the Colonel's gut.

Thirty-two years ago, today, a Shiite extremist, trained and equipped by an Iranian-backed terrorist group, drove a truck bomb into the building housing the U.S. Marine Battalion Landing Team HQ at the Beirut Airport. When that deluded young man ignited his bomb, he shortly thereafter discovered that he had been duped--there were no virgins awaiting him in hell. The resulting explosion imploded the three-story building, killing 241 Marines and sailors as the floors pancaked down on them.

Commanding BLT 1/8 that day was Lieutenant Colonel Larry Gerlach. Nine years previously, then Captain, Gerlach had been the first Marine officer to begin the Colonel's preparation for commissioning as second lieutenant of Marines. 

Captain Gerlach was worthy of the idol worship the Colonel and his fellow midshipmen gave him, although the Colonel doubts he realized, nor would have wanted us to hold him up so. 

Gerlach, a Pennsylvanian, enlisted in the Marine Corps in the early 60's and had been sent by the Marine Corps to Ole Miss to get a college education and a commission. Graduating in 1966, he went to Vietnam as a rifle platoon commander. Grievously wounded early in his first tour in the jungles, he recovered, volunteered to go back, and was wounded again. In 1974, he was assigned as the Marine Officer Instructor with the NROTC unit at his alma mater. 

When the Colonel ambled into Gerlach's office in August of that year, he was welcomed with a handshake, a smile, and an order to "get a haircut." 

Captain Gerlach loved us, led us, and taught us. There are a multitude of men and women, even today, who can recite, verbatim, enduring leadership lessons given by him over three decades ago. On the several occasions when the Colonel personally let him down with some bone-headed stunt, or immature misdeed, he didn't rant at him -- he quietly and calmly redirected his errant trajectory, showed him his error and taught the Colonel how to correct others. Humbly, he led us to believe that he was just an average Marine officer -- that the Corps was full of men better than he. 

Sadly, he misled us -- not many measured up to him.

The Colonel was a young captain, teaching lieutenants at the Basic School in Quantico, thirty-two years ago. When he heard the news about the bombing of the Battalion HQ in Beirut and the awful death toll, the Colonel was crushed by the thought that Gerlach was probably killed in the blast. 

It wasn't for several days that we finally learned that he had survived, although badly injured.

Heroes are hard to kill.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday MOTOs Vol. I; Ed. 3

The Colonel is especially grumpy this morning, the caffeine is not producing the desired effect, and I'm resigning myself to the reality of another dismal four-win season for my Rebels. So, I will turn my curmudgeonly attention to those Masters Of The Obvious whose grip on the bottom line, as displayed by their public pronouncements of late, make them deserving of Monday MOTO medals.

The Monday MOTO bronze goes to Senator Biden, who, as ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports, understands what all of the rest of us with our eyes open can readily see: "'Mark my words,'" the Democratic vice presidential nominee warned at the second of his two Seattle fundraisers Sunday. 'It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.'"

The Monday MOTO silver goes to Senator Biden, who, as ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports, has a vise-like grip on the truth with follow-up comments to those which occasioned his award of a bronze MOTO above: "'And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you - not financially to help him - we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right.'"

The Monday MOTO gold goes to, you guessed it, Senator Biden who, as ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports, has the ability to foretell a future that takes no clairvoyance on the part of even the least forward-looking of any of us: "'Because I promise you, you all are gonna be sitting here a year from now going, 'Oh my God, why are they there in the polls? Why is the polling so down? Why is this thing so tough?'"

Senator Biden's comments need little clarifying commentary, but that's never stopped me before. First, the next President will be tested internationally early in his first term--nearly all have been. Senator Biden tries to make us believe that President Kennedy's first international trial was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the resolution of which JFK has gotten way too much credit for. Actually, the initial international crisis in which Kennedy found himself was the Bay of Pigs--the invasion of Cuba by US-supported anti-Castro forces. Kennedy refused to commit the full support necessary for the anti-communists to succeed and left them open to defeat and capture--many later died in Castro's death camps--and the invasion was swiftly squashed on the landing beaches. This monumental failure on Kennedy's part (revisionist historians have shifted the blame from Kennedy to his CIA and Defense Department, so you don't see this collosal collapse of presidential leadership in history text books) emboldened the Soviet Union to place nuclear-tipped missiles, aimed at the US, in Cuba, and precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis which by most accounts came as close to causing war between these re-United States and the Soviet Union as any other event in the history of the Cold War.

Second, a President Obama will, in Biden's words, "need help" from the liberal elite (he was addressing cappuccino commies in Seattle) to buttress him against the fallout of: his failure to either act decisively in the sure-to-come international crisis, or of his far left governance of a nation that (to the chagrin of the liberal elites driving popular culture) is still a majority conservative one.

Third, my bet is, as Biden so presciently predicts, an Obama administration will suffer plummeting poll numbers that will make George Bush's look good. An Obama administration will disappoint not only those of us who make up the center and right majority of this nation, but will also massively disappoint the liberal base who believe he will "change the world." The dirty little secret is that an Obama administration will not be able to fulfill any of its populist promises to the satisfaction of those to whom they have pandered. We won't leave Iraq any time soon. We won't see a middle class tax cut. There won't be any slashing of wasteful and inefficient government programs. There won't be lower cost medical insurance. Education will continue to suffer from the negligent control of the NEA.

Obama doesn't represent change any more than McCain does. If you're going to vote for Obama, do so knowing that at the very least you will have a President with a better command of the English language than the present occupant of the Oval Office.

Other than that, you're gonna be out of luck.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pappy and the Pup

I watched as much as I could stomach last night and then changed the channel and my mood.

The two senators who would be king met for their last "debate" last night and reached a new low for political discourse. Given the challenges facing our nation, one would think that we deserve better from potential presidents than the snide sniping and populist pablum served up by Pappy and the Pup. The smirking and bug-eyeing of the two made me want to reach through my TV and slap the ever-lovin' spit out of the both of them. I can't help but ask again, are these two knuckle-heads the best we can do? Whichever one of these two wins this election, its gonna be another four years of embarrassment.

And, despite the "reach across the aisle" promises by both, anyone who believes that the political acrimony entrenched along the Potomac will ease with either's election, is smoking something medicinal. We will remain a deeply divided nation--more so, perhaps--after this election. The last time we were so politically divided, we fought a war to keep the union, the wounds from which fester still.

Yet, the differences of the positions at either end of the political spectrum in mainstream American politics do not reach the distance that would excuse the poisonous partisanship prevalent currently in our democracy's discourse. Accumulation and exercise of power does. That's why (mostly) Democrats are calling this "the most important election in our lifetime." Every time I hear that refrain, I cringe--nothing could be further from the truth.

The security and prosperity of our nation is an ever-present concern. We may not realize it during times of peace and plenty, but every election elevates someone and their party to power who will be faced by a challenge to our security, national interests, and economic health. This election is no more, nor no less, important than any other election in the history of these re-United States. Which leaves the question...

Who do you trust with the keys to the family car come January, Pappy or the Pup?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not Hip

If you, dear readers, are anything like me (I suspect many of you are--you wouldn't subject yourself to this drivel if you weren't), the current presidential polling has you feeling a bit disconcerted.

I guess I'm just too old fashioned, too cynical maybe, but for the life of me I just don't get how a majority of the citizenry of these re-United States can believe that a man like Barack Obama (and the crew he'll bring into the White House with him) will be good for America. Our memories are way too short. The last liberal populist who gained presidential power masquerading as a centrist brought more disarray to, and shame on, our nation than, well, even more than the current administration. I speak, of course, of William Jefferson Clinton. If you liked the mindless mendacity that swirled through the White House and oozed out into our nation during the Clinton years, you're gonna love an Obama administration.

Bubba and Barrack could be twins. Both are consummate politicians. Both think they are smarter than everyone else in the room, and so speak in meaningless platitudes meant to impress us with their command of the popular vernacular and their grasp of our pain. But, when a politician tells you he "feels your pain" he's really feeling for your wallet.

I've heard and read lately that Barrack Obama is the overwhelming choice of the rest of the world. That, in itself, should set alarm bells ringing throughout the land. I don't want my President to be the President of the World (unless of course, we have finally conquered the rest of the world and have brought it into our empire). I want him or her to lead us to be better than the rest of the world. I don't want my President trying to level the playing field. I want my President to run up the score. This is not a T-ball game--life on this big blue marble is the NFL with automatic weapons. Presidents who approach the job with any other view do so at OUR peril.

It won't be the end of the world if Obama becomes our next president. Truth is, the office shapes its occupant, conforming him to the harsh reality of national security. The problem is, some men don't conform fast enough--Jimmy Carter, for example; John Kennedy for another--and the result is we spot our enemies a couple of touchdowns in the first quarter. The difference is our enemies could be lobbing high explosives and lowly germs instead of footballs.

But, have no fear, Senator Obama will pay for all of his programs, AND maintain a robust national defense, by "going line by line through the budget and eliminating wasteful or inefficient programs." That quote, in itself, either demonstrates complete naivete or utter disrespect for our intelligence. The President doesn't have a line item veto, he'll not be able to say "no" to a Democrat congress, and he himself has risen to prominence via some of those same "wasteful and inefficient programs."

A word to the wise in the Defense Department--start training our men and women in uniform to fight with sticks and rocks.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yom Kippur Lesson

The Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, began last night at sundown. The most important and solemn holiday in Judaism, Yom Kippur marks the end of Rosh Hashannah or the Ten Days of Repentance requiring amendment of man's ways toward God and his fellow man. Thirty-five years ago, as the nation of Israel paused to observe Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria launched loosely coordinated offensives across the Suez Canal and against the Golan Heights, respectively.

Six years previously, Israel had launched pre-emptive attacks on Egypt and Syria, convinced by intelligence that those nations were preparing to go to war against the Jewish nation. When Jordan joined the fray, Israeli forces quickly overran the West Bank and seized the entire city of Jerusalem. Combat operations lasted 6 days and resulted in one of the most dramatic, decisive, and lop-sided victories in the history of man's war on his fellow man. When the dust settled in June of 1967, Israel's territorial boundaries were nearly tripled and its Arab neighbors were embarrassed.

During the years between the end of the Six Day War and the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, the Soviet Union resupplied both Syria and Egypt and egged on Egypt's continued low-intensity combat operations against Israel along and above the Suez Canal. Soviet pilots even flew Egyptian-marked aircraft in combat against the Israeli Air Force (just as they had in Korea and Vietnam against the American Air Force). The Soviets helped Egypt's President Sadat plan the 1973 offensive with the aim to regain Egypt's Sinai territory and Egyptian pride; and, if fully successful, completely destroy the Jewish state. A combination of a brilliant Egyptian strategic deception plan, timing to coincide with the complete shut-down of the Jewish state to observe Yom Kippur, and faulty Israeli intelligence assumptions led to nearly complete strategic and operational surprise for the Egyptian and Syrian offensives.

The Egyptian assault across the Suez Canal, and the accompanying Syrian attack against the Golan Heights caught Israel almost completely unprepared. Egyptian forces crossed the Suez waterway and breached the Israeli fortifications along the eastern bank of the canal with relative ease--it was a well-planned and well-executed operation that once again proved the futility of static defenses such as had been disastrously depended upon by the French in 1940, the Germans in 1944, the Iraqis in 1991...(the list could go on and on). Israel countered the Egyptian offensive with pure armor formations that were decimated by heavy concentrations of Soviet-made infantry-wielded anti-armor weapons. Every third Egyptian soldier crossing the Suez Canal carried an anti-armor weapon. Israel's vaunted air force was likewise prevented from interdicting Egyptian cross-canal movement by large numbers of well-placed and coordinated Egyptian anti-aircraft batteries. In just the first couple of days of fighting in the Sinai, Israeli losses totaled 49 aircraft and 500 tanks--a stunning Egyptian tactical victory.

However, the Egyptian success in the Sinai soon turned to failure as the well-rehearsed and well-executed initial thrust across the Suez ground to a halt against stiffening Israeli resistance. The Soviet-trained Egyptian army now displayed what we had always believed would be the Achilles Heel of the Soviets if they attacked Western Europe--they had not trained their subordinate commanders for independent action to take advantage of battlefield opportunities. Instead of employing maneuver around Israeli army strongpoints, the Egyptians attacked them head on and began to suffer the same fate the Israeli armor counterattacks had earlier. When the Egyptians fell back on their previous positions, Israel counterattacked--this time with infantry infiltration of the Egyptian anti-armor and anti-aircraft positions, clearing the way for an Israeli Air Force supported armor thrust across the Suez Canal to the north of the initial Egyptian crossing. The Israeli forces quickly surrounded the predominance of the Egyptian army and advanced to within 65 miles of Cairo.

On the Syrian front at the Golan Heights, greatly out-numbered Israeli tank units miraculously fought back numerous Syrian armored assaults. At the start of fighting Syria possessed a 9 to 1 numerical advantage in tanks over the holiday-depleted Israeli defenders of the Golan strongpoint. Again demonstrating the weakness of Soviet battle doctrine, Soviet-trained Syrian commanders refused to deviate from their plan of attack and failed to take advantage of a huge battlefield opportunity provided by the unexpected success of one of their armored attacks. The battles in the Golan Heights provided Israel with some of their most celebrated national heroes. As Israeli reservists and active soldiers returning from holiday made their way to the Golan front, they manned tanks staged in rear area storage facilities and headed to the battle lines--often in single tank formations. Often, Israeli tank commanders found themselves alone, holding a critical Syrian objective or attacking the flank of a Syrian armored thrust.

When the Syrian assault ground to a halt, the Israeli army counterattacked into Syrian territory and advanced to within 25 miles of the Syrian capital, Damascus. Yet another operational surprise awaited the Israelis as an Iraqi force of several armored divisions entered the fray, attacking the right flank of the Israeli advance into Syria and prompting an Israeli retrograde to more easily defended positions back on the Golan Heights.

When it became clear to the United States that its ally Israel would not repeat the quick 1967 Six Day War victory over its Arab antagonists, the US began a massive airlift of war supplies and material to Israel. When it later became clear to the Soviets that its Arab clients might eventually suffer an even greater defeat than they had in 1967, the Kremlin put all of its expeditionary (airborne and amphibious) forces on alert and indicated to the United States that if a cease-fire was not brokered quickly Russian forces would enter the fight against Israel. President Nixon, embroiled and discombobulated by the Watergate scandal, in effect abrogated his commander-in-chief responsibilities to Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger, William Colby, and Alexander Haig; his Secretaries of State and Defense, Director of Central Intelligence, and White House Chief of Staff, respectively. In a flurry of midnight activity, while Nixon slept the evening of 23-24 October, those four made incredibly sensitive decisions on the unknown behalf of the President--they raised our nuclear defense condition, DEFCON, from 4 to 3, and sent a message to Sadat, in Nixon's name, pledging future support if Egypt would rescind its request for Soviet aid. The Soviets were very surprised at our placing our nuclear forces on alert and wisely displayed the cooler heads in the whole lashup, standing down their forces and accepting yet another Arab defeat, rather than risk World War Three. One wonders what different tack this whole conflict might have taken had Kissinger and Haig woke Nixon to his commander-in-chief responsibilities that night. My bet is Nixon would not have acted as decisively as the Kissinger-Schlesinger-Colby-Haig cabal and the Soviets might very well have been emboldened to dispatch forces to help defend Egypt and Syria against the Israeli counterattacks. That action would surely have provoked an armed response from the US in defense of Israel.

There is a critical lesson in this for us. The same fault lines run though the Middle East today. A resurgent Russia, flush with oil cash and feeling cocky after "teaching Georgia a lesson" without incurring an effective American response, might very well be emboldened to take a more active role in the region, increasing the tectonic pressure to the point of rupture. A continued weak response, from the current US administration and the next, will be a green light to Putin's plans for a reinvigorated Russian Empire. The one, the only, thing power-crazy punks like Putin respect is strength--not "please and thank you" diplomacy, but a bare-knuckled posture with force to back it up.

Who do you want calling the shots come January?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Taking a Different Path

Thirty-four years ago, I made my first life-direction decision as an adult. The better part of the next three decades were devoted to service to my nation as a Marine. Five years ago, I came to a fork in my life's road and took a turn that led me in a direction for which I believed my training as a Marine had prepared me. I was right and I was wrong.

Three decades preparing to destroy the enemies of my nation, and building teams to that end, did in fact prepare me to tackle the challenges of building teams and programs to take market share away from the competitors of my clients. The strategic and operational templates are nearly identical, and it was no great feat of mental gymnastics to apply one to the other.

Three decades of serving with selfless Americans who likewise had dedicated their lives to the destruction of the enemies of my nation, did not, however, prepare me to deal with the selfish Americans dedicated to lining their own pockets at the expense of any semblance of personal integrity. I am not, it turns out, very good at client service. Let me rephrase/correct that; my self-respect was taking way too many hits as I struggled to be good at client service.

I've reached another fork in my life's road. I'm taking an off-ramp from the interstate and turning onto a dusty gravel road. Today, I announced to my team that I was resigning as their President and Chief Operating Officer effective the end of the month. It is a purely personal decision. I'm simplifying my life. I'm devoting the rest of it to the following goals:

1. Making Miss Brenda happy.

2. Making Miss Brenda happy.

3. Making Miss Brenda happy.

4. Writing the great American novel.

5. Growing corn and/or weeds, whichever is easiest.

6. Staying in good enough shape to keep up with my grandsons.

7. Digging fighting positions around the property to enable an effective defense.

8. Raising bumper crops of peaches, plums, blackberries, deer, and turkey.

9. Defending North Mississippi from the annual winter waterfowl invasion.

10. Wasting your time posting my curmudgeonly commentary for your reading displeasure.