Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Objective: Project

Old habits and other learned behaviors die hard with a traditionalist like the Colonel. Take, for example, the methodology by which projects are identified and attacked here aboard Eegeebeegee, capital of the Tallahatchie Free State, secretively situated at the northern end of southern nowhere.

At the beginning of my career in the Corps I was taught the military method for identifying mission objectives and their subordinate supporting intermediate goals. Way up the food chain from my position at the pointy end of the spear, some ancient Marine with stars on his collar would wave his wrinkled hand across a map and squads of colonels and majors would translate his grand gesture into circles on the map identified as Landing Force (LF) or Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) objectives; e.g. LF A or MEF B. By the time orders for the capture of these valuable pieces of real estate reached my level as a rifle platoon commander, I was normally tasked with securing a left or right portion of a small hill or road junction on the long way to accomplishment of the star-studded ancient and wrinkled Marine’s ultimate objective. Early on in my career, the Marine Corps philosophy for mission assignment was, in a word, autocratic, and seemed, in another word, arbitrary. You got your mission with no explanation for why. During the 1980’s the Corps’ warfighting philosophy underwent a revolution of sorts guided by the nebulous and amorphous tenets of what became known as Maneuver Warfare. Among the many not-so valuable concepts foisted upon Marines by the “Maneuverists” in and out of the Corps, was what, in the Colonel’s not-so humble opinion, was the most valuable component of this new philosophy—the explanation (Commander’s Intent) of what the star-studded ancient and wrinkled Marine wanted to accomplish by securing the objective a squad of majors had deciphered from the wave of his hand across a map. Every subordinate commander down the chain added their intent for the objectives they assigned to their subordinates. In theory, a lance corporal in the last rank of the last squad in my rifle platoon would understand why the star-studded ancient and wrinkled Marine wanted a particular objective taken or enemy unit attacked, as well as the reason for the accomplishment of all of the subordinate objectives of the commanders between the lance corporal and the star-studded ancient and wrinkled one. Just as Napoleon asserted that every private carried a field marshal’s baton in his back pack, we Marines began to bandy about concepts like General Krulak’s “Strategic Corporal,” positing that even the smallest unit leader could take action that might be decisive to accomplishment of the largest military, or even political, objective. Finally, I was taught to look to the “desired end-state” whenever deciding on how to prosecute targets of opportunity.

Later I learned the military method for identifying and attacking known or suspected enemy targets. During the planning for an operation, we would develop a List of Targets. The List of Targets identified and enumerated every conceivable fixed location at which an enemy force might be located or from which an enemy force might need to be denied access. From this list was drawn the targets to be attacked to accomplish the results desired in the particular mission at hand. This mission-specific Target List (confuse the two at peril of a butt-chewing) became the reference document in a fire support plan that prioritized, integrated, and scheduled the fires of all of the weapon systems (those with effective ranges and power beyond the organic small arms of the maneuver unit) available to deliver lethal doses of lead poisoning in support of the maneuver unit tasked with accomplishing the mission. Each significant element of the maneuver element, tasked with a distinct objective in the overall mission, was assigned a block of alpha-numeric target identifiers; e.g. AW001 to AW010 by which to identify and request fires on particular targets. The maneuver unit’s Fire Support Coordinator would, in consonance with the commander’s intent for the operation, schedule, prioritize, and allocate specific fire support means (artillery, aviation, naval gunfire, etc.) for attacking each target.

A couple of stints as an instructor, first at the Marine Officers’ basic pre-assignment training (known as TBS, for, I kid you not, The Basic School) and later as the Marine representative on the staff at the Air Force’s Command and Staff College, necessitated attendance at each Service’s Instructional Management Course where I learned to break down each task or lesson to be taught into subordinate tasks or learning objectives.

The Colonel’s apologies for the frantically boring droll above, but it helps explain my methodology (and the pathetically warped mental processes) by which even the most mundane tasks and projects are identified and accomplished. A little over two years ago, the Colonel and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda established our latest, and last, in a long line of operational bases here in the kudzu-clad hills of north Mississippi. Before the dust from the truck that had delivered our well-traveled worldly belongings had fairly settled on the gravel drive, we began to survey the piney-woods and clay bank blank canvass surrounding the big house on the hill, and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, not to be confused in any way with the afore-mentioned star-studded ancient and wrinkled Marine, waved her hand grandly over the grounds and issued her commander’s intent to her assembled staff—me (and I can out-staff a whole squad of majors!)

This place will be our place. It will be covered in flowers in beds, shaded by broad-leafed trees and augmented by ornamental shrubbery. It will have dressed paths and walkways. That pond you insist on calling a lake will have a dock and an adjacent tree-shaded sitting area. You may have that area adjacent to the house for your Man Toy Storage and Saw Dust Production facility—however, it must match the house and not be an eye-sore. The drive from the road to the house will begin with a pleasing entry and will be lined with trees and ornamental shrubbery from beginning to end. There will a vegetable garden protected from unauthorized deer and rabbit browsing. While you many not intentionally bait deer and turkey into the back yard, you may have the fields below and behind the house for your wildlife foodplots and attendant apex predatory pursuits. There will be a place for everything and everything in its place—and I want everything under a roof and behind a door. There is no desired end-state beyond the realization, which I hope makes an impression somewhere in your thick skull, that there shall be no end to the improvements and beautification projects aboard Eegeebeegee. Are there any questions? I didn’t think so—move out!

With that commander’s intent and the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda’s desired end state firmly ensconced in the few remaining cognitive cells lying nearly fallow in the deep recesses of my bald-pated brain-housing group, I began the tedious staff work of converting said intent into primary and intermediate objectives by which the broad (No, I didn’t say, the broad’s) commander’s intent and desired end state might be accomplished. A thorough mission analysis (accomplished in much the same manner in which the Colonel conducts his strategic planning sessions—eyes closed meditatively while remaining in a well-disciplined stationary semi-reclined position) revealed the stated Comely and Kind-hearted Miss Brenda (MB), and implied Eegeebeegee Work Force (EWF), objectives; a very small and random exemplary sampling of which is provided below:

MB Objective A: Beautification of the immediate Big House grounds.

EWF Objective 1: Move all twelve mature crepe myrtles from their incorrect positions immediately adjacent to the house to more aesthetically pleasing positions anchoring flower beds.
EWF Objective 2: Build flower beds.
EWF Objective 3. Move all ornamental shrubbery from incorrect positions immediately adjacent to the house to more aesthetically pleasing positions in flower beds.
EWF Objective 4. Protect crepe myrtles, ornamental shrubbery, and flowers from cold and dry conditions by surrounding with mulch.
EWF Objective 5. Stimulate the economy via purchase of a chipper with which to make own mulch out of Eegeebeegee’s prodigious brush and tree prunedge.

MB Objective F: Beautification of the Colonel’s Man Toy Storage and Saw Dust Production Facility.
EWF Objective 55: Build porch on front of the CMTSSDPF (CoManToyStoSawDuProFac for you Navy types).
EWF Objective 56: Harvest cedar for conversion to lumber for the CMTSSDOF porch. EWF Objective 57: Stimulate the economy via purchase of saw mill for conversion of cedar logs into lumber.
EWF Objective 58: Stimulate the economy via purchase radial arm saw and thickness planer for conversion of rough cedar lumber into finished boards for stringers and deck planks.
EWF Objective 59: Stimulate the economy via purchase of compressor and pneumatic nail gun for securing deck planks to stringers.

It goes on for volumes to which I will not subject the meager readership of this wanton waste of rod and cone time. Suffice to say, the Colonel is bogged in an operational quagmire, extraction from which cannot be imagined accomplished in what remains of this ancient and wrinkled Marine's lifetime. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Who's "the king," now?

The Colonel is sinking rapidly into a state of deep depression. Michael Jackson has just assumed room temperature and the entire world, addled by a fawning obsession with celebrity, thinks that is the most important story on the planet. If H comes out with a statement about this drug addicted, pernicious pedophile's passing, I just might submit my secession papers.

For the record, I have never owned any recording, in any medium, of Michael Jackson's (ahem) music. There aren't many (ahem) artists whose estates, record labels, and agents I have so subsidized. In fact, I rarely submit the few remaining cognitive cells lying fallow in the recesses of my bald-pated skull to the mind-numbing assault on my not-so delicate sensibilities that has masqueraded as music for the past five decades; with the exception of the occasional dalliance with Boston or the Eagles--hey, you have your vices, I have mine.

The Colonel's point in this rambling rant is that the superficiality of popular culture and the mindless crush at the rope line of celebrity has reduced our capacity to think critically about what is actually of the most import in our lives and our times. There is a bloody revolution taking place in the name of freedom in Iran, and my bet is there will be more sympathy expressed today by talking heads and pandering politicians regarding the passing of a degenerate so-called king of pop, than will be uttered in support of the freedom fighters in Iran.

Besides, I thought the drug-addicted musician from Memphis was "the king."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Untenable Position

The Colonel's first reaction to Governor Mark Sanford's political and personal train wreck playing out painfully this week was a mixture of disgust, disappointment, and disbelief. Upon further review, prompted by my gracious God's gentle reminders, it occurs to me that there are some very valuable lessons to be drawn from this debacle.

First though, let's make something clear--I hold no death grip on any claim of moral superiority over anyone. When you look in the margin of the illustrated Good Book, you will find a likeness of the Colonel alongside Paul's Roman attention-getting moral equalizer, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

That said, the Colonel has come to the belief that cultural conservatism, as opposed to its platform plank-mate, fiscal conservatism, at the right of the political spectrum, is a politically untenable position. Politics, from what this interested observer can tell from the sidelines, is a no-holds-barred, to-the-death, full-contact sport. If you take a stand, it will be assailed by your opponents and they will not attack your strengths--your weaknesses (see Paul's quote above) will be discovered and exploited. Politics is, in fact, an amoral pursuit. Politics, has at its core, the thinly disguised objective of the accumulation, maintenance, and exercise of power. As far as my faith is concerned, reconciling that objective with the teachings of my Lord and Savior is a difficult proposition.

I'm not advocating intemperance and infidelity as a political position. I'm just saying that we should not be surprised when even the presumably strongest of our leaders demonstrate human frailty. But, I will go out on a limb and posit that perhaps "family values" (whatever that means--and we have lumped a lot under that rubric) should not be a political position. It should be a personal position.

I quickly lose patience with those who supposedly share my faith when they stand up to their knees in their own personal pig stys and point indignantly toward the immoral leadership in the ranks of our state and national politicians. I have been convicted of late that the needed revival of faith that we pray seizes the hearts of our national leaders, must begin in our own hearts first.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Time to Stand for Freedom

President Obama has so far responded to the events in Iran with what one commentator has called a "nuanced approach." Presumably, the concern within the corridors of the White House is that the perception of American "meddling" in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic will be counterproductive to the cause of reform. If that is indeed the motive in the Obama administration's muted announcements, then the Colonel is willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt and patience to allow his strategy to play out.

The Colonel, however, would ask you, gentle reader, to entertain and critically examine another possible motive in the refusal of President Obama to unequivocally stand with those who have taken to the streets in opposition to the one of the most repressive regimes on the planet--a regime that publicly stones women caught in adultery; a regime that actively finances terrorist organizations; a regime that provided arms and training to insurgents who fought against our forces in Iraq; a regime whose stated policy is that the State of Israel should be destroyed; a regime that believes that the entire world should eventually be encompassed in a grand caliphate governed by the Shia version of Sharia Law. The Colonel would have you consider that perhaps President Obama and his cadre of naive socialist progressives really believe that, just as they sweet-talked their way into the White House, they can convince the mad mullahs in Teheran to acquiesce to the Obama world order. It seems to the Colonel that the Obama administration is taking great pains to maintain a position conducive to open dialogue with the Islamic dictatorship in order that they might have the best opportunity to reach an accord with ayatollahs. This odd mixture of foreign policy naivete and hubris on the part of the Obama administration makes the odd mixture of foreign policy naivete and hubris displayed by the neocons in the previous administration look downright pragmatic by comparison.

Let's be clear--the leadership in Iran is fanatically committed to its world view and its goal of a region-wide and, ultimately, world-wide Islamic caliphate. The Colonel feels rather comfortable in his assessment of this fanaticism, being a fanatical believer in his positions on faith and politics. The dictatorship in Iran will no more back down and grant the reforms demanded in the street than would the Nazi, Stalinist, Baathist, and Maoist regimes with whom their grip on the Iranian population can be most closely compared.

To believe that the Iranian Islamic dictatorship can be negotiated with is the height of idiocy. To refuse to stand publicly with the people yearning for freedom and self-determination, and instead worry about offending the criminal dictatorship repressing those people, is, dare we say it, an impeachable offense.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"So, you say you want a revolution..."

Revolutions have a way of yanking the reins out of the hands of the riders who first leapt upon the back of the change steed. The men who first put spurs to the mount are often thrown and trampled. To remain in the saddle, a revolutionary leader must often adapt to the evolving strength and movement of the beast beneath him. Revolutions are also subject to horse-thievery--a masked pretender usurps the rightful rider's place or steps into a leadership vacuum created by a revolution's thrown and trampled rider.

For the sake of this discussion, we will forsake study of the so-called American Revolution as it was more a civil war than a revolution. But, the French Revolution, inspired by the American experience, is a great case in point. The French monarchy lost touch with the plight of the people and fell prey to an uprising initially led by members of the aristocracy. The guillotine, whose appetite was whetted by royal blood, soon thirsted for the blood of the aristocracy and finally devoured most of those who were at the forefront of the initial insurrection. Even Lafayette, a hero of France for his role in the defeat of the hated English in the American colonies, narrowly escaped with his head. As the French Revolution feasted upon itself, and exhausted its supply of civilian leadership, it ripened for martial harvest. Into this power vacuum stepped a 30 year-old military genius who plunged the world into what many historians have called the true first World War. Ironically, Napoleon, on his deathbed in exile, lamented that "they wanted me to be another Washington."

Revolutions often play themselves out in a series of acts, the scenes in which feature the best and worst of men, and differ radically from opening to closing. The final scenes of the French revolution saw a Bourbon monarch back on the throne, but at the head of a political system that was to continue to evolve over the next century into a true democratic republic.

Exhausted by years of the Czar's war against Germany, the Russian people overthrew their monarch in 1917 and installed a "provisional government" intended to bridge the gap to a democratic republic. The Marxists had a different idea and hijacked the Russian Revolution to create the socialist dictatorial "workers' paradise" (a copy of which American progressives today believe they have the opportunity to establish). The "workers' paradise" model neither worked nor was Eden-like by any stretch of the wildest imagination. The Soviet Union survived as long as it did, thanks to ruthless repression accepted by the Russian people as the cost of surviving the Great Depression and the Second World War, victory in which served until the 1980's as enough of a rallying memory to dull the popular pangs of hunger for freedom. But, as increasingly pervasive and uncontrollable information technology displayed the discrepancy between the freedoms and standard of living enjoyed by the West and the people of the Soviet Union, the pressure for reform became too much for the Kremlin to ignore. When Gorbachev began to respond with changes aimed at satisfying the people, the lid came off of the steam kettle. Boris Yeltsin, a rising star in the Communist Party, shrewdly detected the direction of the popular movement and adopted the mantle of populist reformer. When communist hardliners attempted a coup to oust Gorbachev, with the intent of putting the lid back on, Yeltsin vaulted to popular prominence by standing up against and putting down the reactionaries. Unfortunately, Yeltsin failed (one wonders whether on purpose) to prevent the drift back to Russian dictatorship represented by his hand-picked successor, Putin. The Russian Revolution may yet have an act or two to play out.

Which brings us to the mid-play act whose scenes are enfolding on the streets of Teheran. A 1979 popular uprising against the American-installed (circa 1953) Shah Reza Pahlavi's repressive, if rapidly modernizing and pro-western, regime was hijacked by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who installed an Islamic Republic over which the clergy maintain "supreme leadership" and power via Sharia Law (the law of Allah). The Iranian mullahs managed to maintain their grip on power while sacrificing a generation in human wave attacks on Saddam's forces during the eight year Iraq-Iran war which began in 1980. The Iranian people have only recently recovered from the exhaustion of that conflict. The Iranian population is very young and hungry for the tastes of western modernity discouraged and denied them by Sharia Law. They are also tired of being represented to the world by the likes of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad--the front man for the ayatollahs. Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former front man for the ayatollahs, seems to be pulling "a Yeltsin," riding the popular movement galloping toward ultimate confrontation with the Islamic Republic's ruling clergy. Mousavi has claimed that the election he lost to Ahmedinejad was "rigged." And he should know, having rigged a few in his past. "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has drawn his line in the sand, declaring Ahmedinejad's election the final will of Allah and threatening to crush any further street demonstrations.

It remains to be seen whether the Iranian military will side with the Ayatollah or the people. The Colonel's assessment is that if the people do return to the streets in disobedience to the Ayatollah, the mad mullah will have no choice but to respond with force fearing eventual loss of power. The Ayatollah will attempt to "Tiananmen" the uprising with military units and security forces most loyal to him. My guess is that if he tries this, there are moderate elements of the military that will not stay in their barracks, and a civil war may ensue.

Revolutions are such messy affairs--fun to watch; dangerous to join; predictably unpredicatable.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the..."

In Shakespeare's "Henry VI," several shady characters opine upon the state of the world and one, Jack Cade, waxes eloquently, to the increasing appreciation of his gang, on the timeless set-up "if I were king,":

JACK CADE: Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven half-penny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hoop'd pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king,- as king I will be,-

ALL: God save your majesty!

JACK CADE: I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

At this point one of his felonious fellows, Dick, leaps on the bandwagon and interjects with, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Little did he know, Shakespeare, via the mouth of one of his characters, had provided us one of the three key actions required to heal our health care "crisis" in particular and many of our societal ills in general. A proliferation of litigation, spurred by greedy, unethical, advertising ambulance-chasers, has contributed to the skyrocketing cost of our health care system. But, lawyers would have little to profit from were it not for an even more unethical gang of ne'er-do-wells--Insurance salesmen.

Insurance companies are the cash cows to which injury lawyers run bleating like hungry calves. The cash cows are grazing our best fields, yet providing the best milk only to the more unscrupulous milk maids. Were William penning poetically today, he would most certainly aim skewering lines at insurance salesmen as well as litigators.

And while we're at this litigicide, let's slip in a little journalicide to clear the air, shall we.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Social Event Horizon

The Colonel has decided that Facebook is the event horizon of the Universe's single greatest, super-massive, time-sucking black hole. The temporal distortions observed while caught in it's gravitational pull are truly mind-boggling.

For instance, the other day I connected with a friend from high school. The last time I saw her was 35 years ago. In my mind's eye she and the rest of our gang, contact with the vast majority of whom I lost almost immediately upon graduation, remained frozen in a late teenage stasis reinforced from long time to time by glances at their faces in our yearbook. Her profile comments on her FB (I feel so hip) page mention that she is an empty-nester. Whoa! I told the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda at lunch today that I was having a hard time getting my head around the fact that our high school chums could be empty-nesters. She, not so kindly, reminded me that we have been empty-nesters for nearly a decade. That really spun my gyros!

The Colonel has also decided that the virtual mini-reunions made possible by social networking programs on Al Gore's invention are in many ways preferable to a traditional gathering. You get to show your best face on-line. You have plenty of time to think up that witty repartee that never came quick enough all those years ago (and still doesn't). You don't have to worry about trying to remember names. You can ignore those who you really never liked and blame it on power outages.

Thirty-five years since high school graduation--amazing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Economic Dust-up

The Colonel's sacrificial service to our great nation continues apace. Recognizing that the muddy economic sty in which our country continues to wallow will not be soon rectified by the pandering swine bellied up to the public trough, the Colonel has taken it upon himself to do what he can to stimulate the economy.

Fearing that a depressing trade imbalance had been created by Eegeebeegee's sawmill sired independence from local lumber yards, the Colonel responsibly responded yesterday with yet another capital acquisition to fill the spacious void, and contribute to the effectiveness, of the Man Toy Storage and Sawdust Production Facility. While the Colonel's recently acquired sawmill has performed admirably, even surpassing all expectations of sawdust production capabilities and providing prodigious boardage for conversion to sawdust by the recently commissioned radial arm saw, there yet existed a certain degree of production inefficiency in the timber to lumber to sawdust system here at the northern end of southern nowhere. During a recent protracted strategic planning session, replete with appropriate metaphorical log-sawing, the Colonel's heat addled and lack of education atrophied (I didn't go to college--I went to Ole Miss) synapses managed to bridge the widening divide between the few remaining cognitive cells lying fallow in the recesses of my bald-pated skull, and an efficiency in my sawdust production system gained a beachhead on the well-defended shore of my consciousness. A (I dare not assume, the) missing link in the system was obviously a planer.

The operative word in the final sentence of the preceding paragraph is, was. Ensconced prominently within the confines of the Eegeebeegee Man Toy Storage and Sawdust Production Facility is now a (trumpet fanfare) Rigid R4330 13 inch Thickness Planer. A review in the most important periodical of our time, Popular Mechanics, describes the tool thusly: "The Ridgid R4330 Planer uses a three-blade, 96-cut-per-inch cutterhead to shave down to a deli-slice-thin 1/8 in.—veneer thickness. It’s versatile, portable and surprisingly affordable." While the review glaringly fails to address the sawdust production capability of the R4330, I trust that I will soon be able to comment on the tool's effectiveness in that regard.

I'm going to need a dump truck with which to haul away the produce.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Year the Music Died

Looking back through the historical haze and geopolitical gunsmoke of the last twenty years, the events at the close of the ninth decade of the twentieth century seem to gain gravitas at each glance.

Not a week into the year 1989, the United Sates Navy provided the exclamation point to the long-running feud between Ronald Reagan and Muamar Qaddafi, when two Libyan MiG-23 fighter-bombers ventured just a tad bit too close to a U.S. carrier battle group operating in the Gulf of Sidra north of the Libyan coast and were summarily shot down by two U.S. F-14 fighters. The Colonel remembers thinking at the time that "this could be an interesting year..." That would turn out to be an under-thought that would have qualified me for award of a Colonel's Monday Morning MOTO Gold Medal had this blog been extant at the time.

The Sidra Smackdown was of particular interest to those of us in the First Battalion, Eighth Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. We would shortly be redesignated Battalion Landing Team 1/8 (BLT 1/8) and were beginning a grueling training regimen with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24th MEU) to earn our Special Operations Capable (SOC) designation prior to our upcoming deployment to the Mediterranean. Operations against Libya were among a plethora of contingencies for which we were preparing as the forward deployed military expression of American foreign policy. We were scheduled to sail from the East Coast in October.

Two weeks later, the greatest American President of the 20th Century (a moment of reverent silence, please) left office and left his former political rival and Vice President, George the Elder, holding the reins.

Two weeks later, February the 2nd, the Kremlin announced the departure of the last column of Soviet troops from Kabul, ending nearly a decade of disastrous military adventurism in Afghanistan; said disastrous decade exacerbated by U.S. aid to the Afghan Mujaheddin fighting the Soviets, in return for the Soviet exacerbation of a disastrous decade of American military adventurism in Vietnam.

Two weeks later, February the 14th, the first Global Positioning Satellite was launched--the first in a constellation of satellites whose measurement of elapsed time has revolutionized our civilization in peace and war. By the time we Marines of the 24th MEU (SOC) arrived in the Mediterranean with rudimentary GPS receivers to experiment with, there was a small handful of satellites available for limited hours. The Colonel remembers thinking at the time, "this GPS stuff could be big..." Monday Morning MOTO medal stuff.

Five and half weeks later, March the 24th, the captain of the Exxon Valdez exclaimed to his First Mate, "I said 'Tanqeray on the rocks,' not 'Take her in on the rocks!'" Eleven million gallons of oil spilled into Prince William Sound. Sometime later a sea otter, "saved," cleaned of oil, and rehabilitated, was promptly eaten by a killer whale immediately upon its release, as its releasers watched.

A month later, April the 21st, student democracy demonstrations began in Beijing's Tianamen Square--opposite the gate to the ancient imperial palace, the Forbidden City, over which a huge portrait of Mao anachronistically hangs. As the demonstrations swelled and gained public support, Mao's totalitarian successors finally declared Martial Law--as if Martial Law had not already existed since 1949. (Ironically, the Chinese communist totalitarians had lionized a similar student uprising against an ineffectual and cruel Chinese government on May 4th, 1919.) The students responded to the threats of the Chinese Politboro by unveiling the "Goddess of Democracy," a plaster of paris statue mimicking the Statue of Liberty. Five nights later, 20 years ago today, while the world watched on live television, Chicom tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled over the demonstrators. The western world expressed its outrage by increasing our orders of cheap Chinese-made shirts and tennis shoes.

Ten and a half years after the Tianamen Square Massacre, on a cold, blustery Thanksgiving Day, the Colonel walked the length of the square from Mao's mausoleum to his monstrous mien mounted over the Gate of Heavenly Peace, and marveled that, still on active duty, there I was, strolling unnoticed by a sworn enemy against whom I was still preparing (and am still expecting my nation some day) to go to war.

A month after the Chicoms silenced the students' cry for freedom and a day after America celebrated its freedom and independence, American culture continued its plunge into meaningless with Seinfeld's premiere of his show about nothing.

The year 1989 saw a major hurricane, Hugo, ravage a southern coastal city, Charleston, on the 21st of September, preluding an era of storms savaging southern coastal cities, the cost of recovery from which will pale in comparison following the Cat 3 that someday will sweep the streets of Manhattan.

On the 13th of October, Friday the 13th, the 24th MEU (SOC) and its ground combat element, BLT 1/8, sailed from the East Coast. Commanding BLT 1/8 was, then, Colonel, later Commandant of the Marine Corps, Mike Hagee. I was his Operations Officer. We were ready, willing, and able to go toe-to-toe with the Warsaw Pact or any of its clients ringing the Mediterranean. The knowledge of this struck fear in the hearts of the socialist totalitarians behind Churchill's Iron Curtain, and the East Germans were the first to crack under the strain. On November the 9th, the East German government opened checkpoints in the Berlin Wall allowing their captive citizens freedom to travel to the Western sectors of the city. Jubilant Berliners began tearing down the wall the next evening. As Colonel Hagee and his staff watched this unfold on CNN in the Rota, Spain Naval Base Officers' Club, one of my buddies turned to our battalion commander and asked, "Does this mean we can go home, now?"

A month later, on Malta, at a summit for which one of our rifle companies, trained and equipped to conduct raids from small boats, provided security, President Bush and Premier Gorbachev concluded with the announcement that the Cold War was beginning to end.

The year concluded, while I was, as always seemed to happen, on the other side of the planet, with U.S. combat operations against the government of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Seemed fitting to me--we helped put him in power; we took him out. The Colonel remembers being frustrated that Marines were fighting their way through some of my old high school days' stomping grounds and a Marine (me), who knew his way around those jungles and had high school classmates fighting against us as part of the Panamanian army, couldn't get into the fight for which I was probably most prepared.

It was a most momentous year and I had a ringside seat. Uncle Sam has been a great travel agent.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Engage the Tractor Beam

Light leaked through the Colonel's eyeball covers and woke me early this morning and as I stumbled kitchen-ward to push the biggest cup button on my new early Father's Day gift--a high speed, low drag, single-serving, caffeine delivery system--it occurred to me that I just might be experiencing the same technological marvel-filled life span that 30 years ago made me envy my grandparents.

My grandparents were born before the Wright Brothers cobbled together an innovation and ushered in an epoch. They lived to see man sprint into space in less than sixty years from that first break with the surly bonds of earth. They grew up during an age in which radio was the height of mass communication, witnessed the introduction of television, and marveled at the the first remote controlled channel changers.

Last night, as I watched my Ole Miss Rebels baseball team, playing in a ball park that would have amazed Ruth, on a field which 35 years ago had been a kudzu-ringed flat spot on the edge of campus upon which I stood in ROTC formations, win their NCAA Regional, live, on my computer's display, I realized that someday my grandchildren will marvel at the historically significant span of MY life. It is startling to know that my grandparents would envy the breadth of technological advance with which my life has been coincident.

The thought occurs, as the caffeine courses blessedly through my system and super-charges the few remaining cognitive cells lying in an amorphous pool of goo in a deep recess of my brain-housing group, that, if my gracious God allows, I may yet witness things only dreamt of today become reality in the next 35 years of my existence on this big blue marble.

A mud-free hover tractor would be nice.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sharing a Need

Normality, or a close facsimile thereof, has returned to Eegeebeegee, capital of the Tallahatchie Free State, a virtual republic at the northern end of southern nowhere. For the past three weeks, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda and I have shared the grounds, gardens, and guest rooms of the Big House with a procession of friends and family, and, while we thoroughly enjoyed the company, it is good to just have each other around. Particularly for me, the attention and affections of the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda are indulgences I care not to share with others. In fact, as childish as it is, I don't like sharing my best friend with others at all--never have, probably never will.

My unwillingness to share the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda runs diametrically counter to her psychological make-up and God-given gifts. I've mentioned before in previous posts to this wordy wasteland that she has earned the nick-name "Twelve" for her propensity to "tend to" (ten-two) others--often others she doesn't even know but who have given off some signal inaudible and indistinguishable to the Colonel. She tends to people who otherwise would be, in this curmudgeon's not so humble opinion, perfectly able to fend for themselves. Not only is the attention wasted on those not-needy persons, but that attention is effort diverted from the really needy person in her life--ME.

So, having the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda all to myself this week has put me in one of those rare moods the Colonel gets into where no matter what goes wrong with whatever project I happen to be enmeshed in, the smile (another rarity not often found on the Colonel's visage) never leaves my mug. She's there when I need her. I needed her this morning.

The Colonel was taking advantage of the rainfall respite--it is June after all; the skies will scarcely yield a drop of precipitation for another couple of months, barring remnants of some tropical system sloshing up from the coast--and Semper Field (my trusty red tractor; not to be confused with Semper Fillit, my rusty red truck) and I were moving pine logs down from a ridge on which the tornado dropped them last year. After several round-about trips, Semper Field's ease of traverse across what a week ago had been boggy bottom caused the Colonel to significantly underestimate the drying capability of an even boggier shortcut. The shortcut turned out to be the Mississippi version of the La Brea Tar Pits, threatening to suck the Colonel's steed from beneath him and dragging it downward into a viscous ooze which eons from this epoch would turn to Confederate Concrete and yield fossilized tractor remains to some off-planet archeologist's pick and shovel. When the Colonel sticks something, it is stuck good.

The hike back up to the Big House gave me time to come up with a really witty way of explaining to the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda why, while I had left the immediate environs of the Eegeebeegee Man Toy Storage and Sawdust Production Facility mounted, I was returning afoot. As I approached, Miss Brenda looked up from one of her flowery projects aimed at softening the rough edges of Eegeebeegee and asked, "You okay?"

"Sure, never better. Why do you ask?"

"Where's the tractor?"

"Tractor? What tractor? Oh, my trusty red tractor Semper Field--it's stuck. I need you to pull it out with the truck."

Yep, a fifteen minute walk and that was as much wit as I could come up. Dang it, Jim, I'm a Marine, not a stand-up comedian!

But, the smile never left my face, because I knew that having to stop the flowery project aimed at putting a softer edge on Eegeebeegee to help someone really in need was just what Miss Brenda needed. I'm just too good to her.