Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chinese Fighter Drill

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

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

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

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

The Korean Peninsula isn't an ordinary place.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Tale of Two Towns

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

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

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

The good people of Chambersburg refused. 

McCausland burned the town.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The town burned; Ole Miss didn't.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They sure stand pretty, today. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

We Are Ole Miss

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

Rebel Nation is fired up for this season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WE ARE OLE MISS!          

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mississippi Melting

North Mississippi in the middle of August is unlike anywhere else on earth.  

The Colonel knows this because he has spent all or part of the month of August on every continent save Antarctica. 

August, here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, is a dry, yet muggy, green-going-dusty brown, withering kudzu-clad hell. 

It's the Colonel's favorite place on this big blue marble, but it is hell in August, nonetheless.

Holy scripture describes Hell as a place where "their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched."

Yep.  That's Mississippi in August, alright.

There was a time, long ago, in the halcyon days of his not-so misspent youth, that the Colonel relished the sweat-soaked sauna of a long run in the noon-time heat of August.

Introduced to that running ritual whilst matriculating at the cultural center of the southern universe -- Ole Miss -- the Colonel sought, self-abusively, to recreate the endorphin rush that accompanies pushing the body to the edge of heat stroke in whatever locale he was presently, if not pleasantly, posted.   

August in the piney hills of Quantico, Virginia is ugly with a heat and humidity combo that has driven generations of Marine officer, and FBI agent, candidates to the brink of dehydrated dementia.

But, it ain't Mississippi.

Camp Lejeune, North Carolina simmers in the summer.

But, it don't cook like Mississippi.

Macon, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama are the twin sisters of August -- Misery and Agony.

But, their blues don't match Mississippi's.

North Africa is hot in August.  Well, North Africa is hot in every month with a letter in it's name.

But, Tunisia and Morocco could take lessons in heat-induced listlessness from Mississippi.

Panama has two seasons -- hot and dry, and hot and wet.  But, Panama wraps in you in constant, year-round blanket of skin and blood-thinning warmth.  

North Mississippi whipsaws you from one extreme to another, with an oh-so-brief, tender, loving lull of glorious, worshipful weather between.   One month it's winter, the next it's hell. 

Thailand and the Philippines are just plain sticky.  But, they're sticky all the time.

It gets so awfully hot in Mississippi in August that "sticky" would be a relief.

Hawaii?  Okinawa?  Seoul?  Toulon?  Perth?  Diego Garcia?  Denmark?  Hong Kong?  Singapore?  Naples?  Vieques?  


Y'all ain't got nuthin'!

It is so hot, and miserable, and muggy, and oppressive, and stultifying (had to find a word to make the Colonel's Mississippi State grad brother break out his dictionary) this week in North Mississippi that the Colonel has suspended all outside operations, indefinitely.

Until the weather breaks, the Colonel is just going to stay inside and write bad things about it.             

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Math at Ole Miss

Forty years ago this week, the Colonel packed his meager belongings in the same trunk his father had taken to college a quarter century earlier.  As a vagabond military brat, he had learned to keep his stuff stacked short and tight.  Nearly everything he needed  -- clothing, linens, radio, and a few favorite books -- fit in the trunk.

The two-hour ride with the folks from Columbus to Oxford was a quiet one.  

The Gregory's oldest was off to college.  

Well..., Ole Miss.

The Colonel and his father lugged the trunk into the elevator of his eleven story dorm on the edge of campus.  

Another student joined them in the elevator.  In his arms was a turn table and a box of vinyl albums.

The old Air Force noncom couldn't resist, "Got your noise with ya, huh?"

The kid tossed a mop of blond hair with jerk of his head and answered semi-politely, "Yessir."  His voice was thick with Mississippi.

The Colonel's family had only just returned from a 4 1/2 year posting to the Panama Canal Zone that summer.  The last time he had spent any time in his parents' home state had been nearly a decade earlier.  Mississippi was as foreign to the Colonel as Panama had seemed at the beginning of that tour of duty.  

The Mississippi accent was going to take some getting used to.  

Particularly when attached to a female.

The Colonel's mother was a southern lady to be sure, but she never laid the mouth honey on like those girls at Ole Miss did.

The first week at Ole Miss was the most disorienting of the Colonel's life to that point.  Panama had been culture shock.  Ole Miss was cultured shock.

It became rapidly and readily apparent that he didn't exactly fit at Ole Miss.

His wardrobe was wrong -- jeans and a "hang-ten" shirt had been fine in Panama, but lagged seriously in the race for best-dressed at Ole Miss.

His accent was wrong -- if the Colonel heard "Where are you from?" once that week, he heard it a thousand times.

His verbal expressions were wrong -- "aiee, chuleta!" wasn't a common phrase in the deep south in 1974.  It's becoming one now, but that's grist for another post. 

The Colonel had erroneously thought he was going to just another public university.  

Wrong!  Oh, so wrong!

He wasn't going to college.  The Colonel was going to Ole Miss.

Turns out there were many students there on the most beautiful college campus in all the wide world who were learning to swim in a different cultural current just like the Colonel.  

Owing to the relatively low expense of attending the University of Mississippi, the Department of the Navy in those days steered a great many of the young men and women awarded Naval ROTC scholarships to Ole Miss.  While some of these folks were steeped in the southern culture, in general, and Mississippi culture, specifically; most were in the same boat as the Colonel.  

The Colonel became, for the first time in his life, part of a "counter-culture."

It wouldn't be the last time he belonged to an organization whose ethos ran decidedly against the common grain.

As one of our group put it years later, "We loved Ole Miss, but Ole Miss didn't love us."

The Colonel couldn't wait to graduate and put Ole Miss in the rear view mirror.

And as soon as he did, he couldn't wait to get back.

Ole Miss had marked him, claimed him, chained him.

The Colonel never told anyone he had gone to the University of Mississippi.  He went to Ole Miss

And now the Colonel realizes that his diversity helped change Ole Miss a little bit, too.  

But, the Colonel's diversity didn't subtract from the spirit, traditions, and unique culture of Ole Miss -- it added.

He didn't demand that folks speak or dress or act more like him. But, he taught a lot of folks about the world outside of Mississippi. The Colonel dares to say that there are literally hundreds of Ole Miss grads out there who can tell you a little bit about the Panama Canal Zone, and Morocco, and life as a military brat, courtesy of the Colonel. 

Ultimately, we all want change.  The trick is to change by addition, not subtraction.