Thursday, June 29, 2017

Challenge Company

Thirty years ago this week the Colonel, then a captain, was entrusted by the Marine Corps with one of its seventy rifle companies -- Company C, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines.  He had been in the Marine Corps for nine years.

Nine years doesn't seem like very long to the Colonel today -- but, at the time he felt like he was the "old man of the Corps."  He had already deployed around the world -- Panama for jungle training, Norway for arctic training, desert training in the Mojave, across the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean from the Sea of Okhotsh to the Gulf of Aden (including Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Somalia, and Oman).

He had completed the Infantry Officer Course, the NBC Defense Course, the Mountain Leader (Winter) Course, the Instructor Management Course, the Army's Jungle Warfare Course in Panama, and was an honor graduate of the Amphibious (now Expeditionary) Warfare School (AWS).

The Colonel had commanded rifle, weapons, and headquarters platoons and had been a staff platoon commander for two fifty-man platoons of lieutenants at the Corps' Basic School.

He believed he was ready for command of one of three rifle companies in an infantry battalion. 

He was wrong.

The Colonel was prepared to step into the traces as the lead dog and pull 180 Marines down the trail as they prepared for and deployed to the Mediterranean as the helicopter raid company for a Special Operations Capable Marine Expeditionary Unit, known as a MEU (SOC). 

He vastly underestimated the magnificence of the Marines of whom he was placed at the head.

They were already raring to go.  The captain who had been in command of them -- Ed Larkin -- was an old acquaintance, and he turned over a company of hard-chargers led by a superb cadre of lieutenants and NCOs. 

Turns out all the Colonel had to do was point them in the right direction and set the pace. 

The amazing thing about Marines is that they crave a challenge, and the Marines of Charlie Company were no exception.  The Colonel's challenge was to keep them challenged.

The First Battalion, Eighth Marines underwent a transformation of sorts in the summer and fall of 1987.  Among the senior leadership of the battalion, only the operations officer (S-3) -- Mike Edwards -- remained as continuity.  (Mike was a fellow Ole Miss grad and the Corps was taking a real chance putting two Rebels in the same unit!) In command of all three rifle companies, the weapons company, and the logistics staff section were new captains straight out of the Amphibious Warfare School.  They called themselves the "Gang of Five."  Two of them, the Colonel and Jim Welsh, had served together in the Western Pacific and at the Basic School.  The battalion had a new second in command (XO) -- (then) Major, (later Colonel) Jon Inghram.  The new battalion commander was (then) Lieutenant Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Jan Huly.  LtCol Huly was an old hand at the MEU (SOC) business having already twice deployed as XO of battalion landing teams.         

The battalion's last deployment had been a rotation to Okinawa.  The next deployment, in the spring of 1988, would be as a Battalion Landing Team (reinforced with artillery and tanks) embarked on the ships of an Amphibious Ready Group.  BLT 1/8 would be the ground combat element of the 26th MEU (SOC).  The 26th MEU would also have an aviation combat element composed of a reinforced helicopter squadron and a logistics element to support operations ashore.  Each rifle company in the battalion would be "task organized" for a specific specialty of ship-to-shore movement via either helicopters, amphibious assault vehicles, or small boats, and trained around a raid operation profile using that mode of transportation. 

Sometime early that summer of 1987, LtCol Huly called the Colonel to his office, "Captain Gregory, good news.  I've already decided Charlie Company will be the heliborne company for our deployment next year.  Start building your training around heliborne raids.  Get over to HMM 365 and introduce yourself to LtCol Magnus and his S-3, ASAP.  Your company will be reinforced with a heavy machine gun section and a TOW section along with their jeeps (the Corps had gone to Humvees by this time, but the new vehicles wouldn't fit on the Corps' helicopters, so beefed up jeeps had been retained for the MEU(SOC) missions.).  You'll also get a combat engineer platoon and it's mule (marvelous little flat-bed cargo hauler).  These attachments will chop to you when we get designated BLT, around E -180.  You'll also get an FO (artillery forward observer) and a FAC (forward air controller)."

As the boss talked, the Colonel's head spun.  He wasn't crazy about helicopters.  He had long held the conviction that the Marine Corps' love affair with its aging and vulnerable fleet of rotary wing aircraft was going to end badly someday on a battlefield saturated with anti-aircraft artillery batteries and hand-held anti-aircraft missiles (the Russian experience against the Afghan Mujaheddin was unfolding at the time and helicopters weren't faring well against the future Taliban carrying American-provided missiles).

Lieutenant Colonel Huly took a breath and the Colonel quickly interjected with his professional concerns about helicopters and that he would rather that Charlie Company be assigned as the "track" company.

Huly waved the Colonel off abruptly.  "Alpha Company (Jim Welsh) is gonna be tracks."  He leaned back in his seat, "Listen, your company will be on the LPH with me and the MEU Commander.  I know that doesn't exactly thrill you and that you would rather have a little more independence on one of the other boats.  But, being collocated with the bosses and our planning staffs means you'll be the priority unit for most missions.  The rubber boat company will rarely get off ship due to too high sea state and distance from shore, and tracks aren't a very flexible or stealthy raid vehicle.  The majority of the MEU (SOC) missions are heliborne missions.  Besides," Huly leaned forward and locked his eyes on the Colonel's, "you bear watching and you'll get the wonderful benefit of my superb mentoring on a daily basis."

One would think that Jan Huly was being humorous -- and, he had a great sense of humor -- but, he was deadly serious.  He remarked at a commanders and staff meeting early in his tenure, "Do as a I say and do, and you'll look brilliant like me."  The yuks around the table died quickly as the look on Huly's face made it clear he was serious.

As the Colonel made his way back to his office afterward, he ran the numbers.  The T/O for a rifle company was close to 180 Marines, and while most infantry units at the time were manned at about 80% strength MEU (SOC) outfits went out full strength.  With reinforcing attachments, he would be commanding a  company of closer to 220.  He would have a full complement of lieutenants and senior noncoms.  This was going to be a rare opportunity for any infantry officer.

Many leaders, when given so much responsibility, have a tendency to play it safe.  Take few chances.  Safety and micromanage everything to the point of near paralysis.   Keep a tight lid on things and hope that nobody does anything that will jeopardize chances for promotion.

There's several problems with an approach like that.

One, micromanagement may work short term, but, eventually, subordinates quit making decisions on their own.  This is deadly in any organization, but in an outfit executing raid missions requiring speed and adaptability, subordinate leaders have to be authorized to make rapid adjustments to the plan.

Two, the Colonel ain't smart enough and talented enough and energetic enough to micromanage.

Three, the young men in his rifle company didn't join the Marines to be safe and secure.  They joined looking for a challenge.  And, young men who are challenged both physically and mentally tend to develop an increased self-esteem that translates into self-discipline. Bored Marines make and find trouble.  Challenged Marines are often too worn out to make or find trouble.

Fourth and finally, the Colonel (then a captain) had a personal professional performance philosophy that presumed he was at his "terminal" rank.  He was going to do what the mission required and let the chips fall where they might.        

So, Charlie company was going to be "Challenge" company.  The Colonel didn't change the name of the company (the boss wouldn't let him), but his overarching command philosophy was to push the limits.

The first opportunity to really put the challenge philosophy into play came at the end of the summer of 1987 when 1st Battalion, 8th Marines deployed for a month to the Marine Corps' Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC) at Pickel Meadows, high up in the Sierras.  The Colonel had been through the winter mountain leader course there in 1980 and had been there for a quick winter exercise in 1986 with the ground officers in his AWS class, but this was his first trip there without snow.  When there was no snow on the ground at Pickel Meadows, the Marines referred to training at MWTC as the "rock package." 

MWTC is one of the Corps' real training gems.  Depending on the season it is two radically different environments.  In the winter, it approximates the cold and deep snow Marines face in deployments to Norway to prepare for its wartime mission on the northern flank of NATO.  In summer, the steep rocky terrain provides an excellent mountaineering training ground.  Both environments provide a challenge.

The Colonel and Challenge Company pushed MWTC to the limits.

Most of the Marines loved it. 

The Colonel says "most" because there was that time in the middle of a company movement across steep terrain that he was perhaps pushing (he was actually at the front of the column) it a tad too hard.  A voice from the middle of the column called out plaintively, 

"What's he trying to prove?

That became the phrase with which his Marines most often addressed Captain Gregory's great challenge ideas.  There were other words and phrases used, but the Colonel's mother reads this blog, so...

There was never a body of water that the company went around

There was never a hill that the company didn't run up.

There was never a live fire and maneuver course that the company passed up.

There was never a challenge to which the company didn't rise.
The Colonel's prized memento of his time with C 1/8 is a framed picture of he and his lieutenants, faces camouflaged painted in preparation for a raid.  The brass plate below it lists their names and in bold script the phrase, 

                   "WHAT'S HE TRYING TO PROVE?"

Truth be told, the Colonel wasn't trying to prove anything.  He knew he was mounted on a dragon and was just trying to stay in the saddle. 

The year and a half with those magnificent Marines was the greatest experience of the Colonel's life.  They were the best rifle company in the Marine Corps.  If he could have stayed a captain in command of those men for the rest of his career, the Colonel would have jumped at the chance, without hesitation.

Of course, they had other ideas...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Preposterous Future

The Colonel thinks a lot about the future these days.  Anyone who is a serious student of history can't help but.  It's been said that history doesn't repeat itself..., but it rhymes really well.  The Colonel believes that one of history's greatest lessons is the inevitability of certain themes repeating themselves.

There was a time, early in his life, that the Colonel bought into the naive school of thought that mankind was "progressing" beyond the base natures by which the actions of competing civilizations had been ordered.      

But now, with the advantage of age and experience, the Colonel sees the future as certain as the past.  His crystal ball is murkier than a stock tank in a West Texas drought, but it really doesn't take any particular clarity to predict more of the same.

In an interesting, if a bit hyperbolic and stilted, book, "The Coming War with Japan," published in 1991, the authors' preface began with the following:

            "Imagine being alive in the summer of 1900. Europe was powerful, peaceful, and rich. Could you have imagined the devastation of 1920, the fall of the Kaiser, the Russian Revolution? Could anyone, then, have imagined the summer of 1940? Germany resurgent, France crushed, Britain fighting for its life. Or, in the summer of 1940, could anyone have imagined 1960? Europe divided and occupied by Americans and Soviets, the British and French empires gone, a nation called Israel arisen. In 1960, could anyone have imagined the summer of 1980? America in retreat, defeated by Vietnam, reeling before the Iranians, allied with Communist China. One would ask about the man in the summer of 1980 trying to imagine the summer of 2000, but he would already be so flabbergasted by the summer of 1990 that there would be no need to force him to strain his already stricken imagination. In 1980 anyone who predicted the collapse of the communism would have been ridiculed. Yet if there is one thing that the twentieth century ought to have taught us, it is that the commonsense approach to history is almost invariably doomed to be wrong, and that the most preposterous expectations are usually closer to the mark."
The Colonel would add to this train of thought that the man in 2000 could scarcely imagine the events of September 11th, 2001, and the subsequent Global War on Terror.  Nor could that man imagine, given the horrific attack on America, that war fought in a fecklessly limited and incrementally fashion, and stretched over nearly an entire generation.

War is the natural condition of man.  A major war has convulsed the globe in nearly every generation dating back as far as one wishes to study.  Minor wars simmer constantly.  The Clausewitzian view of war is that it is an extension of politics.  If so, then politics is defined by conflict between competing worldviews and the desire for power and control of resources.   The causes for war have not been eliminated nor even diminished with the progress of "civilized" nations.  Even attempts to prevent war or to punish aggressors and "make right" (restore borders and sovereignty) requires the application of force with the tools of war, notwithstanding limited efficacy of diplomatic and economic sanctions.   

So, any futurist forecast for the remainder of the 21st Century must include war, and lots of it.

Thankfully, just as there is a symbiotic link between tactics and technology -- each spurring change and advancement in the other -- there is always a globally beneficial technological byproduct of war, even if some cultures or societies are destroyed by that war.  As horrific as were the costs of the two world wars in the first half of the 20th Century, the survivors (both victors and vanquished) were the beneficiaries of technological advances spurred by the tactical exigencies and casualty responses of those wars.

Now, before those of you with hands over mouths in abject horror click to more palatable reading fare, please know that the Colonel is not making a case for the morality of war.  Far from it.  War, in and of itself, is amoral.  The Colonel is merely making a case for the acceptance of war as an inescapable consequence of the nature of humanity, and positing that societies that prepare for war's inevitability are more likely to survive and thrive in the aftermath.

The Colonel's foundational premise is this:  War happens, and will continue to happen.  

Given that, what would be the best strategic course of action for our Republic over the next 50 to 100 years?  Allow the Colonel to, in the words of the above quoted book's authors, dispense with "the commonsense approach... [which is] almost invariably doomed to be wrong," and propose his own set of "most preposterous expectations [that] are usually closer to the mark."

Possible Major Wars of the 21st Century

Europe.  The fault lines over which future major wars will rupture the crust of extant societies and their allies are as numerous and germane as they ever were.  Today, Europe seems historically serene and cooperative, notwithstanding current tensions over immigration and economic bloc bureaucracies.  But age-old animosities, and desire for relative power position and resource control, simmer like volcanic hot spots over which the thin veneer of continental cooperation floats.  There were three major and several minor wars in Europe in the 80 years before the middle of the last century (and that prevalence of war in nearly every generation was not unusual in Europe's history).  Post-WWII U.S. occupation of Europe and the subsequent nuclear annihilation consequence of the NATO - Soviet Cold War (not to mention wide-scale destruction requiring multiple generations' work from which to recover) has prevented a major war in Europe.  But, the tamping lid of U.S. occupation has all but been completely removed.  Soviet expansionism has been replaced by resurgent Russian Imperialism, the most effective tactic of which at present seems to be active meddling (if not outright interference) in the electoral affairs of nations with which it sees itself in competition or wishes to draw within its orbit.

Russia, whose influence, in a perfect world, could be a force for stability and cooperation in Europe, will instead continue to foment instability to its own advantage.  This instability will manifest itself in conflict between European nations, notwithstanding the supposed stabilizing effect of the NATO alliance and the European Economic Community.  Major war in Europe within the next two generations is all but guaranteed; and, while it may not necessarily involve Russia directly, it will be as a result of Russia's actions to undermine European cooperation.

Asia - Pacific Rim.  Europe is not unique in the possession of casus belli fault lines.  China's relentless long march from colonial backwater to nascent global economic and military superpower has finally begun to suck all the oxygen out of the room, and the rest of the region is on notice.  China has many of the same ethnic and religious undercurrents that gave us the term "balkanized" with the removal of the Tito lid in Yugoslavia.  To keep 1.4 billion citizens' focus off of ethnic tension, China uses economic growth and nationalism.  Economic growth cannot be maintained in perpetuity. So, the Chinese leadership has inexorably built a world class military with which to leverage nationalism through -- you guessed it -- war.  

Within Asia exists the same sorts of ancient animosities and resource control tensions as seen in Europe.  While America's Pacific strategy has waffled and swung widely over the last half-century, the direction of China's strategic activities has not altered significantly.  The nations of the Pacific Rim have begun calculating with whom to rely in their best interests -- the U.S. or China.  American military tripwires are laid throughout the region and the possibility of an increasingly active projection of Chinese force (not to mention China's erratic client -- North Korea) coming in contact with the forces of the United States or its allies is higher than it has been since 1975.  Even the slightest miscalculation by the Chinese could lead to open conflict, from which Chinese nationalistic pride (and political leadership survival) will not allow it to pull back.  A major war in the Western Pacific Rim within the next two generations is as great a possibility as that of war in Europe.  

Africa and the Middle East.  The fault lines in North Africa and the Middle East need little explanation.  Interestingly, the region's future will be heavily influenced by the two major players mentioned above -- Russia and China.  Russia seeks renewed influence and resource control in the Middle East, and China sees sub-Saharan Africa as a critical source of rare metals and materials vital to its military modernization and nationalistically motivated space endeavors.  Both nations have been at least as active in the region as has been the United States.  The nations of the region are making the same calculations about the long-term reliability of the United States as are the nations of the Pacific Rim.

The United States' "Global War on Terror," largely centered on this region, has been tactically successful, but strategically ineffective.  First of all, the limited war has been fought against a tactic -- terror.  War against a tactic is ludicrous.  Had the war against Japan in the early 1940's been fought the same way, the United States would still be locked in a low-level tactical struggle with Japan.   Successful war is waged not against the an adversary nation's tactics, but against that adversary's will to continue to employ that tactic or materially support organizations that do.  

While the Global War on Terror has served to assuage the United States' anger over 9/11, and kept terror organizations on their back feet, it has largely been a generation of lost blood and treasure without a significant decrease in the material support by nations in the region to those terror organizations.  If anything, material support from adversary nations has increased.

Until Western nations, led by the United States, carries the fight to the nations materially supporting organizations employing terror tactics, there will continue to be terror attacks throughout the West. A critical component of this fight must also include ramping up the nascent attempts at discrediting the underlying jihadist ideology.  But, the fight will not be won with the current "Long War" philosophy.  Western societies in general and American society in particular have no stomach for long limited wars.  Nor should they. 

At any rate, notwithstanding multiple American administrations' attempts to broker a substantive and comprehensive peace based on the errant goal of solving the actually narrow "Palestinian issue" (read "Arab excuse"), multiple sectarian fault lines, tribal animosities, and squabbles over borders imposed at the end of the colonial era will continue to act as casus belli for minor wars for generations to come; with potential development into major regional conflicts with Russian and/or American involvement.  

The Americas.  The Colonel intentionally left the Western Hemisphere for last, because he fervently believes that the future of the aforementioned regions has great bearing on the strategy that he believes our Republic must adopt with regard to the "American Hemisphere."  In comparison with engagement and encirclement strategies in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East, a Western Hemisphere-centric approach to the strategic imperatives of commerce, resource control, and defensible frontiers is a far easier strategic endeavor.  

The Colonel does not propose a complete withdrawal from the other regions of the globe.  Engagement with long-time allies does not have to cease or even diminish, even if our Republic's focus shifts dramatically from the regions in which those allies exist to a truly "America First" strategy.  The Colonel's "America First" strategy is not the narrow, populist, isolationist view of the majority of the current administration's political base.  Far from it.  The Colonel's "America First" could be called  the "American Hemisphere First" strategy.

But, let's keep it simple, shall we?  

An "America First" grand national strategy would seek to strengthen the entire Western Hemisphere, drawing all the nations of the hemisphere into a tight, mutually beneficial relationship.

Look, the people of our hemisphere -- North, Central, and South America -- have far more in common with each other than with the peoples and cultures of most of the rest of the world.  Even the language barrier is far less of an issue than exists among the nations of Europe or Asia, or even among the nations in the current Russian Federation.

The Colonel's vision of a perfect world is a pan-hemispheric Republic stretching from the Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego with a maritime-centric military strategy designed to, a) ensure world-wide freedom of navigation for commerce, and b) hemispheric oceanic control for defense.  Land forces would be maintained and structured primarily for continental defense, recognizing the near impossibility and unnecessary expense of maintaining land forces large enough for decisive major action on the African or Eurasian continents.  Strategic strike long-range bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles -- the strategic nuclear triad -- would be maintained (modernized and structured for continued efficiency) for nuclear deterrence.   

There will be major wars in the Eastern Hemisphere within the next two generations.  The United States need not be involved, unless the American Republic is willing to spend blood and treasure that will make the expenses of the wars of the 20th Century pale in comparison.  If our Republic is to make that expense to make decisive impact in those major Eastern Hemisphere wars, then we should be rewarded with world-wide empire.  If our Republic is not willing to take on world-wide empire, then we should at least ensure the security and prosperity of the Western Hemisphere.  A pan-hemispheric republic is the logical answer.     

Preposterous, you say?

Was it preposterous for Americans to cross the Alleghenies and push to the Mississippi River, doubling American territory?  Was it preposterous to purchase the Louisiana Territory, again doubling  American territory?  Was it preposterous to annex the Northwest territory and the territory north of the Rio Grande, again doubling American territory?  Was it preposterous to purchase Alaska?  Was it preposterous to add Hawaii to the Republic?

The entire American Experience is preposterous!  Greatness comes to those who seize on the preposterous idea, act on that preposterous idea. 

Expand the Republic!



Friday, June 09, 2017

The Cost of Progress

One of the Colonel's more important endeavors in his unforced exile here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere is a modest contribution to the character development and mind-broadening of his grandsons, the Hope of 21st Century Civilization, Dashes 1, 2, and 3 (H21CC - 1, 2, & 3).  The Colonel's vast holdings, and the extant flora and fauna thereon, provide the most excellent of classrooms.

The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's desire to beautify and fancify the portions of the Colonel's vast holdings within eyeshot of the Big House also provide project vehicles with which to provide the aforementioned character development and mind-broadening.

At this point, however, he isn't certain whose character has been more developed and whose mind has been more broadened  -- the Colonel's or the boys'. 

One thing for certain, the Colonel's wallet has been lightened.

As summer approached this year, the Colonel told the oldest two of his three grandsons, that if they would come out to "Pop and Nana's" and help with some physical labor, he would compensate them for their work (and, thereby, teach a few lessons in capitalism and work ethic).  The other morning, the Colonel's grandsons arrived ready "to make some money."  The Colonel obliged.

An hour of physical labor ensued.  The oldest two bent to the work without complaint, helping the Colonel tote and lift long 2 x 6 boards up and fasten them to the top of the latest effort to beautify the gardens surrounding the Big House.  The youngest, all four precocious years of him, saw his brothers doing cool stuff and wanted to be a part of it.

"I wanna help, Pop!"

His brothers snickered and, as all older brothers have done since the beginning of brotherhood, derided his desire, "You're too little!"

Hearing someone told that they are "too little" to do something doesn't sit well with the Colonel.  He pointed to the oldest, "bring that third ladder over here for your brother."

Dash One complied, and Dash Three clambered up and perched atop the ladder with a broad grin on his face.  He reached up and "helped" hold a board in place while the Colonel secured it with his screw gun.  Said screw gun caught the lad's attention, "I wanna do that, Pop!"  

"Well, c'mon then," the Colonel said.  The youngster climbed down his ladder and up the ladder next to the Colonel.  

"Okay," the Colonel held a gun in place over a bolt, "pull that trigger."  The gun whined until the bolt snugged up.  

"Good job!"

The Colonel is proud to be a part of introducing yet another male to the unbridled and expensive love of powered hand tools.

After an hour of work in the hot June sun, the Colonel was ready for a cooling off break, and the four of them headed down to the dock on Lake Brenda.  An hour of thrashing and splashing ensued. 

Followed by an hour of rest in the rocking chairs on the front porch of the Big House.  Well..., the Colonel rested.  The boys continued to romp about with the boundless energy of youth and inexperience.  

The Colonel's daughter-in-law (she of the high and exalted position of "Provider of Grandsons") arrived a while later to collect her brood.

"Did they work hard, Pop?"

"Yep, couldn't have done the work without 'em."

The Colonel gathered the boys up and reached for his wallet.  "I promised you," he addressed the oldest two, "that we would start out at $5 an hour this summer, and based on your work and attitude, we'd see about raises.  You worked an hour today and did a great job.  Here's a five dollar bill for each of you."

The youngest watched this exchange with great interest and anticipation.  The Colonel turned to him, "And you did good work, too." A dollar bill was handed over to the grinning tyke.

The Colonel's favorite and first mother-in-law -- the wise and courageous Miss Martha -- watched with the keen interest of a great grandmother who has always looked out for the interest of the least of her grand and great grand progeny.   

"Ahem," she interjected and crooked a beckoning finger.  The little one went to her and she whispered in his ear.  He turned to the Colonel with his hand out, "I helped screw in that board."

"Yes, you did. That's why I gave you a dollar."

"I helped move the ladder."

The Colonel shot a withering glance at Miss Martha.  Well..., okay.  It wasn't exactly withering.  It was actually more like a whose side are you on? look.  The answer to that question came quickly as she piled on, 

"He also helped load the kayak in truck."

"But, that wasn't during the 'official work' period," the Colonel protested.  "That was clearly within the preparatory phase of the 'thrash and splash' period, for which the Colonel has never, and will never, offer monetary compensation."

To the Colonel's consternation, his strong protestations induced no weakening in the wise and courageous Miss Martha's resolve (not that there ever is).  To his further consternation, the Colonel could clearly see his third grand progeny gaining more stubborn resolve in the situation (as if he ever needed more).

The Colonel forked over another dollar bill to the grubby little highway robber.  His wise and courageous accomplice in crime against colonelcy got his attention with an urgent, "Ahem!"  She crooked a beckoning finger and whispered in his ear.

The former favorite little buddy turned mercenary ingrate turned to the Colonel and announced defiantly, "That's three works."  Three fingers extended toward the Colonel in exclamation.

The Colonel forked over a third dollar.

The other two grandsons began to grumble.  The Colonel shot them a withering glance.  Well..., okay.  It wasn't exactly withering.  It was more of a sorry fellas, the bank is out of cash look.

Character development and mind-broadening is turning out to be a far more expensive proposition than the Colonel thought.       

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Bulldog Summer

A right of passage changes one's definition.

Forty years ago this month, the Colonel was headed for Quantico, Virginia, with 250 other NROTC (Marine Option) midshipmen, and entrance into a crucible of physical and mental heat and pressure.

Three years previous, the Colonel had arrived on campus as a freshman to begin his matriculation at the cultural epicenter of the New South.  The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), and the little town of Oxford which hosted it, were hardly a decade removed from actual occupation by federal troops sent to quell a redneck insurrection surrounding the entrance of James Meredith.  Ole Miss was also a little over a decade removed from the heyday of Rebel football in which the boys in red and blue had dominated the SEC and won National Championships.

The shock-waves of that era, like the fading roar of a storm-pushed wave crashing on a beach, still echoed on campus.  Their effects were everywhere, both physical and psychological.  The columns of the university's administration building -- the Lyceum -- still bore visible marks of the fusillade of rifle fire directed at the federal marshals holed up inside.  Sent to usher Meredith on his integration march through the doors of the Lyceum, those feds were now pinned down behind them, and would be until troops of the 101st Airborne Division arrived.

Meredith was an echo heard but little discussed.

Football greatness, on the other hand...

The last great Ole Miss quarterback for a generation, Peyton and Eli's daddy, was now playing for the 'Ain'ts.  From the heights of gridiron glory the Rebels had fallen fast and hard.  The fall of 1974 would show just how hard: a 3 and 8 season was punctuated by a homecoming loss to South Carolina.  The Gamecocks went 1 and 10 that year.  But Rebel nation believed it was only a season away from renewed glory atop the polls.  One season turned into forty before that happened, but that isn't important right now.

During his first years at Ole Miss, the Colonel was awash in the reverberations of past generations.  And, it wasn't all about Ole Miss.

He had been offered, and had accepted, a full-ride NROTC scholarship out of high school -- a Marine Corps specific NROTC scholarship, that would result in a commission as a jarhead second lieutenant upon his accomplishment of a bachelor's degree.  Oh, and there was one more requirement...

The Colonel would have to survive "Bulldog" -- the Marine officer corps' version of basic training.

Marine option NROTC midshipmen went (and still go) to Bulldog the summer between their junior and senior years.  Every day of those preceding three years had some easily detectable gravitational wave emanating from a Marine camp on the shores of Chopawamsic Creek -- the home of the Marine Corps' Officer Candidates School.  Every day was spent in some sort of preparation for Bulldog -- the seniors who had just returned from their crucible and the Marine officers and NCOs on staff made sure of it.

So, layered over the Colonel's undergraduate studies toward a degree in Political Science and History, were three coats of paint -- red and blue, black and white, and scarlet and gold.  

Everywhere on campus were reminders of the history of Ole Miss, dating back to its founding in 1848 -- statues, plaques, and bullet holes. The red and blue, and black and white.

Everywhere in the Colonel's sphere of fellow travelers on the road to military service, and the hard men preparing them, were reminders of the history of the Marine Corps dating back to its founding in 1775 -- stories, plaques, and bullet wounds.

The ultimate objective was pinning on gold bars and becoming an officer of Marines.  Qualifying for that commission required a degree, so a liberal arts education was a by-product for the Colonel.  But, if truth be told in the Colonel's case, the layer of scarlet and gold was thick and smothering, nearly to the detriment of all else.  

The intermediate objective, one of the pigments in the scarlet and gold, during the first three years of the Colonel's matriculation at the Harvard of the South (Harvard, by reciprocal agreement, refers to itself as the "Ole Miss of the North") was preparation for the summer of '77 and an appointment with a cadre of hard men (combat veterans all) who would provide the heat and pressure for a crucible and right of passage. 

Semester studies may have temporarily satisfied examination requirements for transitory classes, but countless more hours than those were dedicated to steeling mind, body, and spirit for a summer of scarlet and gold hell.                

The mission of the Marine Corps' Officer Candidates School (OCS) is:  "to educate and train officer candidates in Marine Corps knowledge and skills within a controlled and challenging environment in order to evaluate and screen individuals for the leadership, moral, mental, and physical qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer."

That mission statement contains the phrase "controlled and challenging environment."  From a candidate's perspective, while certainly "challenging," the environment of Bulldog was anything but controlled.  Particularly the first few weeks.  "Chaos" is a better word.

Chaos, heat and pressure, and very little sleep.

But, and credit goes to those who prepared him, the Colonel thrived in the chaos, heat and pressure, with very little sleep.

In August, when he, and the four others who had gone to Quantico with the Colonel, strode back onto Ole Miss' campus, it was as a changed man, now defined in a way only a few others were.  He thought he was ready to take on the world.

In a way he was.  In a larger way, he had no earthly idea what the next three decades would throw at him.  

But, Bulldog was always the touchstone.