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Hi, I’m a Veteran. No Thanks are Necessary

7:01 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Today is Veterans Day. I know this because I am a veteran. I also know this because I have a Cold War service medal, which ironically was not invented until about 5 years ago, long after the Cold War ended abruptly. Plus, my daughter sent me a happyVeterans Day email as she does every year.

The nation reveres veterans much more than they did a few decades ago, and they should. It is a tough life putting your ass on the line to save some other person’s ass…or in some cases, asshole. You know who you are. I’ll not get ugly today.

I joined the Air Force in 1977. Viet Nam was still a fresh memory and people tended to look down on saps like me who joined the military voluntarily. A life of gold chains, wooly chest hair, atrocious bell bottoms, and doing the Hustle while teetering on platform heels was supposed to have been nirvana. But if I had it to do all over again, I’d do it in a heart beat. In fact, sometimes I wish I had stayed and weathered a couple of wars. As it is for almost everyone who experiences it, military service is a life changing experience and it changed me, radically and for the better. Besides, I’ve not much of a dancer and I knew better than to wear those ridiculous bell bottoms, even back in the day.

300 Days a Year Traveling

My military was in a state of flux. I joined one month after the end of the Viet Nam era GI Bill . I did this because I wanted a particular job as an aircraft mechanic more than I needed the benefits. It was the soonest I could get an enlistment appointment anyway. I got to pay for my educational benefits for my trouble and never used the small amount of money the Air Force collected from me because it was too meager to do anything with. I didn’t get the money back as I recall. I had planned to finish college while on duty, but I was gone almost 300 days a year traveling to every continent other than Australia and Antarctica. In the end, I figure I got the better end of the education deal anyway.

The only veteran’s benefit I’ve ever used was a VA Loan. The benefit consisted of shaving about 1 point off the loan interest and being comfortable in the knowledge that if I defaulted the mortgage company would get paid while I got to declare bankruptcy. I used it twice while living in Ohio. I planned to use it again when I moved to California, but the top amount available was about $100,ooo less than a house cost at the beginning of the ultra-expensive housing bubble. In the end, I got the house based on the higher wages jump started from my military service. It was a win/win situation even if I had to pay the extra point and come up with a substantial down payment.

I’m supposed to get a coffin flag when I die, as did my grandfather who fought and was wounded twice in WWI. My Dad, who served aboard submarines in WWII didn’t get one. I paid for it. I suspect my daughter will pay for mine. Sorry about that Sweetie.

My war was pretty peaceful. Jimmy Carter managed to keep us out of a shooting war for my 4-year enlistment, though I did tow airplanes out of the way to make room for airplanes picking up Delta Force soldiers on their way to Operation Eagle Claw in Iran. I didn’t know that until long after the failed raid. I don’t take credit for my small part in the raid. The real troops deserved more credit than they ever got. However, I do take partial credit for felling the Berlin Wall. I figure flying troops all over the world, including over the wall and into West Berlin’s Templehof airport, was as instrumental as Ronald Reagan kicking over an Iron Curtain from a podium after it had already rusted through its foundation. Ronnie hogged all the credit – the selfish bastard – but I don’t hold a grudge about him never thanking me for my service.

Other than my daughter, almost no one thanks me for my service and that’s OK. Veterans Day is about the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and Coast Guardsmen who put themselves in harm’s way. Their service was certainly more harrowing than dropping into remote Turkish airfields to deliver supplies to listening posts on the Black Sea. It’s hard to complain when you get tea and cookies for delivering some mail and C-Rations, even if the excessively short gravel runway almost killed you to do it.

Had there been a need, and there were several times I came close, I would’ve gone into combat. There is no question in my mind. I’d have been honored to pay the dues necessary to be a citizen, plus a little more for the folks who didn’t serve. I’m no 1 percent, Mormon missionary when it comes to paying my fair share. I was as glad to do it as I was to deliver medication to disaster areas, Christmas hams to lonely British troops in Kenya (the home of the future US President), and fresh eggs to the Navy mess and base exchange in Guantanamo Bay. Besides, Ronnie and I were holding off the commie hordes poised to invade and buy up all the spare McDonalds franchises.

I Don’t Expect Thanks on Veterans Day

I don’t expect thanks on Veterans Day. I just did my job like so many other Americans do. True, I did it for abysmally low pay (that’s not a new problem) and under sometimes very dangerous conditions. You try losing an engine while struggling over the Italian Alps during a storm. It’s a bit more intense than a ride on the Matterhorn Bobsled at Disneyland. Besides, they did give me hazardous duty pay – $100 per month I think – to cover near misses with Italian airlines in the dead of night or collapsing landing gear in Las Vegas…that last one was less of a picnic than it might seem.

But while I don’t expect thanks, I do expect some small measure of respect. It infuriates me when a nimrod who shoots old men while duck hunting and takes people into battle based on his “service” as a multi-deferment college student who had, “more important things to do” than go to Viet Nam questions my patriotism.

But, I find it especially insulting to have my military service questioned by fellow veterans because I don’t agree that a man who thinks running a was is just like running Staples after your company buys them out. We had a business man in charge of the DoD once – Robert McNamara. He learned that you can’t run a military at war with bar charts and pie graphs. He hated himself for the rest of his life after taking too long and killing too many men and women to learn that lesson.

But aside from the affront to me personally, I get particularly worked up that a person who, “solemnly swear(s) (or affirms) that [they] will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,”…and will,” bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over [them], according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help [them] God,” would so easily cast aside the most important and cherished Constitutional right of them all – the freedom of speech.

I get worked up not so much for myself, but for my fellow citizens – right or wrong, agreeable or disagreeable, veteran or not – when my patriotism and service is questioned. I still take my oath seriously, even 35 years after I took it. And so, in my own small way, I try to make my country a better place and make the lives of my fellow citizens a little safer and more equitable. I do this not only because I swore an oath, but because I believe it is the right thing to do. It is my honor to do it, even if I’ve never had a shot fired at me. The First Amendment is the final weapon in my arsenal and I’ll be damned if I’ll allow anyone to criticize my fellow citizens for using it.

I offer my humble thanks to all veterans today, but no thanks are necessary for me. I’m simply glad to have helped out.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks! More than politics, more than pop culture & humor.

John Hagee Doesn’t Like Pat Tillman…Or Me Either

7:36 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Pastor John Hagee doesn’t like me. I know this because I’m an Atheist. He told me I don’t belong here. America is a Christian-only nation he says. He says if I don’t pray to the Big Guy, read the Bible, and dismiss all other religions I should just get the hell out, go back where I came from. Although, America is where I came from. He says I have no right to live in my own country which seems a downright uneighborly thing for a Christian to say.

But, it’s OK. I don’t care much for John either. His spittle gets in my eyes. And his Christian brimstone breath? Wooo, give that man an ecumenical Tums®!

John’s making a big hubbub on his website this week. It’s D-Day and he’s effusively thanking all those people who have defended this country. He should thank them. They’ve defended his contemptible ass’s right to launch hateful, bigoted screeds at the top of his lungs. God Bless America! Or in the case of we Atheists and other religious vermin…USA…USA…USA!

I know John is a little weak on American history, so I’d like to fill in some of his blanks. John, there were Atheists at Normandy and Salerno, Guadalcanal and Saipan. Atheists were in the skies over Germany and on the field with General Washington. They served in Korea, Viet Nam, the War of Error and the followup Wars of Even Bigger Errors that still dog us. So were Muslims and Catholics and Jews and probably even some Wiccans and Satanists. I hear you’re none to fond of those folks either, but they were there. So were gay soldiers, sailors, and airmen, but that’s another of your screeds and another of my posts.

I served John. I was a Cold Warrior. Got a medal to prove it and everything. I’m one of those guys who helped St. Ronnie of Reagan personally and single-handedly knock down the Berlin Wall. You remember Ronnie. Tall guy. Prayed a lot. But no need to thank me, being as how I’m an Atheist and all.

Read the rest of this entry →

Success and Failure Under the Pottery Barn Rule

5:05 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

THOU SHALT NOT BE STUPID – The Bible of Common Sense sez, “Know what you’re doing before you do it.”

Colin Powell warned the Bush administration about their twin Wars of Error with the Pottery Barn Rule – “You break it, you buy it.” Unfortunately, the Bush and Obama administrations chose long term leases with options to wreck the US economy.

In the beginning, the Crapweasel-in-Chief flexed his military muscle by starting a war on the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, Bush the Lesser’s terminal case of ADD set the table for Operation Shit in Your Mess Kit in Iraq. As it became clearer the wars, supported by the Coalition of the Inept”, were cesspools of money-sucking, people-killing swill Bush and the Big Dick Cheney doubled down on surge and puffery.

The puffery was the worst. As regular as a cheap watch Condi Rice stood with Witless George to remind us victory was just around the corner…for 3-years running. When that message flopped, as anyone with an IQ greater than a doughnut hole could see it would, the chant became, “If we leave now Iraq and Afghanistan will descend into civil war.”

Sadly, it was one of the few prescient things to come out of the whole shameful experience. A “no-duh” revelation of mammoth proportions.

UNINTELLIGENT INTELLIGENCE – Make sure your Chief Spy knows what’s really going on.

We recently snuck out of Iraq in the middle of the night and even after leaving an Army of you and I paid mercenaries behind, the place is still a mess and the fighting is heating up again. The Real War has now droned on for over a decade and the Ombamulans are ready to pull the plug there.  They will find, as many other Afghan “conquerors” have found, that keeping roving bands of war lords from slitting each other’s throats just for the hell of it is a lot harder than it looks. Chaos will follow us across the bridge out of the place next year just at it did with the Soviets.

Four years too late, the Obamunist finally sees it isn’t worth pumping money into a house with a broken foundation. He is pulling back and predictably his opponents are blaming him for the “failure” of wars he didn’t start with outcomes already set and Bush revisionism spouting like a whale pod with allergies. He may be a slow learner, but his record is 8 years to 4 in the football game of failure. Just as his Senate war vote was ill-advised and cowardly it’s better to wake up late than never.

Make no mistake, we victimized ourselves with the Pottery Rule 100-fold, but crapped on the people of both places 1000-fold. We bombed Iraq back to the Stone Age and Afghanistan back to the 6,000-year old Christian creation. The places are far more dysfunctional than before we decided to “liberate” them from a workable infrastructure and all those pesky family members. The Iraqis are returning to the same feudalism that even a despot like Hussein could barely hold together. And the Afghans are, well, about the same as before.

People are blabbering about attacking far more talented Team Iran soon. Clearly some of us have forgotten that Iran soundly whipped second-string Iraq’s ass in the War Bowl. It’s time to start planning a response better than the Wars of Error debacle lest we bomb the hell out of someone with the same negative effect as Iraqistan.

It’s another stupendous, “no duh, moment”.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Billion Dollar Airplanes or Schoolbooks?

2:57 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

Anyone who denies there are big flaws in our military’s procurement practices is light on scruples and probably the CEO of, say, Boeing (among others)… or maybe both.

Anyone who believes that if America had no military the world would live in peace and harmony is suffering from dementia. There’s always disagreement over the list of bad guys, but make no mistake, there are creatively evil people out there. Like it or not, America needs a military that can defend and support our interests. The problem is how we buy it.

Military SpendingClick image for larger >> 

The first pig at the barrel is foreign policy. Going off to every piss-hole in the snow costs a lot of money and may ultimately fail anyway. We’re still unraveling ourselves from two unneeded military adventures that, in large part, wrecked our economy. Now, voters expect a peace dividend so the money can flow elsewhere. But it’s not so simple.

Most legislators and corporatists like how big military talk plays at the ballot box. Lost jobs, tax rates, and trying to do right by troops who did what civilian leaders ordered are continuing costs. Costs that proportionately make Medicare look like a game of penny pitching. Iraqistan will cost us for decades.

Military doctrine is also a big driver. The US is equipped for WWIII, not guerilla wars like Afghanistan. Their mandate is to conduct 2 wars simultaneously. That takes lots of people, lots of very expensive equipment, and lots of money to run 0.6 mpg tanks. It ain’t cheap to blow things up.

Congress Says Soldiers Need More Pork Chops
There’s a lot less waste than you might think, not the least of which are the “unfunded mandate”, anti-pork barrel legislators who dangle the pork chops over the Pentagon. Congress sets detailed spending priorities for almost all major military programs – whether they make sense or not. If the military needs a new airplane Congress tells the military whether that is the airplane they want, regardless of whether it’s what the military needs. Almost every major weapons system sends business to all 50 states, regardless if those are the cheapest contractors.

Finally, Monday morning quarterbacking takes its toll. Legislators knowing zip about how to fight a war, along with Congressional and Presidential foreign policies, do their part to jack costs up. Politicians want to use military spending for jobs programs instead of efficient war-fighting, except when something happens. Then, they want to destroy whoever spent all that money on creationism schoolbooks than tanks.

And last, voters make decisions about military spending while knowing even less than Congress or the President. That doesn’t stop them from meddling with the process though. Read the rest of this entry →

Veteran’s Day: May the Stories of Those Who Served Live On

4:19 pm in Uncategorized by Omnipotent Poobah

USS HollandUSS Holland (AS-3) Off San Diego With Submarines Alongside (circa 1935) 

As I write this two American flags hang on my wall. Both are folded into militarily tight triangles and protected by flag boxes. One contains a Purple Heart, the other the WWII Service Medal and Pacific Service Medal. One day my own flag with a Cold War Service Medal will join them.

 

WWI Gas VictimsWWI Poison Gas Victims 

My grandfather received the Purple Heart after being shot and mustard-gassed in contested Alsace-Lorraine. He knew his location only by the strange melange of French and German the locals spoke.

His injuries were severe. Gruesome battlefield triage located him near the bottom of the list based on the likelihood his wounds were fatal. They laid him on a blanket spread across war-churned mud to die. He received only a daily ration of bread and some water. After a week, he beat the odds and finally received some medical attention, eventually going home.

The Mail Had to Go Through
He tried to reenlist at the beginning of WWII, but was barred because he held a critical wartime job – clerk on a railway post office shuttling through a dozen of more Montana and North Dakota ‘burgs. His car is on display at the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento, proof the world is very small.

His daughter went to work at Boeing as a draftsman working on the B-29. My mother worked as a crane operator at a former toy factory in Toledo converted to manufacturing tank barrels. They were Rosie the Riveters and every bit as important and deserving of praise as the men they supported.

YP-73 at Kodiak, AKYP-73 in for Repairs, Kodiak, AK (4/10/41) 

My father joined the Naval Reserve midway through his senior year in high school, only months before Dec. 7. He became a radioman and immediately shipped out to Alaska. There, he served aboard the YP-73, a converted salmon fishing boat tasked with patrolling the Aleutians.

Like many men of the era he was taciturn about his service. A few years before he died he told me a new story he’d never mentioned before. I’m still not sure why he did.

On Dec. 8, 1941 – less than 24 hours after the war began – his small boat forced a Dutch ship carrying a cargo of Japanese silk to stop off Dutch Harbor. His boarding party found a Japanese officer escorting the cargo and took him prisoner. Surely one of the first prisoners of the war.

Aboard the Gar One Last Time

Gar Bown OnUSS Gar (SS-206) at Mare Island, CA (circa 1941) 

Later he became a submariner, serving two war patrols aboard the USS Gar. After the patrols, he transferred to the personal staff of the Commander of Submarine Forces (Pacific), Adm. Charles Lockwood, aboard the submarine tender USS Holland.

Growing up, I heard many tales about the Pacific islands and countries he visited. They were unstintingly light-hearted, “There was one time went to a beer garden and…,” they usually began. I assumed his war patrols had been relatively combat-free and that service on the Admiral’s staff wasn’t exactly tough duty.

It turned out my assumption was wrong.

My Dad died at 86. He suffered a stroke a few months before pneumonia finally got him. The stroke left him semi-conscious for the better part of a week and every few hours he’d verbalize his delusions.

He talked to my mother. He took up his old vocation by controlling aircraft in his sleep. He described a sinister organization called, The Group that imprisoned him in a school. Oddly, The Group’s commandant was one of his least favorite people, Pat Robertson.

One afternoon he started mumbling and his voice grew steadily louder. He shouted the names of his Gar shipmates. He cried out for help and wept as if holding a shipmate during his last moments. It was clear from his fevered talk that he was back 65 years aboard a submarine under attack.

I suppose he could’ve been dreaming about a fantasy like The Group, but his voice betrayed an emotion and reality his Group rants never had. I listened to his cries for help, stung that I could to nothing to ease his pain. On that sunny afternoon I became his crewmate holding him as he held his shipmate. That pain taught me something about the man I’d known my entire life.

I saw him in a different light and was boundlessly proud of him.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!