Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ed Abbey Fires Back and I Return Fire . . .

Ah Ed! So much to respond to...I love it!

Ed fires: "Sure Saddam was being a pest and violating UN sanctions but when compared to the very serious and very real threats of Iran and North Korea who are violating many of the same sanctions, I think we could have dealt with Saddam differently for the time being.On the second part, I don't know how good an analogy it is to compare this war with Israel."

Phil returns fire: The difference between Iraq and the others (Iran, N Korea) is that Hussein (sorry, but I refuse to use that tyrant's first name!) had already invaded two other countries and was not showing any inclinations that he had learned NOT to. We very well might end up using the military option with Iran and N. Korea as well. Even a war dog like me believes we must use statesmanship first, before we use the attack card. Hussein was a heck of a lot worse than a "pest," by the way.

I use Israel as an example because they demonstrate two things:

1) The definition of "success." The Israelis might never completely end suicide attacks and other Islamic violence against them, YET they have won. They exist, and they are thriving. For defeatists (like Murtha and Boxer), every time a bomb goes off, they trumpet that event as proof of our impending doom. Most of us are made of sterner stuff than that.

2) Declaring defeat, or mission accomplished, as you say, and leaving.... That is not an option to Israelis since that would mean their end. Unless we return to the isolationism of the 1930s, we don't have that option either. If we call this effort in Iraq too hard and just leave, we might as well bring ALL our troops and citizens in from ALL over the world. That is unthinkable. We must stay engaged and fight this out, forever, if necessary. Quitting is not an option for us, just as it is not for the Israelis.

Phil: "Our job as keepers of Western Civilization is to keep the pressure on these idiots."

Ed fires: When did we ever sign up for that job? I think the reason many countries hate us is because we are the global cops. I'm all for letting countries unravel because they can't help themselves. I would love for the U.S. to become a neutral country."

Phil returns fire: Oh, there's no doubt that we ARE the keepers Ed. The entire free world and much of the rest of it looks to us whenever there is a "problem." Over most of the globe, just our very presence maintains order. We are the counterbalance. I can assure you that if we weren't out here in the Pacific that China would have already over run most of the Pacific, and that is not an exageration. No one signed us up, and we didn't sign up, it's just the way it is.

Whenever the U.N. is called on to intervene in any way, whether militarily or humanitarily, it doesn't happen without us. We have the wherewithal and no one else. I'm proud of the fact that we are the keepers. History placed us in this position. Do you think there would be a Western Civilization without us Ed? How would the world look today if we hadn't finally stepped in and defeated the evil that was sweeping the world in 1941? Heck yeah, we are the keepers!

I really don't care if other countries hate us. Why would I? People despise cops because they resent the authority and the power of the police. It's a natural reaction. I have felt rage against policemen because I felt like I was being picked on or unfairly stopped or disrespected, BUT, do I want to get rid of them? Of course not! Someone has to ride herd on the world. At this time in history we are the ones doing that. We are getting some help from the Aussies, the Brits, the Canadians, and sometimes NATO, but without our leadership you can bet they and others wouldn't be the least bit willing to get involved. Just like the cops, people bash us, but they still need us.

I must speak to your comment about letting countries "unravel." For many countries that might be of little consequence, but is it really? We can't be in all places at all times, but allowing anarchy free reign is not in our best interest and on all levels. The human suffering alone that comes from that unravelling is reason enough to step in when we can, or at least to support efforts to stop it. Being the world's first mega super power comes with a lot of responsibility and we can't just shrug that off.

Phil: "This sounds horrible, but as fast as they convert them and they attack us, we have people willing and able to mow them down." --

Ed fires: Where does it end?

Phil returns fire: You make my point again Ed. It MIGHT never end! The world is imperfect. There will always be evil. There will always be crime, and poverty, and despair. Do we quit because it all seems so endless? I hope not. For every foot that we pull back, our enemies will push forward a foot. Luckily, we have folks willing to push back and to keep pushing. Never say die. Semper Fi.

Phil: "The definition of that mission is being able to ensure that a democratic Iraq, friendly to the idea of tolerance to ALL nations regardless of their religious or secular persuasion, will be able to defend itself from the radicals."

Ed fires: When their religion teaches intolerance, how are we going to accomplish this mission short of converting them to Christianity? We can maybe accomplish the last part and seem to be making progress towards it but I just can't see the first part happening.

Phil returns fire: Such handwringing. There is plenty of reason to hope that not ALL Muslims subscribe to mindless and hateful intolerance. Most Iraqis want peace and prosperity. Most of them want the best for their children. We have defeated Islamic insurgency in the past you know. We accomplished it over almost a decade of fighting in Mindanao. It was a slug match and they were tough opponents, but we prevailed. As I said, the only way we lose is if we quit.

Your always welcome here buddy! I love inviting folks over for stimulating conversation. Unfortunately, most who come here think like I do. Maybe because we all tend to be ex-military, we've lived and served all over the world, and our similar experiences have made us similar. Let me know when you're coming and we'll get together. I look forward to it!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The War in Iraq -- Political? Should We Go Now?

Ed Abbey, a good man with somewhat differing political outlooks from mine, responded to my last post called “Demoncraps and Republicraps.” He answered one of my questions and replied to one point I made. Ed always comes through with pointed comments – Good stuff. I’m reacting in this post to his responses, but be advised – my next post will be back on Philippines observations and commentary. It’ll be on the Lazik Surgery I had done more than a year ago just down the road in Makati.

PhilippinePhil: "Can you explain how Republicans are politicizing the war?"

Ed: Every time Bush mentions the war in Iraq and terrorism in the same sentence. Afghanistan was the war on terrorists. Iraq was about settling a score with Saddam. None of the 9/11 terrorists came from or had ties with Iraq and yet Bush insults my intelligence every time he pretends that they did even when his own administration has shown that they didn't.

PhilippinePhil: Ed you are against the war in Iraq, and I can respect that. War is terrible. On this one I’ll agree with you that the administration should never have spent so much time pointing to WMDs and terrorists as the primary reason for the invasion. Those of us who were in service running up to the invasion were not surprised at all that we finally finished what we had started in ’91. In my retirement speech delivered almost exactly one-year before the Iraq invasion, I lamented that I would not be in uniform for the long-awaited final push to end Hussein’s reign.

In effect, that war should have been ended more than 10 years before, if not for the pusillanimity of President Bush I and General Powell, it would have. The long overdue Iraq invasion, when it finally came, was not about “settling scores,” it was about finishing off an outlaw regime that had violated every U.N. Resolution that he had agreed to as terms for our ending the first invasion. Please know that Iraq had NEVER stopped shooting at us; and he did so for about a dozen years AFTER his first surrender – by doing so, he brought on his own end. He miscalculated this president’s resolve to do the “right thing,” even in the face of worldwide subterfuge and international collusion with this nasty tyrant. Admittedly, 9/11 brought the final blow on Iraq sooner than it might otherwise have happened. I don’t have a problem with that, especially keeping in mind all of what I already pointed out above.

Was the war political to begin with? No. Is using the terror tie NOW to substantiate staying IN Iraq until the Iraqis can stand against them on their own – is that political? Not only is it not political, it is a completely valid position to take. We already know what can happen to a place that we simply abandon to Islamic radicals – we did that in Afghanistan in the late 70s and this president is smart not to repeat that mistake in Iraq.

PhilippinePhil: "The Islamicists can always find another brainwashed, brain-dead hopeless fool to blow himself up and take a bunch of innocents with him."

Ed: So if they can always find someone, how exactly are we going to win? I think the only way we can win this war is to kill every last one of them and that will only cause more people to convert so even that would cause failure. I think the best we can hope for is that when we do finally withdraw and declare "Mission Accomplished" that we set them back for a few decades so that we have time to recover for the next time.

PhilippinePhil: I ask this question? Have the Israelis WON? Unequivocally the answer is a resounding YES! Is it an ongoing effort? Yep. The Israelis have a vibrant democratic society and a thriving economy, even in the face of all the vicious suicide attacks; that knowledge drives the Islamicists nuts. Should the Israelis quit because Hamas can always find another goober to blow himself up and kill innocents? The answer is obvious. Just as in Iraq, the ONLY way the Israelis lose is to throw their hands up in failure. They do NOT have that option. A smart people won’t even consider it because the option is to give up on our existence.

To say that WE are the ones causing this skewed suicidal behavior is misguided. As proof, the Israelis left Gaza and now the terrorists have filled the void. If Israel were to disappear and if the USA disengaged entirely from ALL countries Islamic, would that end Islamo-fascism? Nope. They are here to stay, but because its hard doesn’t mean we quit.

Our job as keepers of Western Civilization is to keep the pressure on these idiots. We must stay forward, and YES, continue to TRY to kill every one of them who try to kill us. We can’t stand down hoping that we won’t make new converts by doing so – it just doesn’t work that way. These Islamic terrorists are not wired that way. Their conversion will happen no matter what.

This sounds horrible, but as fast as they convert them and they attack us, we have people willing and able to mow them down. Our continued existence depends on these few willing warriors doing exactly that. I’ve had the honor to meet many of these men, and thank goodness we have them.

Finally Ed, you are right that we should withdraw and declare mission accomplished, but only after we have accomplished the mission. The definition of that mission is being able to ensure that a democratic Iraq, friendly to the idea of tolerance to ALL nations regardless of their religious or secular persuasion, will be able to defend itself from the radicals. This is happening. If it weren’t and our military folks in Iraq thought it wasn’t happening, believe me, you’d hear about it. By and large, my brothers and sisters in uniform stationed there, the ones suffering death and wounds, THESE brave people understand the mission and they ARE kicking butt getting it done. The only ones crying defeat are people NOT there. Give these servicemen and women AND the brave contractors in Iraq a chance, have some patience, and we will CONTINUE to win in Iraq, because we ARE winning.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Demoncraps and Republicraps?

Here's a recent email string between a comrade and me. I post it to show how so many Americans’ lack of patience and their baseless cynical view of our leaders, especially with THIS administration, has jaundiced their opinion on the conduct of this war we are now fighting AND winning. My buddy, Jack, had sent me a link to a column written by Congressman Craig wherein he castigated the “cut and run crew” in the Democratic Party.

Hey Jack, Good column… thanks for the send...and Craig is right, we DID leave Beirut and Somalia too early, and what’s worse is both times we left AFTER the enemy inflicted notable casualties on us... Both times we cut and ran AFTER we got hurt. The Islamo-nazis know this about us and they believe based on our past that all they have to do is hurt us a good one, get a dip in the opinion polls and the gutless elements in our government will tuck tail and force our brave military to run away yet again.

In Vietnam we didn't leave too early. When it fell, we were ALREADY gone, except for a few advisers and our air and naval support. In effect, we had successfully Vietnamized the war, just as we are now successfully “Iraqisizing” this war. The democrats did something so despicable in 1973 that it has kept me voting Republican ever since... they simply turned off all military and financial support to the South Vietnamese. We had WON the damn war, at the cost of 58,000 precious American lives, and then the liberal DUMocrats gave it back to the murdering communists just so they could "put it" to a beleaguered Nixon, who was trying to survive Watergate....

Howard Dean, John Kerry, Jack Murtha, All the Kennedy’s, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Boxer.... all perfectly represent the current idiocy of the democratic party.... Unfortunately, politics is cyclic and it looks like these imbeciles are about to take the reins... God help us Jack! We are winning the war, but you'd never know it to listen to these fools. Key elements in the opposition party are determined that we should lose it.... I hope the US voters don't give them the chance, but....... (sigh!)

Hey Phil,

I bet you if the WWII war were run the way they do it today, Gen. Patton, and majority of our soldiers would be prosecuted and jailed for what they did to win the war!!!!

You know Phil; I am neither REPUBLICRAP NOR DEMONCRAP. I am a conservative. I believe this issue of being bipartisan needs to go. I blame the REPUBLICRAPS JUST AS WELL AS THE DEMONCRAPS. They are politicizing the war on both side of the aisle.

I would call these idiots “DEMONCRAPS” instead!

Hey Jacques, speaking historically.... WWII and every war we've ever been in was fought in fits and starts... In my opinion, this is the first war we've EVER fought that we DIDN'T fight incompetently from the beginning. We've always had to learn as we fought, BEFORE we started to prevail... In this war, however, we’ve been kicking butt from the get-go. More on that in a second...

I really don't know why you would blame the administration for the conduct of the war, unless you want to fault them for the level of troops used at the beginning, or allowing all the looting just after the shooting war was won, or perhaps the decision to disband the Iraqi Army and police and start from scratch. If you are, then that is second-guessing.

This administration has pretty much deferred the conduct and operational aspects completely to the military. Admittedly, Rumsfeld has seemingly tried to fight this thing on the cheap; even so, he's given operational theater commanders most everything they've asked for. We are fighting terrorists, insurgents if you will. We are Americans and can't fight dirty in return, and why would we anyway? If we lose our souls, we lose everything! The Islamicists kill 25 innocents in cold blood and declare it a victory. We kill 50 insurgents, and in doing so kill a handful of civilians in the crossfire, and our liberal press crucifies and blames us as being "just as bad as the terrorists."

Can you explain how Republicans are politicizing the war? I don't see it. They are already in power, so they don't have to. The democrats are sick with the need to return to power, thus they feel that they have to undermine this administration, criticize the military and ALL its actions, and feel that ONLY a LOSS in this War on Terror will help them to get what they want. That is immoral and sickening, but that's how I see the Democratic Party at this time.

Jack, we are winning. The ONLY way we can lose is to leave. We've lost 2500 men and women in Iraq, and just over 3000 including our losses in Afghanistan. These are acceptable losses considering that we are fighting bastards that want to destroy our civilization. Could you tell me what you would change, how you would do it differently if you were in charge of fighting them? Simply saying the administration is a politically motivated just tells me how "you feel." Tell me what you see that you think is being done wrong.

If you want to compare this war to WWII, then by comparison we are doing pretty well. Remember how we lost the Philippines? Tens of thousands of men gone in 4 months. Do you remember the losses in our battles against the Japanese? Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa? Thousands of men died for those "victories." And it was worse in the European theater.... thousand of dead in North Africa, Italy and Western Europe. Our liberal defeatist press AND THIS opposition party, if around back then, would be having a field day. They'd be saying we are no better than the Nazis or fanatical Japanese. They’d be spouting drivel like, “President Roosevelt, where is your plan? We don’t see a plan! And what about withdrawal? Where is your “exit strategy!?” Ridiculous? You bet it is.

Here's our problem as I see it: Americans want to win NOW! By winning, they want the killing and dying to end NOW! Well, we can't control that. Unfortunately, that part of the war is completely out of our hands... The Islamicists can always find another brainwashed, brain-dead hopeless fool to blow himself up and take a bunch of innocents with him. Does that make them our superior? It does ONLY if we quit.

We are smarter, higher principled, better led, better fed, better equipped, and more powerful on EVERY level than the people who want to destroy us. The only thing THEY have that we don't is PATIENCE! For heaven's sake, we invaded Iraq just over 3 years ago and look what we've accomplished! The most important thing is we are making positive changes in that part of the world AND we have an effective military presence right in the heart of the enemy!

It's dumfounding that people can possibly say that we are in a no-win quagmire. That kind of talk is just plain stupid and plays into the hands of our enemies. They already have historical precedence to work with.... Reagan ran away from Beirut after the 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks, and Clinton tucked his tail and scrammed in 1993 when Aidid's forces hurt us in Somalia. So they KNOW how to beat us, or so they think, hurt us and we'll go! Jack Murtha, are you listening, you blowhard, you sniveling fake! So you fought in Vietnam...So what! All you want is power; I have no respect for you at all at this point.

So Jack, can you explain to me how the "Republicraps" are politicizing this effort to preserve Western Civilization? I don't see it... Details and specifics please? Anyone?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Running Scared -- A Hashing Story

Before checking out the following little adventure, you might want to read my original post about “hashing” here first.

Starting my own Hash

I had always dreamed of starting my own Hash House Harriers club, and I finally did so in 1989, a few years after arriving in Arkansas. My harriers and I met mostly at my home in base housing on the Air Base. I tried to run a “hash” every Saturday, weather and work permitting. I built up my club from a nucleus of a half-dozen or so steady participants; these hard-core devotees were mostly guys from my unit, the 314th Avionics Maintenance Squadron.

It got easier to get other guys to come out and run with us after the Quality Assurance Office picked me up as an Avionics Inspector. All of a sudden I was the boogey man, a fellow with some “power” and a little influence. Now, when I went on my inspection rounds and asked folks if they wouldn’t like to come over and try a hash run, often some felt pressured to do it. No one wants to make the QA guy mad – after all, they never knew when it would be their time to get an “over the shoulder.” Not coming out wouldn’t have affected my assessment, even a little bit, but I wasn’t going to tell them that. Besides, once they tried it, they were hooked.

On Being the "Hare"

After a year of organizing hashes, I began to search out new and more challenging hashing routes. I took my turn as hare, or "wabbit" as Elmer Fudd says, more often than the others, mostly because I loved the test of being chased. I spent hours exploring and mapping out possible sites that would make the perfect places to “checkpoint” and “false trail.” The important thing for a “rabbit” making a trail to keep in mind is to avoid running through an area where the chase runners can see you from a long way off. If they can see YOU, that means they don’t have to follow YOUR “tracks.”

I was a sassy brassy rabbit. I loved doubling back and going to ground, so I could watch the hounds from up close as they intently strove to run me down. It gave me a strange feeling of power, and it was just plain fun to watch my hounds from as close as possible. Once, I circled around and buried myself under a pile of leaves, and watched barely stifling giggles as the dozen hounds trotted by on both sides of my hiding place. One guy even stepped on my hand as he jogged past my prone concealed body. It was deliciously exciting being invisible like that. Several times they tried to outsmart me by leaving one guy back to try to catch me when I circled around. It was a chess game I almost always won, mostly by just running fast when they got close until I got away. In hashing, being quick is better than being cagey!

Most Memorable Hashing Moment Ever?

I have many pleasurable memories from those days, but perhaps the most memorable of all came about one Saturday when I ran my hounds around the outside of the base golf course. I knew it was going to be risky, because I was going to be visible from a long way off from where I took them past the base’s main gate before ducking back into a large plot of woods. By doing so, I was breaking one of the most important rules of being a hare. When I hit the long scary open area, I ran as fast as I could while still laying spoor, but I wasn’t quite quick enough. For as I made my way, almost at a sprint, halfway to the safety of the woods on the edge of the golf course, I heard someone yell from 100 yards away, “There he is!”

Dang it! I had needed only about 10 more seconds and I would have been out of sight. Now, they were taking a direct line RIGHT at me, and the bad thing is they were running diagonally across the 6th fairway to do so. None of them was a golfer, so they didn’t understand why that was such a big no-no. Some disgruntled linksman, probably an officer, was going to scream bloody murder for sure.

Never mind. Getting away is all I was concerned with at that point. I sprinted into the obscuring safety of the big rectangular patch of woods. I stopped leaving spoor until I was in the trees, since they knew where I was anyway. As soon as I hit the woods line I began tapping my dust sack against tree trunks, rocks, and on the ground every three or four strides. Knowing they were right on my tail, I wasn’t nearly as careful as I usually was about leaving detectable bright white splotches from my sock full of hydrogenated lime dust. Truthfully, I was in a mild panic. After all, the hounds were right on my trail and I could feel their breath on my neck. Awesome! I was in my element. That’s what I lived for!

My plan was to take them all the way up the long side of the woods plot to a paved golf cart trail, and even in my hurried state I kept on that strategy. From there, I stayed on plan and turned right so that I could quickly get The Hash back off the golf course. I knew I was taking a dangerous chance cutting across the course anyway, but what’s life without taking a few risks? I did my thing and continued to lay my trail.

I Zigged, They Zagged

Once I was safely off the golf course, I took an immediate right behind a ridge running parallel with the plot of woods through which my hounds then struggled. I went to ground on top of that ridge, and from my position behind a fallen tree, I could see directly across the 8th fairway at the extensive copse where my hounds had faltered. I could hear them calling to each other unseen in the densely leaved trees. From the sound of it, they had lost the bright white lime dust spots I had quickly left in my wake. In their excitement to catch me they had outrun the trail, so that where I had zigged, that’s probably where they had zagged.

A party of four golfers was just making their way up to take their second shots after teeing off from the 8th tee box. Two of them were riding a golf cart and the other two were pulling their clubs with handcarts. I smirked watching their consternation at all the noise in the woods to their left. Suddenly a raccoon burst out of those same woods and skittered crazily between the golfers toward the far side of the fairway towards me. That crazed coon was merely a foreshadowing of what was to come.

I could hear my dozen confused hounds yelling at each other:

“You got the trail yet?”

“NO! How about any of you over to the right? Can you guys see anything?”

“Not yet! Still looking!”

They Were NOT Amused!

The golfers looked disapprovingly at the trees to their left toward the unwelcome loud voices of my hashing “troops.” One fellow even stopped pulling his cart and walked to the edge of the thick line of trees trying to catch a glimpse of the “big mouths” – I KNEW we were going to hear about it now (and BOY did we EVER!). The angry duffers looked like officers or senior enlisted guys; either way, neither group tends to have a sense of humor – a trait this “foursome” was about to have put to an “extreme” test in just a few more seconds.

My naughty and annoying hounds were now on line trying to find a single lime splotch so they could get back to following my trail of splotches. I cringed as I heard them yelling back and forth, along with the cracking break of branches and twigs as they made their way through the thick foliage.

Then one of the hounds screamed, “Hey, I’ve got the trail! On! On! This way boys!”

About then I heard my guys make a series of excited whoops, and then a God-awful crashing noise as all of them took off at once into the same direction.

No Way! It Can't Be!

That’s when the REAL show started! And I couldn’t BELIEVE what I was seeing – was I REALLY seeing this? EVERY type of forest animal I’d ever imagined living in the State of Arkansas began to pour frantically from the woods across the expanse of fairway to my front. An avalanche of creatures swarmed from out of the tall grass and undergrowth, all of them spooked to flight by MY noisy hounds. I was amused realizing that not one of my harriers was even remotely aware of the mayhem they were causing in that small corner of the animal kingdom.

Amazingly, one of about a half-dozen stampeding deer, a buck with a beautiful six-point rack of antlers, bounded straight out of the foliage. One of the pull cart golfers was directly in its frenzied path. The panicked deer got to within 10 feet of the man before noticing that a human being was right THERE! Once the buck saw the man, it put on the brakes only as a deer can, or maybe an NFL hockey player. Only instead of ice chips flying, a hefty five-foot long strip of sod and dirt was thrown high into the air and all over the startled golfer.

Seeing a 190-pound white-tailed deer bearing down on him, the shocked man cowered, crouched low and covered his head with both arms. The heaving deer fell heavily on its side within a couple feet of the screaming golfer before scrambling back up in a flurry of legs, antlers and hooves. Regaining its feet, the buck continued on its original course, bounding away in incredibly long 15-foot leaps. After seeing that I can assure you that the definition of “fear” is most certainly the sight of a frightened deer! Or, is it the sight of a golfer being frightened by a deer in fear?! Either way.

Furry and Feathered...

For a few seconds, my attention had been completely taken up by the dramatic interplay between the golfer and deer. Now all the other beasts, large and small, mesmerized me. I never imagined that so many critters could live in such a small area. These furry and feathered beings literally streamed in their scores across the short-clipped fairway grass, all of them trying to escape from my hounds. I tried to gather in and catalogue the unlikely hodgepodge of fauna before me – mice, fox, squirrels, opossum, lizards, skunk, deer, a couple of armadillos, even snakes and birds issued forth, and all because of my hounds and me. Cool!

In less than a minute it was over. The torrent of animals gushing across the fairway greenery, through and around the startled golfers, ended as quickly as it began. Even the snakes quickly found new hiding places. The first of my unsuspecting pursuers burst forth onto to the cart trail, and the sight of them only a couple hundred feet away knocked me rudely from my dazed trance. I jumped to my feet and went back to work. I had a trail to put down. There were hounds within sight, I was a rabbit, and within a half hour we’d all be drinking cold beer and I’d be telling them an unbelievable story . . . . About a bunch of other animals, besides me, that they had put on the run … On! On!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Back to School – Philippines Retirement, Part III

You might be asking – why talk about school under the topic of retiring in the Philippines? Well, many veterans come here with the intent of using their VA education benefits. I’ve been doing it since June of 2003; I started just weeks after my permanent resident visa came through. Anyhow, here are some thoughts, observations and some personal experiences on the subject.

For this new semester, I waited until the first week of school before even attempting to sign up. Reason being, what a goat rope the sign-up process is! The college I go to, Systems Plus Computer Foundation, or SPCF, runs you all over the place, from window 5 to the department office, to the library, back to window 5, or is it 2? And on and on…

To make things worse, all students are required at the beginning of this school year to have old ID badges replaced with a higher tech version, one imprinted with a scanner readable code. The “line” in front of THAT office was like an African watering hole in the midst of two-year drought, and I didn’t feel like trying to fight my way through the “herd” to get to the “muddy water!” Now, I don’t mind standing in line, but Filipinos DON’T tend to form lines. What they do instead is to mass, push, and reach over and past each other to the front. As an American, I have a hard time dealing with that, so I don’t.

With the kind of disorganization, deficiency of structure, and the seeming lack of line etiquette I describe above, you would think people here would get cross and angry at each other, but no, that’s just how things are done. They expect it, and they are used to it. The only ones who get irked and frustrated are the old American retirees, like me.

Here’s what I do now to help me through this bothersome, but unavoidable, “first week” of college chaos. I employ what I call my “assistant;” in this case, his name is Noli. He’s 19 years old, and the nicest kid you’d ever want to meet. Both of us are Education majors and we’ve been fast buds for over a year. I ask him to help me through the morass of sign-in, and he does so by taking me from window, to department office, to library, to what ever comes next. When my back starts to ache and my feet start to throb, he even waits in “line” for me; or as I hinted above, he pushes my paperwork to the front while I relax on a nearby bench contentedly mopping my sweaty forehead and sipping an ice tea.

Now, why would a 19-year old fellow do this for a guy 30 years his senior? I can’t imagine a kid doing something like that back in the States. But we’re not back in the States, thank God! Noli is a really nice youngster and a good buddy. I help him with some of his assignments, and if he needs a pen or a tablet, or even a textbook (they cost at most $4!), then I help him out. When we are on campus and waiting for a class to start, we sit together in a strategic spot and assess and discuss the qualities of the hundreds of beautiful young co-eds walking about. (Keep in mind, it’s all innocent enough – he’s STILL a virgin! Impossible you say? Well NOT in the Philippines!)

Noli is also interested in working on his “American” English. Particularly, and especially while I am around, he’s always telling his classmates who come up and greet him in a local dialect to, “Hey, speak English!” Through me, he’s mastering all the usual American colloquial phrases like, “What’s up?” or “I’m good,” or “I’m hanging in there,” and “I’m just go’n with the flow!” You know, ridiculous American expressions you don’t just pick up in an English class, unless of course there’s someone “ridiculous” like me in it.

Seriously though, I like to think that Noli looks at me as a mentor. I hate using that term since I grew to despise it in the Air Force. It was “over-used” to the point that I refused to acknowledge it, and insisted on using replacement words, like counselor or guide. Just the same, my young college friend respects the fact that I have life experiences that he can only dream of, and will probably never get to undergo himself. I hope someday he gets his teaching degree and gets his chance to be a teacher in the USA, or some other first world nation.

Aside from being an excellent cultural experience, going to school here is good for a vet’s bank account, especially if the Veterans Administration is paying the costs under Chapter 30. It’s no secret that we are paid much more here than what it costs to matriculate. In the USA it is barely enough, and actually, in most schools back there it doesn’t come close to covering expenses. So, if you want to learn nursing, programming, teaching, business, or the Dewy Decimal System, and you want to make a profit doing it, then come on over and go to school with me.

Before you pack your bags and scientific calculator however, remember that the Philippines will not allow you to sign up for classes unless you have either a Student Visa or a Permanent Resident Visa. I’ve heard that the Student Visa can be difficult and time-consuming to secure. I can’t speak expertly on that, as I didn’t go that route since I am married to a Filipina, but I hear it can be a big headache. I suggest you contact a Philippine Consulate and find out what they require to get one. Or you can email me and I’ll forward your questions to Ernesto, the man in charge of The SPCF Foreign Students Office. He’s a smart guy and works student visas on a continuous basis.

If you are married to a Filipina, even if she already has U.S. citizenship, then you can become a permanent resident. But beware! Permanent residency simplifies SOME things, but complicates others. What I hate about it is I am forced to pay $50 per person for a reentry stamp EVERY time I leave the country. With four souls in the family that means I am rooked out of $200 per trip, not to mention the annual fee I have to pay to keep all four visas valid.

Thing is, if you don’t have a 13A or 13G visa for permanent residency, I’m told that as a tourist you must get your passport stamped every 60 days or so (maybe even less!), and then before the 1-year anniversary of your initial tourist stamp you MUST completely leave the country and return, so that you can continue to live here as a tourist for another year. What a pain. You’d think the Philippines would make it easier for foreigners to live here, since this place can really use the cash we spend and all the local people that it supports.

A final school story: Last Friday I could not find a single class on my schedule. As always, my department didn’t know who was teaching what, or where. My man, Noli, came through for me again. In my personal quest to locate teachers and classrooms, my disabled knees and pain-wracked back simply could not negotiate another step up-and-down the school’s many stairways, some of which go up four floors. Noticing my physical discomfort, Noli told me to wait in the cafeteria while he found exactly the location of all my classes. With people like Noli living here, how could I not love living here myself? Living in the Philippines: Priceless!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

On Haditha AND Murtha

Haditha... is it fated to become the 21st Century’s My Lai, just as Wounded Knee was the 19th Century’s? I trust not, but let the investigators do their work first, BEFORE we start bandying about those kind of ugly analogies. As a veteran, my first instinct is to give the benefit of the doubt to the Marines, but let’s wait and see.

Until the Haditha Report comes out, there seem to be two issues in play here: 1) did that squad of Marines kill those civilians in cold blood? And, 2) was there a “cover up” afterwards? Oh but wait, there is a third issue – are certain politicians attempting to use this unfortunate incident, regardless of the final “truth,” to support their continuing attempt to return to power?

I can’t comment on whether either of the first two things happened or not, and NO one should at this point. (As for the third issue, you KNOW what I think already!) But ONE idiot who has already made up his mushy mind on the first two issues is a democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, John Murtha, a retired Marine officer, whom I think has gone off the deep end. In fact, he’s made a series of teary-eyed proclamations and red-faced assertions concerning Haditha.

To me, the man is a contradiction of terms anyway – an ex-Marine AND a defeatist? That is simply a weird and unfathomable combination. I believe the guy has a couple of agendas: he wants his party to make some “political hay” out of what he calls “an unjust war,” and he’s suffering from post-Vietnam “quagmire syndrome.” Here’s what I think is going on with this emotional wreck and proven windbag:

The democrats are using him as their willing poster boy as anti-war spokesman, expressly because of his military background, which includes a bronze star from a tour in Vietnam. When I first saw his weepy tirade, where he argued that we should immediately remove our troops from harm’s way in Iraq, I couldn’t believe it. What he, Pulosi, Kucinich and the despairing left want, are for us to declare defeat and run away, leaving the whole thing a mess, and easy pickings for the Islamo-fascists. In other words, it would be an obvious Bush failure. Boy, wouldn’t that help their chances going into the 2008 general election! There, now you know EXACTLY how I think about issue number three above.

Historically speaking, the democrats gave Vietnam to the murdering communists in 1973, when they ended all economic and military support for the already viable South Vietnamese government, and that was AFTER we had it won. Now, they can’t wait to create another defeat, but this will be a whole lot worse and indefensible since it will empower criminals who want to destroy Western Civilization. Murtha, or at least his “masters” seem to welcome the worst outcome possible from the Haditha situation, because they think it will make THEIR case that we are fighting an unjust and unwinnable war. For me the only real “un” here is UN-believable!

Murtha’s latest teeth gnashing episode is where he spewed angrily that the Marine Corps as an organization purposefully covered up the report of possible wrongful civilian deaths in Haditha. I think two other situations are in play on this one, and that’s besides Murtha’s already obvious slant against staying in Iraq. The first is that he is probably “sourcing” Marines from within the battle theater, or possibly from inside the Pentagon itself. I’ll bet you he is corresponding with this source (or sources), because he found one or two folks there that feel as he does – an easy thing to do in this age of instantaneous E-mails.

His fuming accusation that upper-level types in the USMC covered up, and are now whitewashing the investigation seems to stem probably from these, his “malcontented” sources in the Marines. I believe this because he made these outrageous allegations BEFORE any final report has been issued from the Haditha investigation team. He practically stormed in and then out of the press conference when he did this. And that leads me to a final gut feeling about this guy – the congressman suffers from PTSD.

I say this, because for a Marine of his caliber to act this way, so outwardly over-emotional and seemingly out of control, he MUST have something working on him from the “inside.” NO person in his lofty position in government should act this way – it’s completely irresponsible. I have worked with more than a score of veterans now who have displayed this same betraying symptom. Jack Murtha needs help from both his priest and his psychiatrist.

Knowing this, I feel sorry for the man; but you know what? He should NOT be where he is – in a position of power where his condition of anxiety is tainting his abilities of judgment and self-control. I believe the man is dangerous in that he is undermining the security for our nation, and it is disgraceful that the liberals of his party are using him in this way. The man needs treatment, and that should be obvious to anyone who has observed him. In the meantime, we should simply ignore his outbursts and allegations about Haditha, and just wait for the outcome of the investigation, and more importantly, CONTINUE to fight terrorism where it is now centered, IN IRAQ!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Should We "Humanize" Basic Training?

Kinder Gentler Military Training…A Good Idea?

I saw a TV news bit featuring the new wave of Army Basic Training.
Read this blogpost from “Guidons Guidons Guidons!” for an overview; especially peruse the predictable remarks from veterans worried about the quality of newly graduated troopers from this new brand of kinder gentler training. Some of these guys are not averse to using foul language though, so please be aware.

When I first saw the TV news item I shook my head thinking the Army had lost its mind, then I thought again. After all, I’ve always prided myself on being a contrarian thinker, so I gave it a second round of consideration in my old brain box. I remember my Marine Bootcamp training and the sheer sadistic cruelty all of us recruits endured under the pretense of toughening and remolding our old soft civilian selves into rough and tough leathernecks. Here’s an overview of what I’m talking about:

Our bus pulled into the Recruit Training Depot from The San Diego International Airport some time just before midnight. We could see a horde of drill instructors wearing wide brimmed “Smokey Bear” hats waiting just outside the bus. One of them leaped through the door as soon as it opened and began screaming guttural unintelligible things. I dimly understood that we were to leave the bus and IMMEDIATELY.

That’s when the panic began. A handful of my fellow recruits tried to slither out the windows and a couple actually made it, thudding hard to the pavement. Bright searchlights blinded us as a half-dozen DIs screamed that we were to stand on painted footprints, only to have another one yell that we were to go somewhere else and pick up a milk carton full of uniform items. The first DI then came back wanting to know why we deliberately disobeyed his orders of a moment ago.

I soon realized that what they were doing was nothing more than entertaining themselves at our expense. They were hazing us, pure and simple. And I must add that they didn’t just scream orders, they used the foulest language that I had ever heard in my life. The vileness of their speech was more disconcerting to me than the physical abuse. Was all that ridiculous posturing and caterwauling supposed to make us better marines?

Later that night, after many more hours of foul epithets having been heaped upon us, we were allowed to fall asleep in our racks, but at the position of attention. Just as the last of us passed out, the DIs descended upon us again. It was about 3 a.m. and our first full day of training was about to begin. Two of them rolled and kicked trashcans down the center of the squadbay, while two more screamed instructions at us to get up and stand at attention in front of our bunks. We were so terrified that all 150 of our knees refused to steadily support our body weight. From the corner of my eyes I watched every man in sight continuously buckle at the knees, including mine. Then, I heard water splashing to the floor from several points around me. A handful of my fellow recruits had lost control of their bladders. I said a silent prayer of thanks to God for keeping me from that ignominious lack of body function control. The DIs made fun of us for our obvious fright and they made the weak-bladdered fellows do push-ups in their own urine. Did that make us better marines?

When I went through that training in the mid-70s, drill instructors still had tacit approval to hit and punch us. As long as we didn’t turn them in, they could get away with it. Personally, I was punched in the gut, kicked, and knocked to the ground with what’s called a butt-stroke from the stock end of an M-16 rifle. How did that improve my status as a good leatherneck?

We suffered a lot of stupid physical torture, all administered under the guise of training, throughout the entire 3 plus months of training; but what really upset me was the abominable language and the things said with that language. One of their favorite subjects had to do with the description of sexual deviancy. For instance, the most shocking thing I heard was an instructor describing having sex with a toddler, and he included all the sickening details. I’m sure it was entirely untrue, but it was said to a bunch of teenage kids who were entirely captive to his verbal depravity. I cannot for the life of me see how that kind of spoken immorality could enhance our fighting abilities.

(I understand that now in Marine Basic Training the instructors are no longer allowed to use foul words or foul language of any kind. If this is true, it is a victory for common sense and decency, and I hope all Marine DIs follow this policy without trying to undercut it or get around it. Good going Marines!)

During our sessions of hand-to-hand and bayonet combat training, our instructors seemed to think that telling us that we should WANT to do certain things to our enemy opponents would make us more willing to perform these deeds in war. More than one of these fellows described how, if we were lucky, we would get a chance to cut a man’s stomach open, reach into his warm bloody body cavity and remove organs with our bare hands. That was just the beginning of their gory spiels. They also told us gleefully how to extract eyeballs, teeth, intestines, and how to cause the most pain possible to our future enemies. I find it hard to believe that inducing that sort of viciousness into the hearts and minds of young future American combatants is going to make them more able to follow the Geneva Convention or any level of Rules of Engagement.

The question is this – is it truly necessary to brutalize trainees both physically, morally and mentally in order to make them more willing warriors? My opinion is that we can train more effective fighters and make them far more professional by training them professionally. If we brutalize them, they will practice brutality. If we deprave them, they will indulge in depravity.

The common argument is that combat is brutal and vicious; therefore we must toughen our young men and women to the point that they will not be paralyzed by the harshness of it once it smacks them for real in the face. I totally disagree. Much of our combat training was devoid of abuse, although it included yelling instructors and lots of combat noise, explosions, smoke and really tough combat scenarios. All of that stuff was valid and didn’t require punching us, kicking us or teaching us how to want to do more than what was necessary to defeat potential adversaries. We must not give our military trainers carte blanche to abuse and torture their charges just because that is what happened to them when they went through it. It is a false paradigm anyway, and I applaud the U.S. Army for figuring this out. I don’t normally agree with my sister service on a lot of their policy, but I do on this one.

Ponder this. One of the bravest, toughest, most respected fighting organizations from the last 200 years is the British Brigade of Ghurkas. These diminutive warriors are traditionally recruited from a tiny region of Nepal and they are unique in a number of ways. Aside from being a part of one of The First World’s last mercenary outfits, the French Foreign Legion being the other, Ghurka training does NOT consist of any harsh yelling or abusive treatment whatsoever. Yet, these tough little fellows are considered to be the epitome of warrior and their long successful unit history bears out this claim through countless battles and dozens of wars. So, what is their secret?

At first the Brits tried to use the normal style of training, the brutalizing kind most of the world has used for centuries to turn normal men into willing warriors. They soon learned that with Ghurkas that style was counterproductive. These men, who average just above 5 feet in height, just did not respond well to yelling and maltreatment. These boys were already in incredible physical shape by virtue of their homeland’s steep mountains and tough lifestyle. The hardest things to teach them were the concepts of time, footwear, silverware, and the use of toilets.

Another problem was making them understand the nuances of following orders. For example, during WWI a battalion of Ghurkas was traveling to battle on a troop ship. One Ghurkalese soldier was instructed by his British officer to guard an artillery piece and to stay with it no matter what. The ship was hit by enemy fire and sunk. The officer was forced to dive below the waves and force the young man to let go of HIS field gun, which he held in a death grip with both arms wrapped tightly around the barrel. The moral of the story: you tell one of these fellows to do something, and it WILL be done. So, be careful what you tell them to do! Such is the nature of the Ghurka.

No one has ever screamed foul words at a Ghurka, or forced one to do pushups in their own urine. The British trainers of these perfect warriors do not try to dehumanize these fine little fellows, and it shows; you will never run into a more obedient, more polite and soft-spoken soldier anywhere in the world. Yet, put these guys into a war and they will fight it exactly as they are told, following all the Rules of Engagement, while at the same time dispatching every enemy before them as soon as one comes within range of their rifles or kukris (the distinctive fighting knife of the Ghurka).

Over the last 60 years of American military history, our leaders have been forced to make change after change. Truman forced us to integrate blacks and all other ethnicities and that worked out fine, even with all the old-timers naysaying and shouting their objections of doom. My own daughter went through Army basic training in 1998 and did so with a completely coed platoon of men and women. These guys and gals trained totally together in all phases of instruction – they exercised together, went into the field together, and trained in hand-to-hand combat together. One day, my Marie fought a young black fellow who out-weighed her and was obviously stronger, and not unexpectedly he was able to reach in and tag her full on the nose. Being a Spear, she lapsed into what we call “Spear rage” and proceeded to clean the young man’s clock; the instructors having to intervene and pull her bodily off the surprised and now horizontal fellow. The Army knows that women like my daughter will probably not face another woman in combat, thus they should be trained to fight all comers. Good job Army! Now if we can just get the Marines to follow suit and get their “gals” to train coed. Today’s conflicts have no lines of battle; it can and will reach out and grab you no matter where you are in a theater of war. New situations mean new mindsets and attitudes when it comes to training -- that is the point.

The colonel in charge of implementing the kinder and gentler training concept at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri supposedly has been forced to do this to keep down an unacceptable washout rate. I say: “The washout rate be damned!” His is a good idea for a whole lot more than increasing soldier throughput. It’s only common sense that we need to train up people based on their level of physical ability when they report in. I was a distance runner when I reported to basic training, but most of my comrades were not. Forcing someone who has never run more than a few steps before to suddenly run a mile is ridiculous. This colonel gets this principle, and well we all should. Why destroy a potential soldier’s body rather than building it up to the point that he or she is able to withstand the rigors of war? That is just plain ignorant. I applaud the colonel’s idea enthusiastically. My daughter had never been a runner as a girly-girl civilian, yet she was made to run on untoughened feet, ankles, knees and hips. Eventually, she broke down and now she will be permanently compensated by the government for the totally avoidable damage done to her during her four short years in uniform.

Yelling in the military is unavoidable, but doing so to humiliate is inexcusable. Actually, teaching how to do it effectively is something that MUST be taught. Soldiers, Marines and Sailors will have to use their diaphragms to impart orders or warnings to their comrades on a continuous basis, especially those in combat arms, around engines or those working with aircraft. But, screaming abuse and teaching verbal baseness and cruelty is NOT what we need to be instilling in our impressionable young military members. Instead, they should be taught how to be gentlemen and women, how to fight professionally without any underpinnings of base cruelty, and how to treat everyone around them with respect and dignity. That is how we have always expected our men and women to behave, and yet hypocritically, we have trained them in a fashion that encourages just the opposite behavior.

The bravery and commitment of the ferocious yet gentle Ghurka should be the standard OUR armed forces strive for; not the immoral and cruel way we have traditionally trained them down through the centuries. It’s time to end the confusion we are apparently inducing into the impressionable minds of our young marines and soldiers, and start “Ghurkalizing” the training principles of ALL our armed forces. And yes, that means the Marine Corps as well, ESPECIALLY the Marine Corps.

Friday, June 09, 2006

When The Marines Landed in Monrovia

Barely out of my teens and a two-year veteran of the marines, I guarded the American Embassy at Monrovia, Liberia. This Sub-Saharan Third World nation is located on the western coast of equatorial Africa. The embassy is situated high on an escarpment with an absolutely stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean. Scattered in every direction there were always at least a dozen ships of various types at anchor. What I really loved was to sit at day’s end near the cliff’s edge as the sun began to slip out of sight; the sky, no, the very air would turn a tropical pink.

It was THE best duty I ever had, bar none. When we weren’t protecting the grounds and people of the embassy, my fellow marine guards and I spent most of our time socializing and going to dinner parties. I’ve got lots of good memories from those days working for the State Department, including…

… when the U.S.S. Iwo Jima made a port call. (I only just now learned that this impressive combat ship is now long gone, reduced to scrap about ten years ago – what a pity). Whenever a large navy ship comes to any town, things can get interesting, and it was no different when the Iwo Jima showed up. The streets filled with young American marines and sailors, paying too much for taxis and driving up the cost of everything else as well, especially for booze in the drinking establishments and tourist-goods of all types, such as wooden carvings and gold jewelry.

For a week, we half-dozen “local” marines found ourselves overwhelmed and outnumbered. It was strange to find myself amongst hundreds of similar looking fellow American citizens, where as before their arrival I had felt isolated and deliciously “singular.” I had already learned that being white in an African country can make one feel quite self-conscious and exposed, but once I got used to being in a fishbowl, I felt pleasantly distinctive, and yes, even special. Truthfully, I came to enjoy it. It’s not like I was treated poorly for being American; actually, I sort of got deferential treatment.

Aside from temporarily losing my uniqueness as a young American serviceman in a town usually bereft of them, there were a couple of interesting happenings stemming from the presence of all those honest-to-goodness teenage “war gods.” One of these extraordinary events was a parade; the other was the awesome spectacle of a “vertical envelopment” performed by the experts of such warlike proceedings, the U.S. Marine Corps.

Before talking of those things however, I will tell you how my Liberian friends conducted their many parades, really more procession than parade. These West African folk love pageantry, and so of course they love parades. For the most part though, they sucked at it, although they didn’t realize it. I observed several of these home-grown street spectacles and they were… well, . . . interestingly pathetic, and actually quite absurd to watch; but fascinating just the same, like watching a slow motion train wreck filled with Keystone Cops.

One of the absurd parts of the parades was the “get up” of some of the marchers – the “Americos,” as they call themselves, who wore Lincolnesque toweringly tall black top hats and 1800s-style black suits. Here’s a little history on these particular parade marchers: The founding “fathers” of Liberia were freed slaves from America. They were brought over from The States over several decades starting in the 1820s, continuing their “reverse migration” through the mid 1800s. In fact, the capital city is named after the American president, James Monroe, thus the name Monrovia. The country’s title, Liberia, was derived supposedly in honor of the immigrant ex-slaves’ newfound liberty.

A final bit of Liberian history: The Americos were very proud of their American descendency. In effect and ironically, they defeated and enslaved the indigenous tribes of the region, and while I was there in 1977 – 1978, the powerful Americos dominated the country. These folks had all the money and pulled all the strings. During the parades that I saw, they marched proudly through the streets in their traditional 19th Century black costumes, evidently to demonstrate their importance. To me, it all just looked ridiculous, especially when the army troops marched by in their unkempt and undignified formations.

As a marine, schooled in marching and on the importance of looking good while doing so, I was amazed that these people would do what they did, which to me seemed to be nothing more than public self-humiliation. Their uniforms were mis-matched and sloppy; they didn’t try to maintain order, much less straight lines and even ranks. They looked around, talked in formation, scratched, and waved to friends. I shook my head in amused amazement. What exactly did they think they were doing?

They usually had a sort of a military band that attempted to play their ancient and ill-working instruments, always strolling along as a rabble and utterly out of step. It seems that marching for these pitiful performers was out of the question, and it was virtually impossible to pick out what song titles they were playing. As for melody, at rare moments I could pick out something that sounded vaguely familiar, but not for long. What added to my amusement was the fact that these folk, both paraders and parade watchers, were quite pleased with themselves. Looking back at it now, I guess watching them made me feel superior, but that seems to be typical of youth, and especially true of arrogant young marines.

Then, as I said earlier, the U.S. Marine Corps came to town on a huge floating warship called The Iwo Jima. Upon their arrival, the marines were invited to take part in a local parade. No way was I going to miss that! But, before the parade, a heliborne assault demonstration was scheduled to take place on the outskirts of town at an army-training base. Of the seven marine embassy guards stationed there with me, five of us went out to the demo site in a large van we checked out of the consulate motor pool. We took two full trashcans loaded to the rims with iced beer meant for our brother ship-borne marines; so we could all slake ourselves after the conclusion of their little combat show.

Several hundred Liberian Army troopers already waited in two large sets of bleachers on the edge of a large open grassy field. These guys looked to be of a higher caliber of soldier than the ones I had seen around their national training center not far from the Presidential Palace just down the road from the embassy. I’m sure these fellows had been selected to watch because they were of better quality, or perhaps they were part of a “crack” Liberian combat unit. Whatever the reason, they wore U.S. Army style olive drab uniforms, probably American surplus, and all had on soft baseball-type green uniform caps.

My marine guard comrades and I wore our everyday civilian “uniforms,” as we called them. As embassy guards we were not supposed to wear shorts, jeans, t-shirts or any casual wear in public, unless we were doing physical training of course. Slacks, short-sleeve button-down shirts and leather shoes were our required dress. All of us waited expectantly for the Iwo Jima marines to “attack.” We knew it was going to be a great performance.

“Here they come!” One of my fellow sergeants pointed directly at the jungle line directly to our front. Approximately 2000 meters away, a single narrow-bodied Cobra attack helicopter hovered slightly above the trees. Suddenly, a whole line of six other helos seemed to pop directly up from behind the same tree line and bore down on us. At this point another Cobra appeared, and the pair of Cobras zoomed directly in our direction. In no time they flashed passed, one on each side of the bleachers at extremely low level.

I found it tremendously exhilarating, but the Liberians were visibly shaken and green around the gills. Many jabbered excitedly, some standing up, while others broke from their seated ranks and jumped to the ground cowering low. I don’t think they’d ever seen military helicopters before, especially none like these angry-looking aggressive flying war machines. As soon as the Cobras flashed around our flanks, the wasp-like birds broke in opposite directions, swooping back out over the field toward the rest of the attack force to continue their simulated fire support.

They had done their job, because as our attention returned to our front, the six CH-46 Sea Knight troop transports had already approached within a few hundred meters. The pilots placed their choppers at slightly skewed angles to allow the door gunners the use of their 50 cals. We had been briefed that the attack sim would feature the use of blank cartridges and so they did. These alarmingly loud “blanks” made for some terrifically realistic battle effects, much too realistic for the local soldier spectators, because at this point about a dozen of the Liberian soldiers bolted and sprinted away. We yelled at them not to worry that they were just firing harmless blanks, but they were too frightened to listen.

In unison, the half-dozen CH-46s flared and landed on staggered line about 150 meters to our front. Each helo disgorged a dozen combat marines, all sporting fierce-looking black and green face paint. They followed procedure – sprinting out the lowered back ramps, six on each side one behind the other. The dual lines of troops split around opposite sides of their respective copters to form a protective perimeter around the entire attack force. As each marine reached his designated position, he threw himself to the ground facing outward.

While all this action was going on, the door gunners continued to fire. Once all attackers were set, the pilots took their “birds” vertical, allowing the door gunners to fire with even greater effect. This was the signal for all the marines to rise up and charge directly at us, some firing from one knee or prone, while others sprinted forward. Back and forth they stormed our position in this leapfrogging manner, all in perfectly choreographed, super fast motion.

It was all too much for the woefully unprepared Liberians. As a mob they panicked and ran for the hills. We held our arms up to show them it was okay, but to no avail. The wide-eyed looks of terror on these African faces caused us to bend over in gut busting laughter. It sounds cruel, but their fear-charged faces were hilarious to see. Some of them even had telltale damp places on their trousers where their bladders had betrayed them. Over the deafening fire of hundreds of blank rounds going off, I began to hear a command roaring from the mouths of sergeants and officers as they realized the unintended result of their all-too-real exhibition of American littoral might. “Cease Fire! Cease Fire!” They yelled repeatedly.

It took more than a few seconds before the firing stopped completely. Believe me, firing blanks just a few inches from one’s ears induces temporary hearing loss, so not all the marines could immediately make out the order to cease and desist. Eventually we were able to convince the stampeded Africans that their lives weren’t in danger, and they drifted back like a flock of uncertain sheep; and indeed, the look on their faces was VERY sheepish. A tall lean black marine, a captain, was in charge of the attack force. He became ambassador and statesman as he greeted the ranking Liberian officer, who although hadn’t run completely away like most of his subordinates, he HAD taken a position of cover behind the stands.

On command, the ferocious marines reversed gears and became amiable in an effort to encourage the skittish Liberians to come out on the field and mingle with their American allies. All the helos had finally shut down, and with the return of relative silence, the gun-shy Africans began to laugh at themselves, realizing how foolish they had acted. Truthfully, I can’t really blame them. Marines on the attack are something dreadful to behold. If I had thought they might be for real, I would have made a run for it too; but dang, it sure was hilarious! We drank our iced beers in the hot African sun and continued to chuckle and shake our heads over the memory of it. We always used to claim that a company of Marines could take over most any African country – after that exhibition; I think there might be a grain of truth in that bit of blustering hyperbole.

That afternoon, I went out to catch the parade. First, the Liberians made their usual meandering and leisurely unprofessional appearance. Once again, I covered my mouth to hide my mirth. They really did not realize what a ridiculous spectacle they made. Perhaps they began to get it though, when the first of three large formations of U.S. Marines came into view. They wore soft caps starched into circular submission topping homogeneously close-cut “whitewall” haircuts. Their creased camouflage utility uniforms were pressed perfection above gleaming black combat boots. Sleeves were neatly rolled high to expose bulging biceps, especially those arms cradling M-16 rifles at the right shoulder. Every head was aimed flawlessly frontward, eyes staring unblinkingly straight. A gunnery sergeant in charge of the formation called cadence unnecessarily; the sound of the marine band in its own perfectly marching formation at the rear provided a perfect bass drum beat with which to keep step. I was so proud of them I nearly wept, especially when the band stirringly began playing The Marine Corps Hymn. Rank after rank of these strapping teenage warriors strutted by, their heels striking the pavement resoundingly as one. I would have killed to have been out there with them.

The Monrovians around me watching this sublime display of martial perfection were obviously astounded and fascinated by what they saw. None of them had ever dreamed that human beings could look and act so impeccably precise. I heard one old African woman remark breathlessly, “My God, look at them; they are perfect!” And so they were.