RANGER AGAINST WAR: February 2010 <

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Coyote Beautiful

Coyotes are caught, caged and held before facing a cruel death.
By law, exits must be provided, but they are often blocked

Whenever the pressure of our complex city life

thins my blood and numbs my brain,

I seek relief in the trail;

and when I hear the coyote wailing to the yellow dawn,

my cares fall from me - I am happy

--Hamlin Garland


Where did the concept of "coyote ugly" arise? Coyotes are actually beautiful animals adapted by nature to fill an ecological niche. They exists because nature dictates they exist; their purpose is clear.

Yet in Florida there is a brutal practice of penning foxes and coyotes in enclosures from which they cannot escape, and then setting dogs upon them to maul and kill them in front of rapt spectators. The
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided last month to temporarily suspend the practice while they draft rules guiding the enclosures. Some who appeared at the meeting called these "hunts" a "way of life" and a "heritage", but it surely not the coyote's heritage.

From an editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat by the state director of the Humane Society of the United States:

"Florida residents continue to be shocked by the brutality of fox pens in their communities. Last year, neighbors to a pen witnessed dozens of coyotes crowded against a fence. The neighbors looked at the pen in confusion, until they saw dogs with numbers painted on their sides ripping into a cornered coyote. The neighbors spent the next year taking photographs of wounded coyotes and listening to animals dying inside the pen.

"As far back as 1990, a neighbor to one pen contacted The Humane Society of the United States and said, 'They turn the fox or coyote loose and then four of five dogs chase the animal until it drops from exhaustion … They either kill it or maim it up so bad it dies an agonizing death.' Another Florida resident wrote us stating that he was a hunter, and make no mistake, what went on next door to him in a 600-acre pen was a bloody spectacle as bad as any dogfight (Fox pens still spell animal cruelty that must end)."

The stocked and penned hunting and brutality of the kill is a part of the problem. Underlying this is is the mindset of many people Ranger knows who would kill a coyote or fox given the chance. The most common rejoinder given is, 'They're PREDATORS!" Well, we don't shoot attorneys, politicians or investment bankers, do we?

February 2010's
Outdoor Life fronted it's cover with the ebullient, "Take 100 Coyotes This Season -- Calls, Stands, Tactics and Gear." They interview members of the "Century Club" who "routinely bag 100 coyotes a season," who recommend electronic callers and GPS systems, among other ploys, as "more people get interested in hunting coyotes, you have to get farther and father away ..." "Stay on stand" and "Find the water -- remote springs are killer spots." Reading about the scopes and weaponry and "pulverizing the target," and giant men decked out in full hunting regalia posed with these dead, scrappy beasts at their feet is really too much.

When the predators are gone, who will balance nature? Man is the greatest predator of all, via his mechanized weaponry. But he is not so large that he cannot be felled by a planet too far out of balance, and by the tiniest of biological threats.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Shoshana Johnson

Shoshana Johnson

Shoshana Johnson, the first U.S. Black female Prisoner of War, has just released her book, "I'm Still Standing". Her story is important because it shows the weakness of the U.S. Army specifically, and the military in general.

Enlisted personnel like Johnson and her truck mate Jessica Lynch were neither trained nor mentally prepared for ground combat. These support troops theoretically should never be in direct contact with enemy forces, but they were.
Their lack of preparedness indicates defective planning, training and execution well beyond the control of Spec 4 Johnson.

Recent press for her book got several details wrong. These soldiers were not "abducted"; they were captured on the field of battle. Abducted implies illegitimacy of action, which was not the case. The U.S. Army was invading a country and the U.S. soldiers were legitimately killed and captured.

Johnson's pre-deployment photo shows another weakness of the system: Where are her ammo pouches for her rifle magazines? She is carrying a lot of gear on her body, but the magazines are not in their normal place on the web belt. This is not a comment against Johnson, but the system.

Johnson writes, "I was shaking. I was saying the Lord's Prayer to myself...when someone grabbed my legs and pulled me from my shelter. And like that, I became a prisoner of war (
First Black Female Prisoner of War Tells Harrowing Tale).'' Like Lynch, why wasn't she working her weapon? Prayer isn't as effective as a rifle in such a scenario.

"Johnson was rescued in April 2003, but by late August, she was severely depressed, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and at risk of endangering her relationship with her daughter. She requested a medical discharge." If a soldier is shot through both ankles, she should be considered for medical retirement, without even factoring in PTSD.

Ms. Johnson did the best she could under the circumstances, and cannot be faulted. She was not combat arms. Ranger wishes her the best in life.

And by the way, Shoshana -- join the Disabled American Veterans and the Military Order of the Purple Heart and get help fighting for your rights. You deserved it because you earned it. Ranger is here if you want some advice. He is neither white nor black, but rather, O.D.

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Friend John

Because it's happened doesn't mean you've been discarded.
Pull up your head off the floor, come up screaming.

Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted

--In a Big Country
, Big Country

Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow,

a poor player that struts and frets

his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more

, V, v

All is ephemeral -- fame, and the famous as well

--Marcus Aurelius


I was remiss not to commemorate the anniversary of the passing of my friend John ("Lurch") earlier this month.

John was special to me for many reasons. He was the first official friend to RAW, and was a helpful and enthusiastic cheerleader from the start. He became a friend and shared his generous spirit freely. I count it a precious thing when a hard guy opens up. He gave me advice I am still mining.

When culling the blogroll, I was saddened to see his blog, Main & Central, had been decommissioned. All that thought, no more. I mused upon the ephemerality of this place we sometimes inhabit, the blogworld. Then, upon our our own ephemerality.

John fell away just as he was about to re-enter life. I see a vinyl LP, and how if you don't place the needle in the groove, it may skip across the whole record.
Step on a crack, break your mother's back.

Godspeed, John.


Thursday, February 25, 2010


Make the right ones go away

Unhappy is the fate of one who tries
to win his battles
and succeed in his attacks
without cultivating the spirit of enterprise,

for the result is waste of time and general stagnation

--Sun Tzu

It's never too late to be who you might have been

--George Eliot


[This is dedicated to Dale M., Deryle, Ted B. and Stevie B.]

Trajectories and riflery has been a recent topic of conversation, which got me thinking about the implications.

One can helpfully look at life as the trajectory of a bullet.
Since conception, we are forever being shot out of or into something. Infiltration and exfiltration. Hopefully keeping our weapons clean.

If we are as a projectile, then we must be detonated and launched downrange, to either hit or miss a target. The end of our flight is as predictable as it is immutable, as is the trajectory itself which has an apogee and a descent, which can be steep or more gradual.

Some of our readers are just free of the rifling while some of us are far down range, with our energies variously dissipated or intact. There are worse things than missing a target, especially one that shouldn't be hit. Sometimes the deflection is intentional, sometimes, merely serendipitous. Likewise, we often pursue targets that win us nothing when hit; in fact, the slowing down which we incur can be deleterious to our continued trajectory.

Mostly, the target is less important than the flight time of the projectile.

Once launched, we can't be recalled and our course is designated. So be careful where, when and how you place pressure on the trigger. Reader's contributions to this serious bit of whimsy are invited.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

[Capitalists] put me in mind of some men I have seen who,
when they had the chance to buy a
widow's cow for ten cents on the dollar of her real value in cash,
would then make the purchase,
and then thank the Lord that he had so blessed them.
Such men belong to the class of Christians
referred to on one occasion by Charles Gunn; and, if you will excuse me,
I will tell you what he
said about them. He said that 'hell is full of such Christians'

Working Toward Zion, Brigham Young

My name i' Borat, I come a-from Kazakhstan.

Can I say a-first, we support your
War of Terror.
May we show our support for our boys in Iraq.

May U.S. and A kill every single terrorist.

May George Bush a-drink the blood of every single

man, woman, and child of Iraq [crowd cheers]


Greed is good
--Gordon Gekko


There are things that we reflexively subscribe to in America. Among these maxims are, Babies are Cute, Free Markets and Capitalism are Essential Elements of our Democracy, and Government Must Stimulate the Economy During Times of Economic downturn.

Babies are not cute. They are ugly wrinkles of flesh, mottled and occasionally spotted with hair, gifted with shrieking lung capacities far exceeding their size. With their large, misshapen heads and vacant stares, a few en masse could easily make for midget nemeses in a zombie movie.

If we were honest, we would say they were large, maggot-like sacs of ego until they bust out and reach an age of compassion; not all will make it, though society will use them, nonetheless. (But of course, we're not honest, and proprietary interests coupled with a lack of interesting other issues make the zombie babies the go-to topic for every family.)

Were it not for the assiduous application of Johnson's products and take-away nappies, they would smell and flake, with a flourish for directing mashed food into their body folds. If their putrid daily routines were witnessed in an
elderly care facility, the viewer would assuredly NOT be cooing.

Free market capitalism is a social as well as an economic relationship. We have unbridled faith in capitalism, except when we don't. These reactions are always based on jump-through-the-ass panic fomented by our Leaders. It is difficult to unravel the social and economic interplay, but we want to focus on stimulus spending.

The very future of our nation and the welfare of America devolves to stimulus spending. However, if we actually believed in capitalism, this stimulus concept would be anathema.

Capitalism is based upon a long-forgotten and basic concept: There will always be winners and losers, and this fact is essential to progress. The losers either change, or are left behind. The idea of a stimulus that will bring everyone along is a chimera pandering to the masses, but actually only benefiting those who know how to prosper anyway.

The concept of stimulus only passes muster IF the government has the money to spend to stimulate growth and prosperity. It makes no sense to borrow money that we do not have to maybe improve the situation.

There is no indication that any of the expenditures have trickled down to the unemployed worker level. The
New York Times reported on the New Poor, who can expect to stay that way, many without a safety net, for years to come. But there is plenty of indication that the the economic sectors in which the Big Fish swim have benefited mightily.

The current economic dogma says essentially when free market capitalism screws up in a Big Way, government should pull our collective bacon out of the fire by doing something that exactly opposes our philosophical underpinnings.
Meanwhile, Keynes is still dead. We expect government to become the economy.

That's not good, and it's bad.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Large Margin of Error

Gallagher, taking his Sledge-O-Matic
to a watermelon

Well I've been out walking
I don't do that much talking these days

These days I seem to think a lot

About the things that I forgot to do

--These Days
, Jackson Browne

Ranger has been thinking about the state of U.S. war fighting abilities and the way that we fight these days. The recent battle at Marjah (The $35 Billion Mud Hut) is instructive.

The news reported U.S. military estimates of the number of insurgents ranged from 600-to-1,000, a pretty large margin or error. For convenience we'll assume it's a planning estimate, but when doing so please remember that U.S. forces have the full monty of theatre war fighting assets, and the insurgents/opium growers have generally what is called "light infantry potentials". That the estimates vary so wildly alone show the shaky nature of the operation.

The attack was initiated by 7,500 Marines, putting the combative ratio at 7.5 : 1 (using the figure of 1,000); 12.5 :1 using the low-ball figure. (AP and Voice of America report 15,000 combined US/NATO/Afghan forces participated in the attack -- "NATO Said 30 Days Needed to Secure Marjah".)

Here is a U.S. Army doctrinal factoid from the past when the U.S. fought real wars:
In the deliberate attack, the usual minimum manpower ratio for successfully constructing a planned assault on a fortified position is 4 : 1. The principle of Economy of Force in the Principles of War suggests this.

This classic formula was for the conventional battlefield when attacking forces of comparable capabilities. The Taliban is a rag-tag force, by comparison. What is obvious is that U.S. forces are killing flies with eight-pound sledge hammers.

Even in the worst-case scenario, 4,000 Marines could have done the job. So why are so many friendlies conducting this operation?


Monday, February 22, 2010

New Day

Vorticist (1915)

It's gonna be a new day for you

A new day for you

The stars have played their part

The past is gone and done

--New Day for You
, Basia

Ooh-oo child, things are gonna get easier

Ooh-oo child, things'll get brighter

--Ooh Child
, Nina Simone

Gray skies are gonna clear up,
Put on a happy face;

Brush off the clouds and cheer up,

Put on a happy face.

--Put on a Happy Face
, Bye Bye Birdie

First He came a preachin' -- Amen!

Then He came a teachin' -- Amen!

Tellin' them disciples --

A-A-men, A-men, A-men!

, Jester Hairson (Lillies of the Field, 1963)

Our British peers at AfterDowningStreet ran a contest last Friday on Obama's pending name change of U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq from whatever it was before to Operation New Dawn, come 10.1.10. "What would you call it?", they asked. Being Brits, there is some droll humor.

The last entrant, John R. Miles, offered:
"A recruiting tool for terrorists against U.S." Not very catchy, but it gets the point across. I mean, I know Team Obama is hoping to infuse some new blood into this thing, but "New Dawn" sounds like a wimpy re-make of Red Dawn, or maybe even a deoderant.

Not even a deoderant like Jack Black's
Pit Boss. No, something along the lines of Burberry's latest ("
An opening of bergamot, lavender, cinnamon leaves, and black pepper. The heart consist of mimosa flower, port wine, and leather notes. At the base it's guaiac wood, oakmoss, opoponax, and tobacco leaf.') I'm sure I would like opoponax if I knew what it was.

'Cause y'know, we're just tired of the same old stuff. Whack-a-mole is boring even at the fair. I really want to know about the shape of New Day; I mean, will we wake up Sept. 1st and everyone just turns a new leaf? It will be almost autumn and very symbolic in that way.

Well, I like the name, because there's a lot of
hope in it. I mean, New Day is not Old Day, right? Though we must be careful, because as many of us know, the new day can be the same as the old day. Sun risin' and settin' doesn't make for a change, just another sheet ripped from the calendar book.

At least it's not one of those dour quasi-biblical, quasi-Armageddonesque operation names. Operation New Day -- maybe truthful (
new, not necessarily better), and it continues an operation preferably carried out during the days.

According to a memo signed by Defense Secretary Gates this new name better fits with the Security Agreement the US has with Iraq. Gates wrote in a recently released memo, "Aligning the name change with the change of mission sends a strong signal that Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission." [That's what it was -- Iraqi Freedom.] So, get that, everyone -- freedom is SO yesterday.

Can I have an "A-men"? Hal-le-lu-jah! Ooh chile, things are gonna get easier; Ooh chile, things'll get brighter. Though in the case of Afghanistan, I fear it will only be when we leave.


Child Soldier

Omar Khadr, was 15 when he was captured
after a firefight in Afghanistan.
(Rick Eglinton - Toronto Star)

None of you will go to America,
none of you will be film stars.
And none of you will be working in supermarkets
as I heard some of you planning the other day.
Your lives are set out for you
--Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

From the opening of the WaPo's story on Omar Khadr:

"Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was 15 when he allegedly threw a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces medic in Afghanistan. Now, more than seven years later, Khadr is drawing the Obama administration into a fierce debate over the propriety of putting a child soldier on trial" (Former Boy Soldier, Youngest Guantanamo Detainee, Heads Toward Military Tribunal).

  • Khadr was defending against foreign invaders
  • As a soldier on the battlefield he did, in fact, kill a U.S. Special Forces NCO. This is not a crime, but an act of war, since the SF were clearly trying to kill Khadr and associates.
  • Was the U.S. SF medic armed and combative?

That's how war on the battlefield goes: If SF can kill them, they can kill SF

On July 27, 2002, U.S. Special Forces working with Afghan troops surrounded a compound in a village in eastern Afghanistan. When those inside refused to surrender -- and opened fire, killing two Afghan soldiers -- Apache attack helicopters, A-10 Warthog fighter jets and, finally, two F-18 jets unleashed their arsenals, reducing the hideout to rubble.

When the dust settled, American forces approached the ruined compound, only to be blasted by a grenade thrown by someone inside. Delta Force 1st Sgt. Christopher Speer, a father of two, would die more than a week later at a military hospital in Germany. Another Special Forces soldier, Sgt. Layne Morris, was blinded in one eye by another grenade.

Inside the compound was one survivor, Khadr, who had been shot twice in the chest.

The U.S. used hundreds of millions of dollars of death-dealing hardware, and Khadr responded with a simple hand grenade. Where is the war crime here?

There is no strict international prohibition against prosecuting child soldiers, but there is a general consensus on the issue. The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, for example -- which was set up to try people accused of grave human rights violations -- allowed the prosecution of people 15 and older, but no minors were put on trial.

The issue is not age, but criminality.
Khadr was not in Sierra Leone conducting criminal violence against civilians, but rather conducting a desperate defense against an assault.

The entire Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©)
is based upon emotional response rather than cold logical military or legal precedent. There is no legal precedent for trying Prisoners of War for crimes, unless they were war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Khadr fits nether description as he was fighting defensively against overwhelming military power, and captured on the field of battle.
He is a classic POW. Plain and simple.

The problem with the PWOT addicts is that they make a miasma of all the players.

Contrast Khadr with someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is a strict legal issue since he engaged in purely criminal activity. He conspired, planned and engaged in murder, probably not isolated to the events of 9-11-01. He was apprehended and arrested in a civilian environment and was not a rifle-toting member of the military arm of al-Qaeda.

KSM is the personification of the far threat to the U.S. He is not a soldier, but an operative of selective skills that can project serious damage. Someone like Khadar posseses no such skill sets.

Khadr's defense says Khadr "was tortured in military custody and that all statements, even if given later and seemingly voluntarily to FBI agents, are contaminated by the alleged earlier abuse, which, they said, included threats of rape, stress positions and the use of snarling dogs."
This trial, whether by Federal Court or Military tribunal, is addressing the wrong issue.

The question is not "Did Khadr kill a U.S. soldier?", but,
"Was this a battlefield exchange?" If the latter, it is not murder.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Nine Seconds from Eternity

--Anne Telanes, WaPo

And I gotta peaceful, easy feeling

And I know you won't let me down

'cause I'm already standing on the ground

--Peaceful Easy Feeling
, The Eagles

"I would prefer not to," said he

--Bartleby the Scrivner
, Herman Melville

For Ranger, being a paratrooper is one of his fondest memories. It felt like doing one of the manly things that could be expected of a young man.

Manliness is usually defined as being responsible and producing something. Being an Airborne trooper covers all these bases and then adds a seldom-discussed dimension. Every time a paratrooper puts his knees in the breeze, there is the unstated knowledge that you are nine seconds from eternity if your equipment fails to do what it is designed to do.

Paratrooping is usually a soldier's first experience of overcoming the fear of death, and after this experience it is an incremental generalization to the battlefield.

Paratrooping is not an individual exercise. Being a jumper means trust:

  • In the pilots
  • In the Jumpmasters
  • In the Pathfinders
  • In the equipment
  • And especially in the riggers

But trust on a personal level, trust is more difficult.
Ranger says, when you walk into a room in the military and ask, "Who's in charge here?" you will soon get an answer from the highest-ranking man in the room. But it is not like that in the civilian world; everyone is the captain of his own ship. While we hope he steers it with accountability, there are no guarantees.

In the military, the riggers log each parachute they prepare into their books. If there is an error, there is a paper trail and they are held accountable. In the civilian world, because there is no hierarchy, one might not perform as expected, even if promises were made. If the actions fall shy of criminality, no heads will roll.

Like Melville's scrivner Bartleby, the other party may simply choose not to.
To thine own self be true, and do what's best for oneself.

That is a motto hard to trust, unless one is dealing with a very evolved and compassionate person.

--Jim and Lisa

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Malfunction Junction

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find

You get what you need

--You Can't Always Get What You Want
Rolling Stones

I regret nothing, since it is meaningless to regret

--The Fifth Woman
, Henning Mankell

Some further reflection on my equipment malfunction dream from the previous post.

Unless it was provoked by the multitude of Viagra ads in my Inbox, this really was a dream about parachutes, so a little further explanation may be helpful.

Only once was a main chute malfunction experienced and that was simply a Mae West, which is usually caused by a weak exit. This was possible since there was a lot of weight hanging from my body.

On one night equipment jump on a tactical exercise Ranger noticed a plethora of blown panels on his main chute. Since he was experienced with jumping Double L's and 7 Gore TU's, his inspection indicated that the while the main was indeed full of holes, his descent relative to other jumpers was not too much greater. Hence, no punch out on the the reserve because this employment is always problematic without a cutaway with the main.

The OZSO also comes to mind. His function is to let you know if you've got a problem, so presumably you can snap into action. Wouldn't it be nice in life if we had such watchers on the lookout to tell us when we are off-course?

My experience with malfunction has been negligible and largely academic, but the contingencies must be well-understood, since going to a reserve can often make things worse. Observation and evaluation before action is critical.

What you have might just get you through.


Free Fallin'

--Several Circles (1926), Wassily Kandinsky

The past is gone

It went by, like dusk to dawn

Isn't that the way
Everybody's got their dues in life to pay

--Dream On
, Aerosmith

You could never know what it's like

Your blood like winter freezes just like ice

And there's a cold lonely light that shines from you

You'll wind up like the wreck you hide
behind that mask you use

--I'm Still Standing
, Elton John

Last night Ranger was back in Vietnam, courtesy of a dream, not a nightmare.

The dream was of a complete double parachute malfunction while doing a HALO jump. A cut-away from the main failure to deploy to a reserve malfunction. Not a good formula for a long and productive life. But here is the catch: Ranger did a smooth standing landing without a hint of impact.

There was no one else present. What can one make of such a dream?

The two failures are probably pretty symbolic. Vietnam is still in my mind, but now I'm standing, whereas usually it is ground with buttons as the only cushion.

I'd call that progress.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The $35 Billion Mud Hut

--U.S. soldier outside of Afghan mud hut

They can beg and they can plead

But they can't see the light, that's right

'Cause the boy with the cold hard cash

Is always Mister Right, 'cause we are

Living in a material world

And I am a material girl

--Material Girl
, Madonna

Foreman says these jobs are going boys

and they ain't coming back to your hometown

Your hometown

Your hometown

--My Hometown
, Bruce Springsteen

Ranger Observation of the Day:

Visualize an Army that used to invade Continents,
is now assaulting mud brick huts

There is finally good news from the Afghanistan front, or should we say, the OST Front?

"NATO said it hoped to secure the area in days, set up a local government and rush in development aid in a first test of the new U.S. strategy for turning the tide of the eight-year war" (Bombs Slow Advance in Marjah).

So, after eight+ years of warfare, we are finally getting around to securing the mud brick town of Marjah, which is a step to securing the Afghan nation, one mud brick at a time. Whew, that's a load off.
Baby steps, dontcha know.

If one adds up enough mud bricks one will end up with a whole bunch of mud bricks. Then add in Mr. Karzai (he of the dashing silk scarves and lamb cap), and it will miraculously add up to ... a bigger bunch of mud bricks! Enormous progress, and one must wonder why eight years needed to pass before Marjah became a blessed integrated part of the Free World?

"The Taliban appeared to have scattered in the face of overwhelming force, possibly waiting to regroup and stage attacks later to foil the alliance's plan to stabilize the area and expand Afghan government control in the volatile south.

"NATO said two of its soldiers were killed in the first day of the operation — one American and one Briton, according to military officials in their countries. Afghan authorities said at least 20 insurgents were killed."

This news release is confusing to an old Ranger: Are we fighting Taliban, or insurgents? Why is there no mention of al-Qaeda killed in this action? Are we killing off Taliban fighters before they are amnestied by Karzai, or before we can buy them off with bribes and cash bonuses?

Why are we killing Taliban members when both Petraeus and McChrystal are mouthing the catechism
that the Taliban must be reintegrated via negotiations? If they are dead, they cannot be reintegrated.

In addition, who will occupy all those desirable mud brick huts that are so essential to the freedom and safety of our homeland? They need window dressing and other things from Target and maybe even IKEA to make them habitable, per Western standards.

Now that Marjah is a beacon of light in an endless war, Ranger will suggest that the mentality of our ownership society be earnestly transplanted in Helmand province. It has worked so well here in our neighborhood.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

For Esme

I am safe - I am safe - yes -
if I be not fool enough to make open confession

--Edgar Allen Poe, Necromancer (1988)

I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego.

My own and everybody else's

--Franny and Zooey

I hope to hell that when I do die somebody

has the sense to just dump me in the river or something.

Anything except sticking me in a goddamn cemetery

--J.D. Salinger


Friend and associate DM, Army vet and poet, recently contacted us about some distress he is facing; as a result he will no longer be publishing his poetry. This is our loss, and it got me thinking about the 1950 J.D. Salinger story,
For Esmé — with Love and Squalor.

Esme is the story of a WWII soldier
, Sergeant X, who suffers a nervous breakdown (presumably Salinger himself), and a 13-year-old English girl, Esme, whom he meets in a Devon tea room before the D-Day invasion. Esme is precocious, and asks X bluntly,

"Are you very deeply in love with your wife? Or am I being too personal?"

"I said that when she was, I'd speak up."

X does not answer that question alone among the others she had posed. Later, he quotes Dostoevsky who says hell is the "suffering of being unable to love." This presages a later indictment from a psychology major that he was probably "unstable all of his life." Certainly, he displays a measure of estrangement.

Salinger describes soldier X as bringing a "gas mask container full of books" from the Other Side (the U.S.), and synchronizing his wristwatch with one in the latrine before heading out for his chance meeting with Esme, who hopes for him that he returns from battle "intact". Later, we are told he did not make it through "with all his faculties intact." It is ambiguous as to whether he entered fully intact, or not.

However, post invasion, X's break from society is complete. The now dirty-haired, face-twitching and hand-palsied veteran receives Esma's dead father's wristwatch as a "Lucky talisman," but the crystal is broken, symbolically calling into question his future and maybe indicating the deterioration of his ability to keep time (past, present and future) in perspective. With the lens cover removed, it is too easy to reach into the mechanism and smash time altogether.

The soldier's trauma is summarized here, and is as valid in 2010 as it was 60 years ago:

"Yeah. She's interested as hell in all that stuff. She's majoring in psychology." Clay stretched himself out on the bed, shoes included. "You know what she said? She says nobody gets a nervous breakdown just from the war and all. She says you probably were unstable like, your whole goddam life."

There are still professionals who believe PTSD is the refuge of parasites, or that it is an illusion or an affliction that only bites weak-minded people. These thoughts have been expressed to me, and I imagine it is a comfort to the person expressing them. It absolves them from responsibility for the soldier's lack of emotional range, and the thought that there might be some event so traumatic that it might reduce their own range of expression. By denying PTSD, society rids itself of culpability, placing the responsibility for defect onto the soldier's shoulders.

This is unfair, unfeeling and wrong since there is already too much on their shoulders which they never expected to experience. Unlike the broken watch glass, a soldier's psyche is much harder to see and repair. Replacement is not an option.

It is unclear whether soldier X arrived at battle with psychiatric troubles or not. He may have been troubled or somewhat dissociated, but his battle engagement severed his ability to wear the social mantle. Like the broken crystal, his shield is now cracked.

The post war period was rife with literature of trauma, but little was made of the fact. Salinger was always treated as an eccentric hermit, sometimes dirty and disheveled. This was construed as being the trappings of a bohemian artist, when it may have been the result of combat trauma.

Salinger's most famous character, Holden Caulfield -- anthematic for generations of alienated youth -- may stand as surrogate for the emotionally arrested young soldier who re-enters a society in which he feels himself to be an outsider.
Soldier X changed following his conversation with a precocious pre-teen, whose directness touches him. She may sense his fragility by telling him she will initiate their written correspondence, so that he will not feel "compromised in any way."

Salinger's millieu was always that of the young adult, perhaps the stage in which he was frozen, the rebel who nonetheless feels his own insecurity, and perhaps for the last times feels a part of a recalcitrant society of one. In this rejection, the rebel-teen is wholly his own, even if rejected from membership in something larger. For the rest of his life, Salinger embraced the power of "No".

Salinger is now beyond the cares of this world, but we get it. We in the U.S. are now well-acquainted with squalor, and many of us are temporarily insane. At least, as with soldier X, we hope it's temporary.

--Lisa and Jim

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love thy Neighbor

--fr. Outdoor Life (Feb. 2010)

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying,

‘I am the light of the world: he that followeth me

shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life’

--Trijicon optic verse, fr. John 8-12

What you go and do

You go and give the boy a gun

Now there ain't place to run to

Ain't no place to run

--Bang, Bang, Bang
, Tracy Chapman

This is a follow on the military's Trijicon ACOG rifle sights which made the news recently because of the manufacturer's use of Bible verses on the scopes, a not very Christian thing to do when one considers the purpose of a rifle scope is to violate one of the Ten Commandments.

Trijicon has agreed to stop imprinting the Bible verse, and states they "will provide, free of charge, 100 modification kits to the Pentagon to enable the removal of the references that are already on products that are currently deployed” (Trijicon Drops Bible Line from Scope.) 100 kits hardly seems adequate, but apparently suffices as a goodwill gesture to keep the Pentagon from canceling their multi-million dollar contract.

The Trijicon ACOG 3.5 x 35 earns an average rating of 2.5 stars (on a four star system.) It rated C's for accuracy, low-light performance, versatility, price and value. The only "A" was for ease of use.

Further, Outdoor Life reports the scope delivered 2-to-3-inch groups at 400 yards, which Ranger seriously doubts. M16, M4 and variations of the AR15 are capable of sub-minute of angle groups, but not in military configuration. The fact that the barrels are free-floated on target variations easily aloows for tight groups, but military rifles do not feature this modification.

Ranger would be surprised if 8 to 10" groups could be shot by the average rifleman using GI-issue rifle and ammunition plus this sight. Note also that "sure kill" shots become less certain beyond 400 m.

This ACOG reticle lacks a horizontal stadia line (which allows for estimating the lead for a right- or left-moving target.) Speaking from past experience, without any visual aid from the scope reticle, all running targets become simply guesstimates. The reticle arrangement of this scope makes running shots guesses at best; throwing lead, at worst.

It isn't convincing that the ACOG is either cost-effective or the best choice for a military rifle optic.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Culling the Blogroll


We are weeding through the blogroll, culling those who haven't posted for some time. We will probably remove the "late great" listing, too. (Minstrel Boy alone -- the other one -- will retain a place of honor there for his substantial essays, which must not be lost.)

We have lost out poet laureate, Mad Celt, an Army veteran who dismantled his site recently. His raw verse will be missed, and we hope you are doing well, Dale.

From the rest our readers we would like to solicit suggestions to infuse new blood into the blogroll. If you have suggestions of sites you enjoy, please let us know.

If you are a posting artist, poet or
littérateur, please let us know about you.

Thanks for your input.


Lost Man Years

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence
has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart,

her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

--John Quincy Adams


We recently received a very considered letter from an esteemed reader and business owner on the state of our economy. His story is repeated many times over, throughout our nation. His thinking about "Man Years" and how to keep them being wasted was all the more impressive knowing that this man's politics hew to the conservative.

Yet for the good of his country, he concedes that government infrastructure projects may be necessary, and would be preferable to the crippling unemployment with which the country now struggles. Not only are the skills of otherwise productive members of society lying fallow, but the self-esteem garnered from participation in meaningful work is missing -- an intangible essential for a thriving economy.

Here is our friend's letter:

Both my wife who is in her early 50's with a BA and my daughter who recently graduated with a BA in business are both looking for jobs. Both are totally employable and have long job histories.

We deal with small specialty manufacturers in a progressive technological niche. Private sector business disappeared this time last year. DOD work was all that was available. Also banks pulled their small business credit lines.

Finally we are starting to see some signs of life though barely. Still even though last quarter saw a rise in economy due to inventory adjustments, most US distributors of electronic equipment are keeping minimum stocks and we are having to directly to manufacturers in Germany and China to get parts quickly. Liquidity has vanished from the economy as has any parts inventory or surpluses in people or capital. …. US manufacturing went on a going out of business sale about 15 months ago and it hasn’t really ended – just not going down as fast.

If I were in DC right now, I’d be advocating a press to full employment (5-6%) at any cost. Dry dusty economists forget the social impact of loss of a job to a family, the lack of reward for constructive work, the side ills of alcoholism, food stamps, etc that come when work ends.

We need to focus on Man Years in my opinion. The one thing that can never be recovered – time. I’d prefer people have private sector jobs, but failing that I’d prefer a government funded job, even a temporary one to unemployment. This is what is getting lost in the statistics – we pay people to work or not to work but bridges get fixed, kids get educated and so on only when work – not unemployment – is subsidized.

The tax credit/cut plans for small business aren’t going to have the desired effect because so many companies are operating at a loss right now. Given the paper thin margins contractors are willing to bid for jobs right now, I’d suggest we purchase long lived asset government programs – highways, building repair, build reconstruction, etc.

In DC recently I was at the Supreme Court building. It was built in the depression for 9.5 million and since it came in under budget they furnished it with the leftovers. We are at a similar point in time and if we think multi-year about our investments we can benefit for decades with the work – the lost man years – we invest in right now. … A similar return would come from education – investment in our kids – but that is another chapter.

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Strawberry Fields Forever

We're not doing the world any good when
we bankrupt ourselves fighting wars all over the place.
We will extinguish the great beacon that we are
--Henry Clay

There is a condition worse than blindness,

and that is, seeing something that isn't there

--Thomas Hardy

Living is easy with eyes closed,

Misunderstanding all you see

--Strawberry Fields Forever
, The Beatles


Or, misunderestimating, if you're a President.

President Obama recently recommitted to addressing the unemployment issue in these United States of the Un- and Underemployed. Now, finally we're gonna solve this problem, right?

Ranger will seek recourse to his limited knowledge of warfare and tactics to understand our present circumstances. First, the president does not have the
initiative, nor does he control the pace of operations. U.S. policy is now reactive -- not a formula for success. We are like the apocryphal boy who stuck his finger in the dike.

Beyond applying the principles of war, let's talk securing the perimeter of your patrol base. Patrol Leader Obama cannot secure our perimeter because he is squandering assets and lacks focus as to the mission which needs to be accomplished. He is reacting helter-skelter, spinning like a non-snow tire in the D.C. Snowocalypse.

Borrowing technology from our flailing auto industry, Obama needs General Motors to install a limited slip differential into his policies. This might give him some much-needed traction, but G.M. can't tinker with policy.

The inner perimeter of America cannot be secured while its assets are thrown into the money pits of Haiti, Afghanistan, Somalia, North Korea, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan or any other nation that pops into our radar screen as the sound bite du jour.

Our President is elected by The People to serve The People (of the U.S.A.) He is responsible for our perimeter; far-flung distractions are counterproductive to our national health and welfare.
How does offering cash bribes to buy mercenary hearts and minds in Afghanistan help our national health and welfare? The unemployed folks in our patrol base would sure welcome the same handout.

The welfare of Americans is the job of the president. Forget the happy horseshit propaganda coming out of Afghanistan.

We may win the battle of Afghanistan, but to what end if we have lost the war in the streets of America?

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ranger and Paul

--St. George Slaying the Dragon,
Peter Paul Reubens

A hero has faced it all;

he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted

--Andrew Bernstein

Let’s get together before we get much older

--Baba O'Riley, The Who

The sniper in the brain, regurgitating drain

Incestuous and vain,

and many other last names

I look at my watch it say 9:25 and I think

"Oh God I'm still alive"

, David Bowie

Ranger would like to say a private word about Paul Longgrear, a personal friend and associate. It is difficult to write anything about Paul on an anti-war site because he does not associate with "turncoats", but in my case, he makes an exception.

My late friend James Donald Reid had the pleasure of being a member of training company commanded by Longgrear, and it was through him that we met. Some later duty assignments threw us together, and though we never saw eye-to-eye, the one constant was that Paul was the Real Deal.

Two books are recommended reading for the Battle of Lang Vei -- Tanks in the Wire and The Night of the Silver Stars. These books were special for Ranger because he served with Col. Shungel, CPT Willoughby and LTC Hoadley, all of whom were officers present at the battle. Paul is the sole surviving officer.
The books will tell you all you need to know about these men, but it is safe to say they could have lit safety matches on their foreskins with very little effort. But let me tell you about Paul.

Paul is a man of God and has dedicated his life since Lang Vei to the ministry. He has been a family man, husband and father, and has a wonderful wife to whom he is dedicated. He has travelled the world spreading the words of Jesus in some inhospitable environments, but still he drives on.

We don't agree on the wars, and we don't agree on religion, but it is my hope that we agree that our past associations have made us friends. There is too little time and there are too few of us left not to be.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Rock and Roll Will Never Die

--The Who, Super Bowl XLIV

Let's get together

Before we get much older

--Teenage Wasteland
(Baba O’Riley),
The Who

If you gotta play at garden parties,

I wish you a lotta luck

But if memories were all I sang,

I rather drive a truck

--Garden Party
, Ricky Nelson

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

--The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock
T.S. Eliot


Or: Exiles from the retirement home.

Ranger does not watch pro sports, and does not give a rat's ass about the Super Bowl, but The Who's 11-minute half time show deserves a comment.

The Who, a 46-year old rock band, played a medley
of their hits, to include Teenage Wasteland about adolescent angst. So strange, as Daltrey and Townshend, like Ranger, are pushing their mid-sixties and such memories are a blur to a blurry mind. These rock geezers as The New York Times calls them are not aging gracefully.

To compare them with one of their peers, at least the Beatles possessed some self-deprecating humor. When asked if they were Mods or Rockers, the ever-cheeky Lennon replied,
"We're neither; we're Mockers." Now that's a stance that can take you into old age, and Lennon's last album showed evolution. "I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round" shows some humility and self-understanding.

But the half-time Who refused to age. It is bizarre to watch a group (of which 50% are dead) trying so hard to remain teenage misfits, Daltrey in full Fleet Street regalia, dyed blonde locks cascading past a weathered face; Townshend hiding behind shav boy watch cap and glasses, trying to look very Slim Shady, but sadly just looking shady.

Does our society demand the perpetual boy? Once emblematic of an era, is a person or group disallowed from maturation? Or is it a reluctance on the part of the one who felt that glory to relinquish it? Or is it simply the venue, The Superbowl which, in itself is a wasteland: A place of gridiron "warriors" through whom the nacho-eating set vicariously fight their battles.

A couple of groups in Florida protested Townshend's appearance on the basis of his 2003 arrest for accessing kiddie porn online (he plead guilty to the charge, and though cleared in a later investigation, was placed on a sex offender's watch list in England for five years.) He claims childhood sexual abuse led him to the curiosity, so who is to know if his arrested maturation is somehow tied up in his claim.

But there comes a time when a man must realize that he is no longer young, no matter how many roadblocks to his maturation he may claim, or how hard he tries to obscure the fact.
There ain't no teenage angst when you're 65. Teenage angst does not hang well on a grizzled 65-year-old body.

The Who wrote 40 years ago in "My Generation":
Hope I die before I get old, sharing with The Stones the fashionable "trust no one over 30" card. The Beatles had a more balanced view. In their "When I'm 64," they posed the plaintive question, "Will you still need me?" knowing that age was inevitable, and continuing desirability not promised.

Well, for the eternally juvenile Who, two out of four ain't bad.

--Lisa and Jim


Pall Malls

Paresh Nath (UAE))

A sum of money is a leading character

in this tale about people,

just as a sum of honey might properly

be a leading character in a tale about bees

--God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Kurt Vonnegut


Ranger frequents pawn shops, and following a Friday visit thoughts of the economy streaked through his mind.

Businesses are dying faster than Haitians in an earthquake, and the losses toll weekly. Even in Tallahassee -- a relative oasis since it houses the State government and two universities -- the malls are as lively as death camps. This weekend's paper reports on the closing of local Boys and Girls clubs, the very services that help keep a society thriving.

What businesses are prospering? Check cashing scam joints, Payday Loans which legally charge patrons the usurious fees of 38% interest rate on their loans, title loans, foreclosure storefronts and pawnshops. These are the big winners in the Russian roulette eof modern life in the fast lane.

All are legally entitles to screw the little man with no realistic prospects right into the ground. Legally, just like credit card companies, but that's another story.

During my last several trips to the pawnbrokers, there was a heightened sense of desperation among those pawning their belongings. On Friday the lines were long, and the wait for service slow. People don't have money to get through the weekend, let alone the week or month. Poverty is chewing on their asses like one of Michael Vick's pit bulls.

These people are desperate, and Ranger wonders: Have
any of our leaders have ever visited a pawnshop or talked to the people humbly and sadly awaiting their turn in line to sell or pawn their meager possessions? It occurred to me that there should be two lines, "Hope" and "Change"; you pay your money, you take your chances.

A technique sometimes used by MACVSOG Reconnaissance teams was called "Running for your life". The teams were not designed as fighting units, but rather intelligence gathering. If they fought they often died, and many teams disappeared from the face of the earth.

It was also called "Breaking contact", in which immediate action drill was initiated and all members dropped everything except their getaway gear. The individuals stripped down to run, and their ability to do so meant the difference between living or dying. When the teams ran they discarded everything except survival-oriented items.

The people in pawnshops are similar as they, too, are fighting for their lives by dropping all non-essential items to facilitate their survival for one more day. This is not Lost Vanuatu -- this is Lost in America.

Since the people have no hope of positive change, we can blow smoke up their asses and call it sunshine.

God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Paul's Message

I have a small personal follow-on to Lang Vei, Revisited:

I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Paul Longgrear on two occasions. He is charming, witty and fully at ease in his own skin. The last time he spoke a bit about Lang Vei.

When they emerged from their bunker the next day, Paul was severely wounded, and fell backwards into the mud. Unable to go on, his fellows left him, which he said was the correct thing for them to do. However, that left him alone and exposed.

It was then that he heard what he feels to be God speaking to him. The question was very clear: "And what will you do now?" The inquiry was a challenge to go deep within. Somehow, Paul was able to make it onto his feet, and left the camp on his own. At each turning point, the question again arose, "What will you do now?"

It is a great message for us all. In her poem, "Wild Geese," Mary Oliver says,

"Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on"

What Paul heard was a call to action. There is no time to tarry. Misery and sadness is surely a portion of the human condition, but the better part is its resilience and triumph over the odds.

Thank you for sharing, Mr. Longgrear.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Lang Vei, Revisited

--Paul Longgrear being evacuated to Khe Sanh Airbase,
7 Feb 1968

February 6 was the 42 anniversary of the Battle of Lang Vei fought by members of the 5th Special Forces Group in the Republic of Vietnam.

Ranger's associate Paul Longgrear is the last surviving officer from that battle, but Paul and Ranger have divergent views on the validity of current actions of the U.S. Army. Ranger alone will analogize this action to several from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ranger emphasizes that nothing he says is a criticism of any Special Forces soldier or their leadership. They fought beyond human comprehension; the Corps and Theatre Commanders are left holding the bag on this one.

The questions I have about Lang Vei are the same I have about Waygul or Wanat or Roberts Ridge, today:

  • Was the mission realistic? Achievable?
  • Were assets properly allocated to the SF?
  • Was Lang Vei key terrain and essential to defend?
  • Were Corps assets properly allocated to weight the effort?

These questions haunt the military mind, and are not confined to this lonely and desperate fight for survival. In all of these scenarios, U.S. forces are thrown onto a piece of terrain and told their mission is essential, and that they will attack and secure the locale, or they will defend the terrain, but the rationale for doing so is never clearly thought out.

The soldiers fighting are at the bottom of the food chain. The Corps Commander is the person that bears all responsibility, closely followed by the Theatre Commander. Ranger doubts that the Corps concept even functions in Afghanistan.

The chain of command appears to be Theatre directly down to Platoon Leader, with little thought given to the concept of the operation. To a large extent, Afghanistan resembles the Vietnam War in that too much responsibility is shouldered by Platoon Leaders.

At Lang Vei, the defense was not weighted to achieve the mission. If the defense was important, then adequate Corps artillery assets should have been allocated on a direct support basis, or as general support (GS) or even GS reinforcing. In addition, an Artillery Liaison or Fire Direction Coordinator should have been dedicated to the defensive effort.

Instead, these functions fell to Captain Willoughby, the Camp Commander. They should not have, He should have been leading the camp's defenses, not coordinating supporting defensive fire.

For some inexplicable reason, this was not done.

Ranger was never Mike Force or A Team, but stands in awe of their professionalism and dedication. However, this admiration is always mixed with dismay at the misuse of these assets by Theatre and Corps Commanders and planners. Longgrear's Mike Force was expected to hold terrain that a USMC line battalion would have found difficult to achieve.

These fights devolved to young Lieutenants and Captains. My impression is that all actions above Captain-level were disjointed and reactive in nature. There were no in-place Corps scenarios to reinforce or evacuate Lang Vei in an organized military manner. All reactions above camp level seemed
ad hoc.

Lang Vei, Waygul, Wanat and Roberts Ridge share many characteristics. The U.S. engaged forces were given unrealistic and unattainable missions lacking adequate resources. The fights could not be reinforced in a timely manner and the weight of the events fell upon LT's and CPT's. Units were committed piecemeal and placed in positions which the enemy could defeat in detail, with impunity. None were formulas for success.

Lang Vei was a classic battle, and though what we have seen in Afghanistan is not of the same scale, the concept is the same. The unanswered questions pertain to sustainability, reinforcement, reserves, mutual support and weighting the assets of the assigned units emplaced in positions making them vulnerable targets for enemy exploitation.

Then, as now.


Since writing this piece, Ranger has come across a vital chapter in the book Last Stand at Khe Sanh (2014) by Gregg Jones which expounds upon the Battle for Lang Vei. This book provides a valuable addition to the student of the Lang Vei fight - jh.


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