Saturday, September 29, 2007

This guy, assuming the evidence is solid (and I'm betting it is), should simply be killed.

"Neighbor Charged in Hanging of Girl".
Ok, so I'm having some fun with internet videos now. I'm not going to make it a habit. I just saw the one with the wasps and it reminded me how things can go awry in ways never anticipated, and then I came across this one.

The reason this one resonated with me is that I've ridden this thing.

German beer fests are fun. There are rarely, rarely fights; the food is great, the beer--well, you can guess; and the bigger fests have rides. I'm a huge ride junkie--especially roller coasters and hell, even the kiddie rides can be fun after a few liters of beer.

But as big as I am about rides and coasters, this may be the most radical thing I've ever ridden. We hit the fest with a group of around a dozen and the wife and I were the only two people in out group who would ride it. I've never seen it in the States, but check this monster out:

Insects have always been a factor in warfare, but it wasn't until the last century (the one we just recently put to bed) that we realized the extent of their effect. And that was mostly yellow fever and malaria.

The thing about operating in combat is that you have to expect the unexpected which is, of course, impossible.

During the Battle of Antietam, a regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers was advancing to the front line when a Confederate cannonball shattered wooden hives at a honeybee farm they were marching past. The regiment was nearly routed and was delayed in reaching the front lines, although some sources report that they resumed the advance "with a renewed vigor". Now what general, in all of his planning, could have anticipated that?

During the final phase of Special Forces school we sent two guys ahead at all speed to make a contact. We took their rucksacks from them so that they could move as quickly as possible and I ended up wearing my rucksack on my back and another guy's rucksack on my front. A large bumblebee got caught between the two rucksack frames and my ear and panicked and stung my ear. I was near the rear of the column and wearing at least 200 lbs. of rucksack---I passed the point man at a dead run.

Now to the present. Some guys tried to blow a large rock blocking a road in Afghanistan. They set up a camera to record the event and apparently left it unattended, something they'll always be grateful for. When the debris from the blast (which appears to have done nothing to the rock) disturbed the ground around the camera, everyone got a surprise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Well, I'll be damned. I'm one of a few.

National Geographic magazine recently published an article titled "Green Dreams" which is about creating alternative fuels from plant sources.

At one point they paraphrase an executive from an alternative energy firm as saying: 'Only perhaps a dozen people on the planet know how to grow algae in high-density systems'. I'd personally put that figure a bit higher, but that's because I'm one of the people who knows how to grow algae in a high-density system.

I even came up with a critical modification that enabled us to grow algae in a closed system without the tank imploding. I'd be on a patent except the company decided to forgo the expense of a patent since at the time nobody else was growing algae (except in their swimming pools and fish tanks).

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

From Military Motivator:

And let us not forget, either, the strike on the Pentagon and the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Just for grins, and since we're doing parachute-related stuff, here's a photo of Bear's birthday present. She was determined, all 10-years of her, that this is what she wanted to do. Her 15-year old brother went up with her with misgivings, but both were bubbling over when they got back down.
I'm gonna try something new here and see what I can drum up: Jump stories.

Every time a group of paratroopers go up in an airplane there's always the potential for something to happen that makes for a story. You know, "There I was, knee-deep in grenade pins, nothing between me and the Mongol horde but a can opener..."

There used to be a place called Ft. Devens. It was a nice place, but it's now Devens Industrial Park. It was pretty small by Army standards and so the drop zone, called Turner Drop Zone, was necessarily challenged for space. I forget how many guys we could put out per pass, but it wasn't many and you couldn't fool around. When the jumpmaster said "Go", you'd better be hauling butt to get out.

I was on a jump, second in line to go. The guy in front of me was jumpmaster qualified and should have known better (we'll get to that in a moment). The wind was blowing right to left, so the aircraft (a C-130) was actually tracking over the trees to the right of the drop zone, so that the wind would blow us onto the DZ. We were going out of the right hand door, so looking out of the door you couldn't see anything but trees. Here's how it went:

Jumpmaster: "Go!"
Guy in door: "What?"
JM: "GO!"
GID: "Now?"
JM: "Yes, #$%* now, GO, Godd*mmit"
GID: "Ok" and jumps

By this time we had passed the drop zone, but out he went and I followed as did everyone behind me. We came down in a wooded area that served as an impact area for rifle grenades. Impact areas aren't regarded as the safest places in the world since there's always the chance that unexploded ordnance could be lurking there. To make things worse, trees aren't always the best place to land.

I came in and saw a clearing just in front of me. I dumped all of the air from the parachute and dropped into the clearing like a ton of bricks. It took me a few seconds to see straight again, but my vision cleared just in time to see a team leader slam directly into a tree. Remember those old wooden toys where you would put a sailor figure at the top of a mast and it would fall down bouncing off of pegs as it fell? That's what the team leader did. He dropped down and bounced off of every branch in the tree. It probably broke his fall, but I remember him pulling his shirt up and it looked like someone had beat him with a a baseball bat.

Fortunately nobody got blown up and nobody was really hurt, but honest, I'll never forget that guy saying "Now?" and watching the captain bounce off of every branch in that tree.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I don't want to write my autobiography (it would only put people to sleep anyway), but “Anonymous” posted here a couple of times and it seems likely that we know each other, so I'll give away some clues about where I've been and maybe write a bit of a story while I'm at it. I just hope it doesn't turn out that he couldn't stand me.

I started my military time in the 20th Special Forces Group, a National Guard unit. At the first drill I was remanded to the tender ministrations of someone I initially regarded as a fat old man. It turns out the fat old man had done what we call “running recon” in Vietnam and had worked with Air America. Running recon is regarded reverently. Those guys had stones the size of a Buick station wagon. The recon units had a 100% casualty rate. Every man who ever did it was killed or wounded at some point. The fat old man damn near killed me. We would run for what seemed like hours, then do pushups for another couple of hours. Every single day of basic training, airborne school and SF school I thought of how he had prepared me to succeed.

After 15 straight months on training status I graduated the Special Forces Qualification Course with class 5-81. I started with class 3-81 in a brutally cold winter and we lost so many guys that they simply eliminated class 3-81 and made us wait for 4-81 to catch up. Being a radio operator, I then had to take what was called BROC (basic radio operators' course), which was eight weeks of Morse Code from sunup 'til sundown. Talk about inducing psycosis...So that left me with class 5-81. (medics had it worse, maybe I'll write about that some day)

I probably didn't think much of it at the time, but all these years later the field phase of the SF radio operator course seems like it was pretty cool. We flew low level on a C-130, bouncing around (several guys lost their last meal on the flight) and jumped into a drop zone so small that only five guys could jump at each pass. As always, I'd been screwing around during the preflight briefing and when I jumped I couldn't see the drop zone and didn't know which way to steer to find it. I finally saw it and almost made it, but a tree got between me and the drop zone at the last minute. Some of the guys went off the mountain into what the instructors called “Lost Cove”. One guy, who later made the cover of Time or Newsweek after the Grenada invasion, tried to climb down from a tree by pulling his reserve. Unfortunately, he climbed down inside the reserve—sort of a guy in a bag thing. The instructors called the mountain Bee Mountain. At first I thought maybe there was an “A” mountain and a “C” mountain. Nope. It was Bee Mountain. One guy actually ran across the drop zone with his 'chute trailing behind him trying to get away from the bees' nest he'd dropped on.

Anyway, I graduated and went back to 20th Group where I was assigned to an A-team. I guess I was there about three years before I decided I just liked it too much and needed to transfer to active duty. During that time I managed to dislocate a shoulder on a jump in Minnesota in January and break my back on a jump at Ft. Bragg. But those are stories for another time.

I went off to 10th Group at Ft. Devens, MA. 10th Group had (has?) a policy of assigning all new radio operators to the Signal Company (in which most guys aren't SF qualified) rather than sending them to an A-team. The reason is that the communications we used at the time, high frequency single sideband with a spring-loaded tape to burst Morse Code, is pretty iffy and they wanted guys who had something in common the A-team guys there so that they'd go the extra mile and beat the transmissions to death until they got them right. Signal company also had teletype vans for HQ communications, but I didn't know jack about teletype vans. I got assigned to a teletype van.

Eventually an opening came up in a line battalion, but it wasn't on an A-team. It was the battalion communications staff, which was all SF qualified. I was so desperate to get out of Signal Company that I jumped at it.

I suspect that my only distinction during the Signal/battalion staff period was having a bad temper.

During this time I got married (still have the same wife). She works for a three-letter government agency in the DC area, so she stayed down here and I went back to MA. Probably didn't help my temper any. But on the other hand, I had one hell of a bachelor pad in Nashua, NH.

Eventually I did find a slot on an A-team and was loving life until I hit a rock or tree root while skiing (10th Group does lots of winter.mountain stuff) and wrecked my left knee. Right after that I transferred to 10th Group's first battalion, which was located in a place in Germany called Bad Toelz.

Everyone wanted to go to Toelz, but I had an extra reason. My wife's agency had a field station not far from Toelz, so we could actually live together and I could, ahem, reap the benefits of marriage, so to speak.

Bad Toelz was probably the absolute best assignment in the entire history of armed forces. Because of my wrecked knee I ended up on battalion staff again, but I loved the place. I started out with the best NCO room in known history. They had just built a new medical clinic and turned the fomer clinic into NCO rooms. I was actually given four boxes and painting supplies when I moved in. I had to put together the two lockers and two bunks and paint the room. But that was ok as it kept me occupied in the evenings until we straightened out housing through my wife's agency. But the room was directly over the club and actually had a sink, left over from when it had been part of the clinic. The proximity to the club was quite nice, and the sink meant I didn't have to trek down the hall to the latrine, if you know where I'm going there...

I ended up living in a real live German apartment that the government leased. No barracks, no living off a noisy stairwell—it was wonderful. It meant I had to drive 45 minutes or so to Toelz while all the other married guys lived right across the street, but it was worth every minute.

The Army preventive maintenance paperwork doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I guess I'm a bit twisted, so I actually grasped it. My job at that point became to check on the team guys and make sure that their paperwork was properly filled out. I suspect that a lot of the guys regarded me as a pain in the ass, but that was never my intention. Officers, in particular, would get incredibly defensive at battalion staff meetings if I would say “Team number such and such had some problems with the paperwork...” At that point they'd go into big time defensive mode and never let me finish the sentence with “but I talked with the radio guy and we squared it away”.

The knee injury eventually finished me off, but we stayed in Germany for several more years, maxing out my wife's allowable overseas time. I spent the rest of the time working at my wife's place in the outdoor recreation office, but went back to Toelz regularly and made it to the beer fest when Toelz was given back to the German government. I even managed to meet Colonel Aaron Bank and get his autograph in a book. Shook the man's hand, even.

All in all, I had a great time in the Army. I don't regret a minute of it, even the times I ended up bleeding all over myself. I'd do a few things differently, but I'd still go SF. The mission, the guys—best in the world. Shortcomings I had in abundance, but for ten years I walked among giants.