I am a lucky vet. I did not see combat, and my heart opens to those who have. I did get not get experimental-stage innoculations that impacted my health. I was not exposed to toxins from burn pits. I was not part of any experiments like the 'Atomic Vets'. While serving in the Army I was not exposed to Agent Orange or asbestos, and I served before the era of DU exposure. I got out healthy and sane.
My 4-year tour in the Army was an important part of my life that gave me many things. I got an appreciation for the tradition of service in this country, for our decent citizen soldiers--- neighbors, family members, friends, colleagues. I came to respect the professionals like Warren Johnson, Wales Davis, my drill instructors, and other grizzled NCO's who are the backbone of our military.
My time in the Army helped make me the person I am today, and for that I am grateful, but I'm a lucky vet.
These pages are devoted to those who were not so lucky, and who have borne the burden of battle for us all. Their sacrifice is often horrific enough from battle and training incidents. What is so infuriating to me and many others is that their sacrifice CONTINUES after they return home, as they are victims of an often-neglectful after care system, where the bureaucratic tendency to minimize cost and avoid work betrays the best impulses of a generous people who want to trust government employees to do the right thing on their behalf.
Many government employees do the right thing, but many do not. I think we need to hold them accountable, as conscience and professionalism do not always seem to suffice. Add to that whole deadening bureaucratic syndrome the commonplace story of insurance companies and lenders taking advantage. Now, we have to acknowledge that insurance serves a necessary function, but it's not always fair. And how about deadbeat employers who fail to honor their requirement to take back employees whose Reserve or National Guard commitments took them away from the workplace? I know it's tough for business owners with perilous bottom lines, but think of what THEY went through compared to your safe life Stateside. C'mon; do the right thing!
It's not a new story, regrettably, but it's one that is being told on many places in the Internet. The volume of the testimony is in my opinion potentially always persuasive in seeking treatment and payment to which vets are entitled, so I'm putting my shoulder to the wheel and adding my voice, and the voices of others who are linked and mentioned on this page.
To all vets, all active duty:
Thank you for your service, for your sacrifice. May it never be in vain.
This Vietnam Vet offers at times searing personal testimony to what being in combat is like, with details that reflect how he has never forgotten those formative and scarred days in the late '60s. Ken couples that with support to those suffering PTSD, with two free books. His 'stream of consciousness' posts on Twitter on his @akvet account attracted my attention and I've tried to honor his honesty by capturing that content, edited and organized on this page
Cold War Memento
360 degree view of the interior of a former Warsaw Pact vehicle: Estonia: Armoured car in Hiiumaa Military Museum
Panoramic photos of the early Berlin Wall (with some clever captions).
Asbestos and our Military
Many service members, especially in the Navy, were exposed to asbestos during their tours of duty, as the substance was not considered harmful in earlier times, and was heavily used for insulation and fireproofing. This website offers assistance to those who are possibly suffering from mesothelioma.
Scandal at Arlington
Hearing sad news of thousands of mistaken gravesites, mismatches of servicemember to headstones, urns of ashes being dumped unceremoniously, and similar outrages. According to interview I heard, if a person was buried under wrong headstone, that would necessitate finding their headstone, which might in turn cause need for that mistakenly buried body to find its proper home, and so on, in a cascading problem that the author likened to 'dominoes'. The ashes of urns were sometimes just thrown out in cases where a person's ashes had to be moved to put another body under them; since there was no protocol for proper disposition, the lazy and disrespectful way sometimes won.
In cases where a plot was dug and there was an unmarked soldier already found, the easy way was to just cover up the coffin again and pretend it didn't happen, again, for the same 'domino' reasons.
Nor were the errors due to inexperience; the chief administrator had succeeded his father in that role, so that management went back many decades of continuity. The second in charge, who took the Fifth, had been working there since the 1960's. Yet another sad chapter in the long history of occasional disrespect for our fellow citizen soldiers.
Time can take its measure of you
When your life is in jeopardy, or the lives of your unit members, time can have an incredibly expansive quality, reflecting (ultimately) how our brains process the input from our sense organs. Movies such as The Three Kings and Jacob's Ladder to me did a good job of showing that subjective dimension to the passage of time, as well as emergencies that I have been in (I am not a combat vet). Maybe it's the significance time has to soldiers that occasions so many references to time in phrases tied to combat or combat theatres. (Or maybe I'm just forcing a minor point to lay out this list). In any event, I thought it would be interesting to list some:
From Here to Eternity (I know, a reach)
Wait-a-minute bush from Vietnam theatre, courtesy of Sergeant Warren Johnson
Even decades later, I use that phrase
Sometimes when I'm trying to say "that's all I've got/that's all I've brought", I spout out "No brass, no ammo, Drill Sergeant", and chuckle. Most people don't get it, but I don't care. It's a fond memory.
Ken Jones is an Alaska-based vet who recently assembled an ad hoc team to help spread the word about two e-books he offers for free to returning vets. Ken suffered from PTSD silently, with little support, and does not want the current generation to endure what he and his contemporaries went through. This page captures his near stream-of-consciousness posts about that mission, with links and the kind of personal detail that makes for eye-grabbing reading.
Corps Values in Business
Marine vet offers up useful guidance on success in the civilian world, with business values and ethics lessons from the US Marine Corps.
I was making the bed the other day, and just for grins, tried to see if I could still bounce a coin off the taut sheets. No luck, but our money doesn't go as far as it used to anyway.
From AARP Magazine: Giving Back to Vets; has good info on new philosophy regarding claims by VA for disabilities, spurred by Eric Shinseki; those turned down in the past should re-file, especially in cases of service-related illnesses such as PTSD and ALS.
Interview with Gordon MacPherson
This USAF veteran of duty in West Berlin in the 60's has a tale to tell; see photo of him accompanying JFK on his historic trip to Berlin.
We pause at 11 every 11/11, inhale reality, and contemplate mortality and the choices of humanity.
Military veterans and active-duty servicemembers will be able to eat for free at any Applebee's across the U.S. on Veterans Day, Wed., Nov. 11, 2009. There will be six entrees from the menu to choose from. Guests will be asked to show one or more of the following as proof of service: a U.S. Uniform Services Identification Card, U.S. Uniform Services Retired Identification Card, Current Leave and Earnings Statement, Veterans Organization Card, a photograph in uniform, or wearing a uniform in person. Thanks Cher Lon Malik for the tip.
From the History Channel: World War II in HD (Youtube videos)
Third Armored Division's Public Information Office Photo Gallery
Those photos really take me back; nice to see shots of Gutleut Kaserne.
Heads up on new Police Software at a really decent price.
Police Software deserves a shout out for their quality product. If you are in LE then check it out. Web based, very responsive applications with geospatial, live feeds, notification and other features. (when I say 'responsive' I mean they take user feedback and plow the proposed changes into the software).
From this article on The Moderate Voice: "Many men in service and their sons were exposed to poisoned water at Camp LeJeune between 1960s and 1980s, and more than 20 of the men now have male breast cancer. Many of those sick are denied VA benefits." As one of the comments to the article says, why didn't they err on the side of believing and therefore helping the Marines, instead of deceit? Just another sad story of guys doing their job who had to trust authorities to know what they were doing and to care.
Good sites for learning about Veteran's Day
Maintain the barracks!
GI Go Fund
A nice set of resources and a great 'back story' about why the organization began.
Some scans of stuff from my Dad's tour in Germany (occupation).
PTSD publications to help identify and cope with this problem.
DOD Mental Health Self Assessment Program, with referral information.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration resource page for soldiers and veterans, with a substance abuse facility locator to help locate local drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs.
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center
Mayo Clinic web site for Traumatic Brain Injury
National Archives page for correcting military service records and discharges
The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program provides free attorneys to veterans and their qualifying family members who have an appeal pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
The National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) describes itself as dedicated to ensuring that the U.S. government honors its commitment to veterans by providing them the federal benefits they have earned through their service to our country.
Lawyers Serving Warriors is a project of the NVLSP that provides free legal representation in disability, discharge and veterans benefits cases to service members and veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.
The NVLSP produces a Veterans Benefit Manual for advocates who assist veterans and their families to obtain benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Disabled American Veterans offers claim representation services to veterans and their families, assistance in filing claims for VA disability compensation, rehabilitation and education programs, pensions, death benefits, employment and training programs.
One-third of America's homeless are veterans
It's not a surprise to this author that society doesn't want to know about this issue.
After Action Report coming up on a recent visit to Washington D.C. and the WW II Memorial.
Happy Veteran's Day to two fellow vets
Non-profit organization flies deserving WW II vets to their D.C. Memorial
Honor Flight identifies World War II veterans who need assistance in getting to the new memorial in Washington. Priority is given to those identified as 'TLC', or 'their last chance', poignantly, those who are dying. About 1000 vets die daily. Honor them while you can. They saved the world as we know it.
Whoever defaced the Vietnam Memorial doesn't get it. Maybe they're acting out of anti-military impulses, but if so, why pick on a memorial to fellow citizens who died decades ago (and some of whom might have actually shared attitudes with them; remember, there was a lot of discontent in the ranks of the draftee-fed forces back then). If they are against the current administration/effort in Iraq, again, why? This has NOTHING to do with current events, but is a solemn reminder of loss. This is sad, as it appears the damage is permanent. Another rip at the fabric of our civility. Stupid, stupid, sad.
It happens in every war, and it's happening again
The fog of war can obscure corruption more easily than a calmer climate. An Iraqi contractor named Shield Group Security Co was apparently running a pretty loose operation regarding weapons sales, a cash-only situation where rocket-launchers as well as more mundane weapons were dispensed to what a whistleblower described as Iraqis and Americans from government and military, without any receipts. Among them, according to the witness, were members of the insurgency. When Navy veteran Donald Vance produced evidence (to the FBI), the outcome was a 97-day stay in Camp Cropper, a detention center. Read the sordid details here. I can only pray that none of those weapons killed our guys, but we'll never know.
Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission Panel Findings come out
A panel yesterday came out this June with an assessment of the disability ratings system used to determine benefits. The VA ratings schedule, last updated in 1945, does not adequately handle TBI, and currently fails to measure fairly the impact of injuries on the veteran's quality of life. See more here.
Washington Post series on Walter Reed and many useful links
Gandolfini directs HBO series on wounded vets
Now that long-running series 'The Sopranos' has passed into history, James Gandolfini is using his fame to a good cause, in ALIVE DAY MEMORIES: HOME FROM IRAQ which explores ten veterans' memories of their "alive day," the day they narrowly escaped death in Iraq.
From a web article today: "A 2006 government report found more than 1,000 soldiers being billed a total of $1.5 million [for lost or damaged equipment]. And while fighting overseas put their lives on the line, this battle on paper could cost them their future by ruining their credit." Where are your priorities, you paper-pusing nitwits?
Payday Lending Industry Scandal - cited as one of top ten problems for military families
Words (polite words, at least) cannot begin to describe the sordid nature of an entire industry (often allied with 'legitimate' banks) that preys on people who are often already living on the margins. You wonder how people involved in predatory lending can live with themselves; they are ripping people's guts out daily, but they don't care. Notice how the report mentions the fact that so many of these creeps are located near military bases. May these people get what's coming to them.
Veteran's PTSD Handbook
Korean War Memorial in Atlantic City is worth a stroll
"What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility ... a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."
Adlai Stevenson, Speech, August 27, 1952, to American Legion Convention
My tour of duty was in Germany, during the so-called 'Cold War', given that monicker due to lack of direct combat between the U.S. and Soviet Union, and their allied military alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. I served from March 1975 through Oct 1979 in the Regular Army in a couple of units, finally ending up in a multi-national headquarters. I spent a lot of my tour in the Frankfurt area.
I would have rotated back to the 'Land of the Round Doorknobs' in October 79, but chose to get a European separation, and worked in the Frankfurt CPO on Hansa Allee near the Abrams Building. I lived in a number of apartments, and came to know the city of Frankfurt very well, considering it my second home at the time. I stayed there until March 1982, when I and my household goods took a plane and a ship (guess which went with what) back to Phoenix, where I had enlisted. I therefore experienced the military and civilian counterparts of DOD service. Since I lived mostly 'on the economy' (outside the barracks) whether I got a housing allowance or not, I was also immersed at least part of most every day in the host culture; I was somewhat fluent in German, thanks to an interest in languages, and courses in High School and College. The way I used to put it: "I'd get off of work, and I was in Europe" --- good duty for a history major.
When I enlisted, I had not signed up for Infantry, not that I didn't respect that crucial role, but rather that I wanted to be a linguist, namely to learn Russian and eavesdrop on their communications. I would have been sent to Monterey to the DLI (Defense Language Institute), but I did not get my security clearance due to some college-age indiscretions; (think 'inhale', for those who remember a recent President). Oh well. They assigned me to Infantry, which finally translated to 'Fort Polk', Louisiana. I remember the drill sergeants laughing when they found out where I and others in my situation were going.
Fortunately, AIT was in December, so it was pleasant most of the time. Saw a couple of armadillos, joked about Leesville, (though I never got there; was it like that town in Biloxi Blues?), got to yell 'Take that hill', called in mortar fire (pretend), learned some useful skills, met some interesting characters and gained a broader perspective.
The culmination of Infantry AIT, at least at the time, as TRADOC changes the 'curriculum', was a two-day bivouac where we actually got to use our 'tent-halves' to build a small tent we shared with a partner; usually we just lugged them around, perfectly safe and dry and folded all neat and all.
This excursion from the barracks had a day-long 'final exam' of sorts, where we marched to various stations which offered multiple tests of our skills, such as gas mask, first aid, fire and maneuver, orienteering, and ended with a 26 mile overnight march with equipment back to base. (We had been trucked out to the site). It was raining, guys were exhausted, some dropped out, losing their weapons , crying --- all in all a challenging physical experience. I got through it, though, and that experience, along with others during my military service, gave me such a level of confidence in my resilience and stamina, that the benefits have rippled through the rest of my life. I believe that the mental dimension to performance and success is the crucial dimension, certainly at least the most controllable variable, and that mindset and its benefits first became apparent to me in the Army.
I enjoyed infantry training, and thought briefly of Airborne, but at my age of 26, thought better of it. We were given our assignment, to our first active duty unit. Many of us were surprised to learn that almost every one of us had been assigned to the same unit, but it was not so-and-so Armored Division, so-and-so Infantry, so-and-so Artillery, but rather a small 'intake' unit, whose administrative purpose was to collect newbies into a pool of transients, and parcel them out locally to whatever unit in USAREUR, pronounced "Yoos-a-yurr", needed a particular skill, (MOS) at the time. We were not immediately assigned to a unit; this is standard behavior, so we just hung around. This was in Gutleut Kaserne, the 'Kaserne' being German for 'barracks' essentially, although the Kaserne was self-sufficient usually, with guard shack, mess hall, transportation, administration and medics within the walls of the small bases, often no more than a city block in size.
I came into Europe via a short stop in Iceland, to the 'repo depot' in Frankfurt on Gutleutstrasse, near the train station, and its temptations on K-Strasse, the redlight district. While we were hanging in the barracks, a request went out to us newbies about volunteering for company clerk school. I figured, why not. I passed the training, part of which was typing. I had actually taken typing in High School, trying to meet girls; well, THAT part didn't pay off, but who'da thunk that down the road that skill might get me out of infantry? I mean, I enjoyed the AIT, but if I had my druthers, I'd rather be elsewhere than a unit out in the boonies, so the MOS of 11B stayed for a while, but I got assigned to my first job as a Company Clerk.
First assignment was with the 32nd Signal Battalion, the Voice of V Corps (and that's pronounced "VEE CORE", my son/daughter/whatever). This unit was based in a small barracks (we used the German word 'Kaserne'), in the nearby town of Hoechst, which had a huge industrial plant, outside of Frankfurt. We used to go for morning jogs through the nearby streets, and at dusk, the flag would come down to the sounds of the National Anthem. Due to the disgrace of their recent history, the Germans used to NEVER sing their national anthem, 'Deutschland Ueber Alles', so our overt patriotism was rather unusual. The barracks and other buildings were arranged essentially into a 'quad', with a central square, with the motor pool outside that quad. There were a couple of hundred troops there, male and female; the sexes were segregated into separate barracks. It was on the quad that we would have morning formation and do our PT.
Shortly before I arrived at the 32nd, some lieutenant had been put in a foot locker and thrown down a flight of stairs, or out a window; don't recall. He survived, at least. Racial tension was prevalent, as it was the 1970's not long after riots in major cities and National Guard troops patrolling the streets; it was the waning days of our Vietnam involvement, and the morale of the draftee-based Army in some units was very poor; the term 'fragging' was added to our language, sadly. Leadership could only do so much to address the many endemic problems. To those living today who hold our troops in such esteem, it is hard to imagine the difference between the two eras, but the difference is real.
Vietnam was linked indirectly to Germany (although Germany was BY NO MEANS equal to the experience on the other side of the world). Both were seen as a part of a worldwide containment policy, formulated by George Kennan and promulgated by George Marshall (of the Marshall Plan), luminaries at the State Department during the onset of what came to be called the Cold War. The book 'Present at the Creation', by Dean Acheson tells it well, as our National Security State came into being, and the US rose to eventual unparalleled military power.
Part of the containment of the USSR was deterrence - affecting the opponent's decision-making by providing evidence of readiness, through good logistics and training exercises. As far as the European command, the biggest of these was the annual ReForGer, or 'Return of Forces to Germany' exercise, where stateside units were flown to Germany to take part in the war games. In an actual war, strategy and positioning could only do so much; over the long haul, logistics are always crucial, so we had to prove our determination and ability to move troops from Stateside to Europe. Pre-positioned weapons and shipped weapons were both deployed. Here we were, with these Abrams Tanks trundling across farms and meadows, through towns, sometimes clipping the corners of buildings in the narrow streets of villages; for this a G5/S5 Maneuver Damage unit reimbursed the aggrieved townsfolk, part of the Status of Forces agreement (SOFA), I suppose.
Like most of the troops in Germany, I took part in a number of large military exercises. The most important was REFORGER ("REturn of FORces to GERmany"). In this exercise, troops from the US would fly over and take part in maneuvers through the German countryside. Due to the SOFA we had with Germany, we could use certain fields and towns to practice moving forces through an area. There were occasional instances of a tank clipping an old building's corner, for example, for which you had a function in your S5 or G5 to compensate the local citizen. Although expensive, such operations to my mind were necessary at the time given the looming and heavily muscled Warsaw Pact forces arrayed no more than a few hours drive time from any place in West Germany. Defense in depth was a scarce commodity so better never to have a war, for central Europe and good portions of western Europe would be a wasteland.
You see, by exercising annually and on a large scale, and effectively, you prove your readiness in a very public way. Such a show of strength, resources and resolve served the aim of peace by exercising a deterrent influence on the Soviet nemesis, and its Warsaw Pact alliance which included every Communist/Socialist country behind the Iron Curtain but renegade Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia, held together by the power of Tito, and to disintegrate shortly after his death, permitted its citizens to travel, one result being that a lot of waiters I came to know during my six years overseas were Yugoslavians; actually did a week there on vacation (Croatia, near Split).
From there, I interviewed for and got a job as a driver, clerk and translator for the V Corps Liaison team to Central Army Group (CENTAG). My German proficiency, which I had assiduously cultivated, paid off, as that was a big factor in my getting that plum job.
We were stationed in Mannheim-Seckenheim, meaning 'the Seckenheim suburb (township?) of Mannheim', a town with some majestic architecture, near Heidelberg. Heidelberg has a huge castle looming over the old town, is on a lovely bend of yet another lovely German river. It is the university town that was the setting for the Operetta "The Student Prince". Got to visit there a lot, as one could take the tram there easily. It was good duty there in that small Kaserne, as we shared a space with a German contingent, so I spoke German daily. We could have conversed in English, but why not practice a second, or third, language, when immersed in that culture?
In the war exercises we would drive toward the French border (defense in depth again, so the further from the Fulda Gap, the better, plus mountains gave a more useful location for a bunker). Near the border was a small town, and a large interior space carved out of a mountain. There were the various functions needed by an army at war, ops, intelligence, logistics, the whole nine. I had one LTC and one S7, who was German-born. We were largely a liaison, so I didn't do much more than drive and wait around, on occasion typing some stuff. During this time, I had been involved in a Master's program from USC, who along with several other universities, sent faculty over to teach. It was a great way to expand and learn, and hang out with intelligent people. I took several 'class trips' tied to credit courses, which meant that I went to Rome twice, Garmisch, and Brussels for multi-day conferences. Between the courses and the conventions, I was treated to a very interesting detailed perusal of topics such as arms control, deterrence theory, dependencia theory, European integration, multi-nationals, etc.
After my European separation, I remained in Germany, as I was engaged to a German woman at the time. That did not work out, but I stayed for a year longer, as I was employed as a civilian at the local Civilian Personnel Office. There I worked with career civil servants, local hires (German, English, Indian) dependents of military and others in a busy office environment. I got into computers during this civilian stint, with a Wang VS system that used COBOL, as opposed to the coding sheets I had transmitted at first to a set of keypunch operators, who would then pass the deck of cards to a person in a white coat behind a counter that would schedule your run on the mainframe. The next day, you got back results and error listings. Just to get an error message the SAME DAY, now completely expected and routine, would have been a revelation to us back then. Lots of change in that industry, and I've been able to surf along with it now for over three decades.
I never had a car the whole time I lived in Germany. I could essentially, when in Frankfurt, walk out my door, take a bus that eventually (through transfers to other modes of transportation) took me to the main train station in Frankfurt (near the Gutleut Kaserne). This 'Hauptbahnhof' was one of the biggest, most active, and best connected train stations in Europe, and therefore in the world. From there one could go anywhere in Western Europe. Or twenty minutes on the train takes one to the airport (Flughafen, 'hafen' being like 'harbor'). This airport, like its terrestially-constrained counterpart, takes you anywhere in the world. Very 'connected', and took advantage of it, visiting 14 countries all told. The trip to Spain, and thence to Morocco, was enabled through the excellent "Space A" (space available) flights going out of Rhein Main airbase, again also very busy. The Iranian hostages came back home through Frankfurt and its nearby hospital.